Sunday Playoff Previews

Peyton Manning may be one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but the Chargers cooled him down in their regular-season meeting. In the late game, the Cowboys are looking for a recently elusive playoff win, something that has been hard to come by for owner Jerry Jones of late. Get keys to the games, fast fact, important injuries and more for both of Sunday's playoff games.

San Diego Chargers (12-5) at Indianapolis Colts (13-3)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 01/13/08
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
SERIES: 4th playoff meeting, 48th meeting overall. San Diego erased a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit on Dec. 9 in Nashville and won 23-17 in overtime. Tennessee hasn't won in San Diego in its last three tries.


KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chargers hope their improved passing game from last weekend will help open more running lanes for RB LaDainian Tomlinson against the Colts and Defensive Player of the Year SS Bob Sanders. The problem is that if TE Antonio Gates isn't available to draw the attention of the safeties over the middle, San Diego will have a difficult time finding the vertical success it enjoyed against Tennessee. The Colts' Cover-2 scheme is designed to prevent exactly those types of big plays. ... Colts QB Peyton Manning was picked off a career-high six times during the regular-season meeting. That won't prevent him from pulling the trigger, but an early turnover or two would do San Diego's confidence a world of good. At home and with the starting offense finally back at full strength, Manning will focus on controlling the tempo. That means RB Joseph Addai early on to set up the passing game.

KEY INJURIES: Chargers: Gates (dislocated toe) was in a walking boot midweek and is very questionable; PK Nate Kaeding (leg) will likely be replaced on kickoffs by Dave Rayner. Colts: WR Marvin Harrison (knee), DE Robert Mathis (knees) and OT Ryan Diem (knee) are expected to play.


FAST FACTS: The Chargers' six interceptions against Manning were part of their league-leading 30 during the regular season. ... Indianapolis led the league in scoring defense at 16.4 points per game.

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Chargers:

  • Pro Bowl FB Lorenzo Neal worked again as he bounces back from breaking his leg last month. Neal could be active Sunday.

  • WR Chris Chambers was back working after the team rested him on Wednesday because of soreness. He's a go for Sunday.

  • K Nate Kaeding (leg) got in his usual work. But it's still likely that Dave Rayner will handle the kickoffs with Kaeding doing the place-kicking.

  • Pro Bowl DT Jamal Williams (hip, ankle) returned to practice after resting on Wednesday. He often takes Wednesday off to stay fresh.

  • OLB Marques Harris (hand) continues to work but he could be a healthy inactive Sunday if Neal is able to go.

    Colts:

  • CB-KR T.J. Rushing (illness) returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's workout. He was the only player on the team's player participation chart Wednesday.

  • WR Marvin Harrison (knee) has practiced both days this week and is expected to start against San Diego on Sunday.

  • DT Raheem Brock (rib) will start against the Chargers on Sunday. He has practiced for the last two weeks and appears to be completely healed from his earlier injury.

  • OT Ryan Diem (knee) has practiced for the last two weeks and should be ready to start Sunday against San Diego.

  • DE Robert Mathis (knees) will start for the Colts against San Diego. Mathis has not played since he was hurt against Baltimore on Dec. 9.

  • S Antoine Bethea (knee) is expected to be in the starting lineup against the Chargers on Sunday. Bethea was hurt at Baltimore and has not played since that time.

  • WR Anthony Gonzalez (foot) has practiced all week and will be available to play against San Diego on Sunday. He was hurt in the next-to-last regular season game with Houston.

  • LB Tyjuan Hagler (toe) returned to practice this week after he was hurt in the regular-season finale with Tennessee. He did not take part in workouts last week. Hagler is expected to start against the Chargers on Sunday.

  • S Matt Giordano (concussion) will play against San Diego on Sunday. He was hurt against Tennessee in the final game of the regular season.

  • TE Ben Utecht (shoulder) went through full practices on Wednesday and Thursday. Utecht is expected to see playing time against the Chargers on Sunday.

  • CB Tim Jennings (concussion) appears to be fully recovered and will play against San Diego this week. Jennings was held out of Thursday's workout, as he usually is each week.

  • S Bob Sanders did not take part in Thursday's workout but will start against the Chargers on Sunday. Sanders is usually given one day off each week to rest old injuries.

    INSIDE THE CAMPS:
    Chargers:

    The Chargers got back to work Thursday, but they did so without Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates.

    "You know, Antonio's been continuing to get treatment," coach Norv Turner said. "I believe he's improving. We'll see where he is tomorrow, but probably it would be a Sunday morning decision based on how he feels. I'm still optimistic because he's optimistic."

    Gates sat out his second straight day with a dislocated big toe and it appears increasingly doubtful he will play Sunday when the Chargers face the Colts in the AFC divisional playoff game.

