It's Elite Eight weekend in the NFL.
It's not quite Super Bowl weekend, but you could argue these are the premier two days of the entire NFL playoffs because it's not just one game on one day, but four games over two days. Often the divisional playoff matchups go down to the final minute before a winner is determined. And the Super Bowl usually turns into another super blowout.
This year's divisional playoff matchups - New York Jets-Pittsburgh, St. Louis-Atlanta, Minnesota-Philadelphia and Indianapolis-New England - make up one of the best Elite Eight rounds in recent memory. You have the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots going up against one of the most efficient offenses in the history of the league when they face the Colts tomorrow afternoon (Channel 11, 4:30). There's also Findlay native Ben Roethlisberger looking to become only the second rookie quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game when the Steelers take on the Jets today (Channel 11,
In the NFC there's an interesting matchup tomorrow (Channel 36, 1 p.m.) between the Vikings and Eagles, in which you have an 8-8 regular-season team that backed into the playoffs, the Vikings, taking on an Eagles team that locked up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with weeks to spare in the regular season. Then there are the two NFC dome teams, the Rams and Falcons, facing each other tonight (Channel 36, 8).
With all of that in mind, here's a viewers' guide of some peripheral things to look for during the coverage:
●Voice-overs: Anticipation for the Vikings-Eagles game may be driven as much by Fox Sports broadcaster Joe Buck working the game as by any other factor. Buck strongly criticized Randy Moss' mimic mooning of the Green Bay Packers crowd last weekend. He said during the broadcast that Moss' touchdown celebration was a disgusting act.
Buck's commentary raised plenty of conversation and commentary during the week about whether his response to Moss was out of bounds. Buck will have an opportunity to stand by his comments, backtrack on them, or say nothing at all, although I wouldn't count on the last one.
Buck, who is part of Fox's top NFL broadcast crew, will be joined by Troy Aikman and Cris Collinsworth in the booth, with Pam Oliver and Chris Myers as field reporters.
●Elements and environment: Cold, ice, snow or even the dreaded "wintry mix" have the potential to close a school district. Inclement weather can shut down a city.
With the NFL, particularly around playoff time, weather rarely stops play. It often serves as a backdrop to the competition. Snowy, windy and cold afternoons can have as much effect on a game as an unexpected blind-side blitz on a quarterback.
Discussing whether the weather will play a role in the playoff games is a regular part of NFL coverage. It's a story within the main story. Can teams from warm-weather climates win playing in cold-weather environments? Can dome teams come out from under the controlled indoor climates and perform well enough to win?
Count on the pre-game shows to address such topics.
●Odds and ends: Jerry Rice, arguably the greatest receiver of all time, will sit in with ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown crew tomorrow at 11 a.m. to discuss the playoffs, the league and his future. CBS' No. 1 broadcast team of Jim Nantz, Phil Simms and field reporter Bonnie Bernstein will work the Indianapolis-New England game. Dick Enberg, Dan Dierdorf and Armen Keteyian are assigned to the Jets-Steelers game. Dick Stockton, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa are the broadcast team for the Rams-Falcons contest.
●Ohio State's Jim Tressel will coach the North team in The Villages Gridiron Classic today (ESPN2, 11 a.m.). Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross are members of the North team. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer will coach the South team.
Also, ex-Toledoan and Purdue coach Joe Tiller will coach the East team in the East-West Shrine Game this afternoon (ESPN, 2). Oregon State coach Mike Riley is in charge of the West team.
●The U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which features many of the nation's top high school football players, is also slated for today (Channel 24, 1:30).
●The weekend's TV sports menu isn't all about football. College basketball matchups involving Indiana at Purdue (ESPN, noon), Louisville at Cincinnati (Channel 11, 1) and North Carolina at Wake Forest (Channel 13, 1:30) highlight a handful of regional rivalry contests today.
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