Young Joe Montana against old Joe Montana?
That's the way the New York Jets' visit to Oakland for an AFC divisional playoff game is being portrayed, with Chad Pennington as young Joe and Rich Gannon as the old one -- and winner of his first NFL MVP award at age 37.
There are other elements, of course, to the Jets-Raiders game, which wraps up the quarterfinal weekend at 4:30 p.m. EST Sunday.
There's another intriguing matchup between QBs in one of the NFC games -- Atlanta and Michael Vick against Donovan McNabb and Philadelphia at Veterans Stadium in the Saturday night game. Two young, scrambling Steve Youngs?
In other quarterfinal games, Pittsburgh is at Tennessee at 4:30 Saturday afternoon, and San Francisco is at Tampa Bay at 1 p.m. Sunday.
All the home teams were off last week, a distinct edge because since the current playoff format began in 1990, teams with opening-round byes are 31-9 in the next game.
But the Jets certainly have a shot. New York, making its fourth trip to Oakland in two seasons, meets the Raiders in a rematch of a 26-20 loss on Dec. 2 in which Pennington had his team in position to win late in the game.
A first-round pick in 2000, Pennington sat behind Vinny Testaverde until the Jets slipped to 1-3.
Pennington replaced Testaverde, went 8-4 in the regular season and was nearly perfect in his ninth win, a 41-0 romp over Indianapolis in a wild-card game last week. He finished as the league's top-rated passer, led the NFL in completion percentage at 68.9 and had 25 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. He might have had a chance at the MVP award if had he started the whole season.
''We're seeing a guy who is prepared,'' said offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, who worked with Montana in San Francisco and whose West Coast offense is a perfect fit for the Jets' QB. ''Chad was ready to handle what is considered by a lot of people to be a complicated offense in a fairly short period of time.''
The Raiders aren't slouches, of course. They won their first four, lost their next four and have since won seven of eight to secure home-field advantage in the AFC. That keeps them on their slow track -- it's wet at this time of year in the Bay Area -- and it means their aging stars can sleep in their own beds.
''My dad played with Jerry Rice,'' says 23-year-old backup quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, son of former NFL defensive lineman Manu.
Indeed, the Raiders have been carried this season by the 37-year-old Gannon throwing to the 40-year-old Rice and 36-year-old Tim Brown. Rod Woodson, 37, and Bill Romanowski, 36, are among the defensive leaders.
Can 26-year-old Joe ... er Chad Pennington overcome that experience?
Atlanta (10-6-1) at Philadelphia (12-4)
Donovan McNabb tried to recruit Michael Vick to Syracuse, and the two have been good friends since. They also epitomize the new, mobile quarterback, although McNabb will be playing his first game since breaking his right ankle Nov. 17, so there may be a question about how well he'll move.
But that may not be necessary.
He broke the ankle on the third play of the Eagles' game against Arizona and still went 20-of-25 for 255 yards, tying a career high with four TD passes without running once.
This week, McNabb hinted that those who think his ankle will keep him in the pocket might be wrong. ''I've been doing everything up to this point,'' he said. ''I'm very excited and very confident in the ankle.''
We know Vick will scramble.
He made the highlight reels once again in last week's 27-7 victory in Green Bay, the first playoff game the Packers have lost at home.
Atlanta coach Dan Reeves has a history of big road wins in the playoffs.
Four years ago, Reeves took his team into Minnesota as a huge underdog and came away with an overtime victory that got the Falcons to the Super Bowl. In the 1986 season, his John Elway-led Broncos won the AFC title game in Cleveland.
But Philadelphia might be another story.
''Those fans are loud,'' Vick says. ''Real loud.''
San Francisco (11-6) at Tampa Bay (12-4)
Are the 49ers exhausted after coming back from a 24-point deficit to beat the Giants last week at Candlestick?
''I think we really wore out the Giants,'' San Francisco center Jeremy Newberry said. ''I don't think they were in the physical condition we were in.''
But if the Niners aren't physically spent, they could be emotionally drained by all the work they had to do in the final 20 minutes.
The Bucs' week off helped Brad Johnson rest his ailing back, especially since the ineffective tandem of Shaun King and Rob Johnson showed just how important he is at quarterback for Tampa Bay.
The 49ers' also don't expect the Bucs' defense to melt down late, as the Giants' did.
''You're not going to get a lot of big plays on them,'' quarterback Jeff Garcia said. ''You're going to have to be methodical and sustain your drives as long as possible.''
Pittsburgh (11-5-1) at Tennessee (11-5)
The Steelers are another team that could be exhausted by their comeback in the wild-card round -- they rallied from 17 points down in Cleveland. Coach Bill Cowher already has complained to the NFL about having to play on Saturday after a Sunday game last week.
This marks a return for Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox, the comeback player of the year. He actually came back twice -- from six years out of the NFL and from a spinal injury sustained in a 31-23 loss in Nashville on Nov. 17.
Tennessee, which has won 10 of 11 following a 1-4 start, has gotten little recognition. No Titan made it to the Pro Bowl, a motivational tool for coach Jeff Fisher.
And while Steve McNair became an MVP contender with his legs, he may use his arm against the Steelers, who secondary was shredded for 429 yards last week by Cleveland backup Kelly Holcomb.
The way we've been playing the last couple of weeks, why wouldn't they throw?'' Pittsburgh safety Lee Flowers says.
''The secondary shouldn't be the weakness on this team but, right now, we are. Teams feel like they can exploit us.''
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