Shanoff's W.U.C.: Eagles, BC, Ravens, Tebow

Today's Calls: Eagles vs. Giants, Darren Sproles vs. Steelers D, Cards rush D vs. Panthers RBs, Ravens D vs. Titans D, UNC vs. Pitt, Tim Tebow vs. Oklahoma DBs, Bill Cowher vs. Bob Stoops, Celtics vs. Cavs and More. ↵

↵The Opening Pitch: The NFL's defending champs are in trouble. ↵

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↵The final game of Wild Card weekend yielded the worst possible outcome for the Giants — a Divisional match-up with Philadelphia, an NFC East rival with so little fear of the Giants that the Eagles marched into the Meadowlands one month ago and beat them, 20-14. ↵

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↵The sudden surge of bullishness around the Eagles will be your most dominant NFL talking point of the week. ↵

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↵Now, it is up to you to decide how much stock to put into it, after last week's big talking point — "Road Teams Rule!" — fizzled, blowing it on the two toughest games to call: ↵

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↵— The Colts are too hot! Darren Sproles picks up the slack for LT and creates 328 yards of production by himself, including that thrilling OT TD. (Sproles is the new Michael Turner — a pending free agent coming out of LT's shadow, he will stand to get a big offer ... and deliver.) ↵

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↵— The Cards are a soft, offense-first playoff patsy-in-the-making? The Cards' defense shuts down both the NFC's hottest running game (60 total yards, Michael Turner: 2.3 ypc) AND the NFL's Rookie of the Year QB (Matt Ryan: 2 INTs, 3 sacks, 5.0 ypa). ↵

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↵As these two teams — underdogs, even at home — move to the road to face well-rested, super-seeded opponents, I'm sure the doubters will have their chance to double-down and pick against them again. ↵

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↵So the Ravens' D dismantled the Dolphins and the Eagles ousted the overmatched Vikings? Great: That 50 percent hit rate for the wild-card road teams makes the pre-game talk about as accurate a predictor as an overtime coin flip. ↵

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↵But that uncertainty makes the Divisional Round so much better, don't you think? ↵

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↵As for the weekend's losers: The Colts have reached a point where anything less than a Super Bowl title is a failure, particularly winning nine straight heading into the playoffs. ... The Dolphins and Falcons have those surprising turnarounds to build on — the playoffs were a bonus. ... The Vikings underachieved this season, barely making the playoffs; expectations can and should remain high next season. ↵

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↵NFL Milestones: There has been a lot of talk about the place in history for three-time MVP Peyton Manning — how about a consensus that in Ed Reed, we are watching the best free safety in NFL history? His performance Sunday didn't tip the scales — it was just typical. ↵

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↵CBB: The NCAA title is officially up for grabs. Once thought to be a done-deal for the Tar Heels, that loss at home to unranked Boston College means that any team in the Top 20 (20? Why not 40? BC wasn't even among "others receiving votes!") could potentially take down UNC in March in the Tournament. ↵

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↵All the talk about North Carolina going unbeaten en route to a national title was so ridiculous that I'm almost sorry to see the myth imploding now, rather than in late March. Unanimous No. 1? They lost at home to an unranked team. They might not even be the best team in the ACC (um, how about Wake Forest?) let alone the nation. ↵

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↵The best team in the country? I'll take Pitt, which took on a hot, feisty Georgetown team coming off a win over No. 2 UConn — and the Panthers demolished the Hoyas, led by DeJuan Blair (20 pts, 17 reb), who is up there with Blake Griffin and Tyler Hansbrough as CBB's best post players. ↵

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↵B.C. gets twice the kudos today, because the school said if football coach Jeff Jagodzinski interviews with the Jets, they will fire him. It doesn't sound like an empty threat, and I give B.C. all the credit in the world for (a) considering it, (b) leaking it to the media and (c) going through with it. ↵

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↵More CBB: The Big Ten is "Big East Lite" — surprising strength, surprising depth and surprising parity among them. Great example: Illinois beats Purdue in West Lafayette, then loses in Ann Arbor to Michigan, which itself had lost to Wisconsin earlier this week. (And just when you thought you had Minnesota figured out as overrated, the Gophers go and beat Ohio State.) ↵

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↵Speaking of conference parity, how about unranked Cal beating No. 14 Arizona State? Seven straight wins for the Bears shows that Mike Montgomery is making his mark quickly. ↵

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↵I'm torn by Louisville's last-second win over rival Kentucky: Should we consider that a sign of Kentucky getting better and thus Louisville earning a tough win? Or, per Mike D, should we consider that a sign that Louisville is still struggling and success in March doesn't look too promising right now? ↵

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↵BCS Title Game Countdown: Bob Stoops doesn't want to talk about the Broncos' coaching job. Even though rumor has it he is the sexy preference from owner Pat Bowlen and — whether he wins a title or loses a BCS bowl ... yet again — Stoops seems to have maxed out what he might do at the college level. ↵

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↵Intersecting with the daily "NFL Coaching Carousel" watch, Bowlen interviewed both the Giants' D.C. Steve Spagnuolo and the Pats' O.C. Josh McDaniels. But you just know that Bowlen's heart is in Big 12 country with Stoops. Just in case Stoops can't be swayed, either assistant is a hot pick. ↵

