FOX: CZAR: Sunday's divisional playoffs viewer's guide
CZAR: Sunday's divisional playoffs viewer's guide
They are letting 'em play.
In Saturday's Jets-Steelers game, only 10 penalties were called on both teams for a measly 80 yards in almost five quarters of action. Granted, that was predictable for referee Bill Leavy's crew. They ranked 15th out of 18 NFL officiating crews in the number of penalties this season and last season, for that matter.
This happened last year, too.
The highlight — or lowlight if you are Colts GM Bill Polian — was referee Walt Coleman calling only seven penalties in New England's 24-14 victory over Indianapolis in the AFC Championship game. Coleman didn't call one pass interference, illegal contact or defensive holding penalty against the Patriots. We all know the story.
The Colts and Polian complained that New England mugged the Colts' receivers and because he was a member of the Competition Committee, the NFL adopted a policy of re-emphasizing the illegal contact penalty this season. It opened up the passing game, just ask Peyton Manning.
Consequently, all eyes will be on referee Bill Carollo's crew and how they call today's playoff rematch in Foxboro. Carollo's crew was one of the leaders in defensive holding calls (16) this season, but overall they ranked 10th in penalty yardage called. Close to middle of the pack. The Patriots were called for nine illegal contact penalties and eight defensive pass interferences this season.
On the news front, it appears that Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger are the favorites to become the next 49ers coach.
Meanwhile, in Baltimore, former Giants coach Jim Fassel has been offered $1 million to become the Ravens' new offensive coordinator. If he doesn't accept by Tuesday, the job most likely will go to former University of Washington head coach Rick Neuheisel.
GAME: Minnesota at Philadelphia
TIME: 1 PM ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Well, the Falcons took care of business. Can the top-seeded Eagles follow suit? There is one good indicator. The Vikings aren't very good in their second playoff games during a postseason run, losing all four and giving up 40 points per game in the process. Vikings WR Randy Moon (er, Moss) will start despite a right ankle sprain; he's reportedly about 85 percent. The Eagles, however, don't seem concerned with three of their four secondary starters in the Pro Bowl. Their biggest worry is stopping QB Daunte Culpepper, applying enough pressure and keeping him in the pocket. Minnesota RT Adam Goldberg figures to have his hands full with Jevon Kearse, who did everything but sack Culpepper during their regular-season meeting. Kearse, like many of Philadelphia's stars, is well-rested. On defense, the Eagles will start Keith Adams for LB Mark Simoneau. On offense, the Eagles want to get RB Brian Westbrook untracked early, both running and receiving. How he goes probably will decide the day.
CZAR'S SCOOP: The Eagles have won five straight in Philly against the Vikings. The Vikings are hoping that RB Moe Williams (high ankle) can play for pass-blocking reasons on third downs. Williams will test the ankle in pregame, but his chances for playing are about 10-20 percent. Eagles WR Terrell Owens is still talking like he might be able to play in the Super Bowl if his team makes it. Vikings owner Red McCombs has been close-mouthed about a potential sale, but some believe there could be movement early next month. Everyone is waiting to see how the Philadelphia fans will react to Moss and his stadium entrance. Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress believes he still has an outside chance to be Cleveland's next head coach. There remains a very good possibility that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will leave Minnesota for greener pastures.
GAME: New England at Indianapolis
TIME: 4:30 PM ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Colts are very vulnerable to New England RB Corey Dillon dominating the game because of their undersized defensive line. If Dillon has a big day, the Patriots can maintain possession and build a lead against the Colts. MVP Peyton Manning plans to focus his attack on CB Randall Gay. Manning believes the deep, middle and skinny post routes could be wide open, believing that SS Rodney Harrison doesn't possess the speed to be everywhere. The Patriots will rely on a blitz scheme to rattle Manning and force him into throws he doesn't want to make. The wild card in this big chess game will be Colts RB Edgerrin James. The Pats allowed James to gain 142 yards on 30 carries in the season opener. They were saved when James lost two fumbles in the redzone, one in which it appeared he was going to score the winning points.
CZAR'S SCOOP: Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is considered the favorite to become the Cleveland Browns' next head coach. If New England keeps winning, the Browns may continue their interview process next week. If they don't, you'll know the job belongs to Crennel. New Cleveland GM Phil Savage expects to be able to hire Bill Rees, the 49ers' director of player personnel, by Senior Bowl week. The Patriots are worried about the Colts' stretch play in which James can run inside or out, or Manning can simply keep the ball and throw. The play is very similar to a draw play. Pats head coach Bill Belichick hasn't decided on what promotions he will make to replace Notre Dame-bound Charlie Weis and Crennel, should he lose him. It's very possible that DT Richard Seymour (knee) won't play for the Patriots. And if he tries, he probably won't be very effective. Manning has lost his last six against the Pats, while Tom Brady is a perfect 6-0 in playoff games.