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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Burning Questions Fill Wild Card Round

Among the issues soon to be answered is whether the Bucs’ quest could be derailed by hostile conditions


Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Backs Coach Herman Edwards, a former Eagle, can offer his players some advice on breaking the spell of the Philly fans

By Vic Carucci, NFL Insider for

Four burning questions for Wild Card Weekend:

Can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers overcome cold weather and a hostile environment in Philadelphia to keep alive the Super Bowl quest that began with their close loss to the Rams in the '99 NFC Championship Game?

Andy Reid doesn't forecast weather. The Philadelphia Eagles coach won't know until New Year's Eve what Mother Nature has in store for the Bucs, who are 0-19 when the temperature dips below 40 degrees.

What Reid does know for certain is the enormous challenge the noise and general rowdiness of a sellout crowd of 65,000-plus in Veterans Stadium poses to the opposition. As an assistant coach for the Green Bay Packers, Reid was on the receiving end of some pretty rude welcomes from the Eagles faithful.

"When you come out, there are bodies hanging out over trying to rip your ears off," Reid said. "That can be a little intimidating."

So can the sustained noise level.

"It's loud and it stays loud," Reid said. "In most stadiums you come in, fans can't maintain peak noise level. This group … they can maintain it. It's an echo out there. The other teams are very aware of it."

The Buccaneers' players are getting some helpful advice on how to handle the Philly fanatics from their assistant head coach/defensive backs coach, Herman Edwards, a safety on the Eagles' only Super Bowl team in 1980.

According to Edwards, the best policy is to greet the green-clad fanatics warmly and pray that they soon turn on the home team.

"Walking through the tunnel, just wave at them and smile because you know how those fans are," Edwards said. "We'll get booed early and often, but those boos can turn. I've seen them boo the home team. I was from California, and I remember being shocked at my first game in Philly when those people booed Santa Claus."

Are the Indianapolis Colts better off roaring into the playoffs as a wild card that suddenly caught fire late in the year rather than stumbling in after finishing the regular season with a 13-3 record, as they did in 1999?

The Colts undoubtedly would have preferred to make life easier on themselves by winning a second consecutive AFC East title and earning another first-round bye. But they are feeling a whole lot better about their chances for success in this postseason.

The Colts clearly were slumping at the end of last year. They followed an 11-game winning streak with a 31-6 loss in their regular-season finale at Buffalo. Then the Tennessee Titans promptly bounced them from the playoffs, 19-16, in the RCA Dome.

Now, the Colts are riding a three-game winning streak through which they have played their best football of the season. This time, they ended the regular season with a 31-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings that clinched a playoff berth that seemed virtually hopeless earlier in the month. Traveling to Miami - or anywhere else - for the playoffs isn't easy, although the Colts have won in each of their last two visits to Pro Player Stadium and they are on a roll.

"We kind of fizzled out toward the end (of last season)," Colts tight end Marcus Pollard said. "This year, we had to come in through the back door. A lot of people were kicking dirt on us, and weren't giving us a chance. Now there's a new chance. It seems like a lot better feeling."

Do the New Orleans Saints have enough overall experience on their roster to overcome inexperience at key positions?

The St. Louis Rams arrive in New Orleans with a Super Bowl championship and the league's Most Valuable Players in each of the last two seasons - running back Marshall Faulk and quarterback Kurt Warner. The Saints haven't been to the playoffs since 1992, and don't even have the running back (Ricky Williams) or quarterback (Jeff Blake) with whom they began the season.

Every key member of the Rams knows plenty about postseason pressure. The same, of course, does not apply for key Saints such as second-year quarterback Aaron Brooks, eighth-year offensive tackle William Roaf, fifth-year defensive tackle La'Roi Glover and seventh-year defensive end Joe Johnson. And playoff pressure can make ordinarily poised players unravel in a hurry.

Jim Haslett, the Saints' first-year coach, remembers a punter on a playoff team for which he played in Buffalo run onto the field without his helmet.

"We were yelling at him, and he ran back and got his helmet, and we got the snap and got the punt off in time," Haslett recalled.

However, the Saints do have 19 players with a combined 93 playoff games among them. They include linebacker Darrin Smith, who won two Super Bowl rings with the Dallas Cowboys, and placekicker Doug Brien, who won one with the San Francisco 49ers.

"The guys that have been to the playoffs and the Super Bowls, and the AFC and NFC championships, they know what it takes," Haslett said. "They know how fast the tempo is. They know what home-field advantage does for you. It is to be hoped that they can tell some of these younger guys what it's all about."

How large a factor will tight end Shannon Sharpe be in helping his current team, the Baltimore Ravens, beat his former club, the Denver Broncos?

So far, the Ravens have gotten everything they could possibly want from Sharpe after signing him as a free agent last February.

He brought production to their inconsistent offense, catching a team-high 67 passes for 810 yards and five touchdowns.

Now, he brings considerable postseason experience and success to the Ravens' first playoff appearance. Sharpe has two Super Bowl rings and 11 playoff games to his credit, all with Denver. He has a pretty good understanding of what it takes to be a champion. And he has spent much of this week sharing that knowledge with his teammates.

"We get an opportunity to see if we're ready to play," Sharpe said. "We get to see if we're for real or not, and I can't think of a better team to go up against."

Nor can the Ravens' coaches think of a better source of information about the complexities and nuances of the Broncos' offense.

"Shannon was there for a long time, so he is certainly going to have an excellent perspective on what they do offensively," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We'll be able to share that with our defensive coaches."

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