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↵Patriots to "franchise" Matt Cassel: Don't look for any sympathy from Bill Belichick about Tom Brady's recovery, because this move is a smart hedge: If Brady is fine, they can trade Cassel; if Brady is not, they can cut Brady and keep Cassel. (Keeping two of the Top five priciest QBs on one roster? Doubt it.) ↵

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↵More NFL Coaches: Bill Cowher yanks himself out of the process this season. That doesn't mean that he won't get back in — it just means he was looking for a coaching job with personnel authority (say, with a designated toady as GM). As before, watch the Redskins in January 2010. (And is Mike Shanahan holding out for the Cowboys job in 2010? What happened to Wade Phillips keeping the seat warm for Jason Garrett?) ↵

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↵Meanwhile, the Browns got permission to talk with Ravens personnel director George Kokinis, which could be a two-fer: Kokinis is friendly with Eric Mangini, the front-runner to coach the Browns. (Is Cleveland backing out a GM hire based on a coach preference? It should be the other way around.) ↵

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↵Does anyone actually want the Raiders coaching job? Yes, apparently, Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride does. Brave man. ↵

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↵Mike Smith named AP Coach of the Year, edging the Dolphins' Tony Sparano by a single vote. It's a shame they couldn't share it. Apparently, turning a toxic team into a playoff team was more impressive for more voters than turning a one-win team into a playoff team. ↵

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↵BCS Trash-Talk: Baiting Tim Tebow? "If you look at it, the three best quarterbacks in the country came from the Big 12 ... I think our quarterbacks are better ... It's a lot harder to prepare for those guys than it is Tebow." — Oklahoma CB Dominique Franks, who will assuredly make Tebow's locker door. ↵

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↵CFB Bowling Wrap: Utah for No. 1? Why not? I'd argue they have a better claim than, say, USC — who, after New Year's Day, everyone seems to think is suddenly the best team in the country. ↵

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↵Utah beat a better bowl opponent — and looked better doing it (particularly if you translate apples-to-apples on on the talent level doing the executing). They played a tougher regular-season schedule — see the MWC clocking the Pac-10 head-to-head. And against their one common opponent, Utah won and USC lost. ↵

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↵At the very least, Utah and the legacy of non-BCS teams (well: worthy ones ... as opposed to, say, Hawaii last year) should ensure that not just the BCS — but, more importantly, pollsters — take these teams more seriously in the future. We always say it; we never see it. ↵

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↵(Meanwhile: If Ole Miss's win over Texas Tech did anything, it was defuse the common critique of Florida from Big 12 fans that they lost to Ole Miss — this was the same Rebels team that shellacked Texas Tech, which beat Texas, which beat Oklahoma. So let's not hear that talking point anymore.) ↵

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↵Bowling Tonight: Texas vs. Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. The good news for the Longhorns: With an impressive performance, they stake their claim on an increasingly competitive claim (USC, Utah) for rogue AP pollsters' No. 1 votes. The bad news: They play perennial BCS patsy Ohio State — after the past two years, stomping the Buckeyes in January is hardly impressive. ↵

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↵NBA Instant History: A season ago, the Celtics' demolition of the Knicks by 45 points became the emblem for how bad things had gotten in New York — and how turned around things were in Boston. Last night's win by the Knicks over the Celtics was equally symbolic: ↵

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↵The Knicks are at least competitive with the East's elite — if not one of the elite themselves. Meanwhile, after that sizzling start, the Celtics are arguably merely very good, rather than transcendent. (I still say they proved their point with "19" and are now saving it for the playoffs.) ↵

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↵The Celtics may be struggling, but at least they aren't the Cavs, who lost to the lowly Wiz — to Cleveland's credit, Washington takes every game against LeBron and Co. as seriously as if it was a playoff game. In a lost season for the Wiz, these games against the Cavs kind of are. ↵

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↵(The best team in the NBA at this moment? The Lakers, who buried the Blazers for their 15th straight win at home. They are just a half-game behind the Celtics for the NBA's best record and, with it, home-court advantage throughout the playoffs — with their home success, this is a must for L.A.) ↵

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↵NHL: It is unsurprising that Canadiens would dominate an All-Star starting lineup for a game being held in Montreal. It is slightly surprising that other fans wouldn't come together to ensure Alexander Ovechkin has his rightful place among the starters. ↵

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↵H.S. Football All-Star Game Mania: The U.S. Army game had a little more earnestness, with all those military folks in the Alamodome; the Under Armour game was a lot more glitzy, held at night and featuring some spectacular play-making (especially by USC-bound QB Matt Barkley and Florida-committed "athlete" Andre Debose). ↵

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↵Must-See Video: Ray Maualuga pranks Erin Andrews. Um, if you can call what you see on this video a "prank." It has climbed past a million views already (as of 9 a.m. ET Monday) and seems destined to hit two million or more. ↵

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↵The Last Word: The NFL's sudden-death overtime system is horrible. Though the Chargers were the first playoff team in years to win the OT coin toss and actually walk away with the win, it doesn't mean the system isn't flawed. ↵

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↵It is all based on a coin flip. Peyton Manning and the Colts offense deserved their shot to match or exceed the Chargers' productivity. Maybe they only change the rules for the playoffs, but one day, we'll have the embarrassment of a "Coin Flip Super Bowl" and it will be too late to change things. ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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