    It's a big blow for the Chargers' offense which leans on the diversity Gates gives it with his matchup problems.

    "He's such weapon and can do so many things that he draws attention away from other people," Turner said. "Some of the looks we get on the outside, single coverage and those type things might be a little different."
    If Gates sits, Brandon Manumaleuna will replace him. Manumaleuna has started seven games during the regular season when the team opened in two-tight end sets.

    But at those times, he was used as the blocking tight end. Come Sunday, he will be asked to catch passes, too.

    "It's a nice opportunity but I approach every game like I'm going to start because you never know," said Manumaleuna, who had 10 receptions for 86 yards and a score during the regular season. "So this is just like a regular game."
    But really, it's far from it.

    "Brandon's going to be asked to do a lot," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "I think too, and I mentioned this the other day, Brandon is a starting tight end in this league, with his ability and his experience. It just so happens he and Gates are here together, which we reap the benefits of that."

    Colts:

    Is Tony Dungy's six-year reign as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts coming to end at the end of the current season? Perhaps so.

    After a recent story detailing the enrollment of Eric Dungy at Plant High School in suburban Tampa, the chances of that scenario coming to pass sooner rather than later appears to be more of a real possibility.

    The younger Dungy, who will turn 16 on Saturday, has played high school football the last two seasons in Indianapolis. According to the story, Eric Dungy — who is a sophomore — began attending classes at his new school on Tuesday.

    It had initially been reported in mid-October that the Dungy family had visited and toured the school during the Colts' bye week. At the time, though, Tony Dungy dismissed the story and said that he often visits a number of schools whenever he is in the area.

    Tony Dungy, however, continues to downplay questions regarding his future with the team and refused to discuss his son's apparent move back to Florida. As he has done in the past, Dungy says that he will wait until after the season is completed before making any decisions one way or another.

    "I'm not going to say anything because it's not really worthy of comment," he said in response to questions about Thursday's report. "I've heard and read a lot and some of it is true, some of it is partially true and some of it isn't true at all. I wouldn't read anything into any of the things you hear and read."

    As he has done the past couple of years, such as after last year's Super Bowl win, Dungy said that he will talk with his wife Lauren when the season is over and decide what they want to do as a family. He will also talk to Colts team president Bill Polian and team owner Jim Irsay to get their input.

    "I'll sit down with my wife and talk it through and then talk to Jim and Bill, like I do every year," Dungy said. "And then we'll take a look at it."


    New York Giants (11-6) at Dallas Cowboys (13-3)


    KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:30 ET
    GAMEDATE: 01/13/08
    SURFACE: Sportfield Realgrass
    TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
    SERIES: 92nd meeting. Dallas leads series, 54-35-2. This is the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs. The Cowboys swept the Giants during the regular season and are looking for their first three-game season sweep of any team in franchise history.

    KEYS TO THE GAME: Giants rookie RB Ahmad Bradshaw didn't get a carry in either regular-season meeting, but could be the Giants' secret weapon this time around. RB Brandon Jacobs has been doing a good job of wearing defenses down with his bruising style, with Bradshaw then using his explosiveness to rip off good yardage in the second half. But the Giants' production still comes down to QB Eli Manning continuing to play with increased poise. ... A lot of what the Cowboys do will depend on how hard WR Terrell Owens is able to go. Owens burned the Giants for 212 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season, but if he's far less than 100 percent the game plan will likely be geared more toward RBs Julius Jones and Marion Barber. CB Corey Webster had a strong game against the Bucs, but if he again starts in place of Sam Madison, he'll certainly be targeted by QB Tony Romo.


    KEY INJURIES: Giants: Madison (abdomen) and C Shaun O'Hara (knee) are uncertain; RT Kareem McKenzie (ankle) is expected to play. Cowboys: Owens (high ankle sprain) could be a game-time decision; WR Terry Glenn (knee) is expected to play.


    FAST FACTS: The Cowboys can become just the 18th team to beat a team three times in the same season. ... The teams have both made 29 postseason appearances, tied for most in NFL history. ... Giants DE Michael Strahan has a franchise-record 8.5 sacks in seven career playoff games.

    PERSONNEL NEWS:
    Giants:

  • C Shaun O'Hara missed last week's game vs. Tampa Bay and while he has been practicing on a limited basis, head coach Tom Coughlin isn't ready to say he is going to be well enough to play. He suffered a sprained knee against New England in the season finale, and veteran G/C Grey Ruegamer played for him last Sunday.

  • CB Sam Madison (abdomen) got in some individual practice Thursday. His status for Sunday is still uncertain.

  • TE Kevin Boss (sick) missed practice Thursday.

  • WR Plaxico Burress seems to have bonded even closer with QB Eli Manning, and said after practice Thursday that the young Manning is getting better each game. "We all are human and therefore inconsistent," he said, "but the way Eli has been playing lately, and we just look for him to go out and play better each week. When he does that, our offense usually works well."

  • FB Madison Hedgecock is one of the absolutely unsung heroes of this Giant team. The 6-3, 266-pounder, acquired via waivers from St. Louis early in the season, has replaced the injured/retired Jim Finn and has played well. "He blocks as well as any fullback I've seen," said Manning. Hedgecock hasn't carried the ball yet but he has caught six passes for 45 yards.

  • Veteran WR Amani Toomer, who has spent all 12 of his NFL seasons with the Giants, has been more impressed with Manning each week. "I have never seen him crack under pressure," he said. "Not once. He is a stand-up guy and handles tight situations calmly.

  • TE Marcus Freeman of Notre Dame and OL Brandon Torrey of Howard University have been added to the Giants' practice squad.

    Cowboys:

  • WR Terrell Owens practiced for the first time in three weeks, fostering hope that he and his sprained right ankle will play against the Giants on Sunday.

    The Cowboys are encouraged, but say it will be a game-time decision. Owens ran routes and with through team drills, albeit with a slight limp at times.

    "I thought that he moved well," owner/GM Jerry Jones said. "I thought he competed right around the level that we practicing at. Those weren't half speed out there. It is a decision that needs to be made at game-time. We know how critical this is, nothing else happens if we don't win this game.

    "On the other hand, his availability will be determined probably in large part on what kind of risk is involved on not having him for later games. He obviously can run a route, but I think it is a very legitimate game-time decision. He's in very good spirits, very competitive spirits, very focused on our success here Sunday."

  • QB Tony Romo and his celebrity lifestyle is supported by owner Jerry Jones, who said it's good for the Cowboys and good for the league.

    "It's not the first time I have seen it," Jones said. "It has to be coupled with success. I think it's really good and I encourage it. It's in the best interest of the Cowboys for key players to have flair."

  • NT Tank Johnson said this Cowboys team might be better than the Bears team he played on last year.

    "It's so similar, it's kind of scary almost; we get every bounce we did last year, and this team is more explosive than we were in Chicago last year," Johnson said. "We have more big-play capabilities on offense, and our defense is just as good. We've got all the right ingredients."

  • WR Terry Glenn had his second strong day of practice. He missed the first 15 games of the season with a knee injury. Although he played in the season final this is the first week that he has done everything in practice. He is explosive and quick.

    "I think we've got a chance to have 83 light ‘em up," Jerry Jones said. "I'm excited about that."

    INSIDE THE CAMPS:
    Giants:

    Giants head coach Tom Coughlin will have a major decision to make prior to the division playoff game Sunday in Dallas.

    It isn't as though he doesn't have a bevy of major decisions, either, but this one can positively affect the game. What if weak-side linebacker Kawika Mitchell (sprained knee) and cornerback Sam Madison (abdominal strain) are healed from their injuries and ready to play? Does he put them back in their starting roles?

    Linebacker Gerris Wilkinson, who has taken the spot usually reserved for Mitchell, has played extraordinarily well and has greater speed than the veteran. In fact, he ran stride for stride with New England wide receiver Randy Moss in the season ender, opening eyes from coast to coast.

    Cornerback Corey Webster, once a second-round draft pick (2005) who was bordering on disappointing, has replaced Madison and, based on his performance last Sunday vs. Tampa Bay, he might have won the job over the 33-year-old.

    Webster forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half and intercepted a pass in the end zone, each achievement helping immeasurably toward the team's wild-card victory.

    It would seem a coach's job is never done.

    Cowboys:

    Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said coach Wade Phillips' job is not on the line in Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game against the Giants.

    He said Phillips has done enough in leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

    "There's nothing that can happen in the playoffs that would change my thinking about him being head coach of the Dallas Cowboys," Jones said, "and I don't know how you could even have a question as to whether or not he's coaching or not for the Cowboys in the future."

    The questions about Phillips job stems from the pressure the team feels to win a playoff game for the first time since 1996.

    The Cowboys acknowledge that a loss on Sunday would make the regular season success meaningless

    The Cowboys have set themselves up for a Super Bowl run for the first time since 1995.

    That was the premise behind hiring Phillips to replace Bill Parcells following last season and the bevy of moves Jones made in the offseason.

    "Yes, there is a lot on the line here," said Jones, who has gone through five coaches since his last playoff win. "The consequences of not being able to advance in the playoffs seem more meaningful. Last year when Bill Parcells left and upon hiring Wade Phillips, I got emotional. I felt I got to get this done right. We have got to do that. We have to make something happen that will get us to the Super Bowl."


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