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Calm is underrated

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Clay from Jacksonville:
Would you attribute the now frequent appearances of wild-card teams deep in the playoffs every year as a greater parity within the league or is it something else?

Vic: It's certainly the result of parity, but I also think there's another ingredient. The sixth seeds usually have to fight their way into the playoffs. That means they're on a roll or at least playing at a high level when the regular season ends. In other words, they're hot. The Steelers were a hot team in 2005 and even though the Giants lost to the Patriots in the regular-season finale in 2007, they played the Patriots tough in that game and the Giants entered the playoffs playing their best football of the season and with a degree of momentum and determination from that narrow loss to the Patriots. Meanwhile, the top seeds may have clinched their positions a couple of weeks earlier and shut it down in the final week or weeks. Now, coming off a bye week, they may be a month removed from their best football. Mike Tomlin probably had that fear in mind when he played his starters against the Browns in the regular-season finale. Jeff Fisher rested his players against the Colts, although I don't think that hurt the Titans nearly as much as that "Terrible Towel" performance did. It allows for a negative culture and it becomes a distraction. That kind of stuff is bad. Videos and rap songs and other forms of distractions have doomed many a playoff team. The Titans never won again.

Jeff from Jacksonville:
What is your opinion on Tony Dungy retiring?

Vic: The first time I ever heard Tony's name was in the summer of 1974. I was interviewing a local kid named Doug Plank, who played at Ohio State, and he told me he was being moved to cornerback because Ohio State was playing Minnesota early in the season and Minnesota had an option quarterback named Tony Dungy and Dungy was a dangerous runner. Little did I know that option quarterback would become so central in my life for such a long time. Three years later, he was a standout rookie in the Steelers' training camp. Then he would become a Steelers coach and much later, of course, the head coach of the division rivals of the team I currently cover. My opinion of his retirement is that he's earned it. Tony is a football icon. He is someone we'll never forget, and not because of his success as a player and as a coach, but because of the style with which he did those things. In all of the years I have known and observed Tony, I have never seen him embarrass himself or do anything he should now regret. He's everything we should all want to be. I admire him and I stand in applause of his career in football.

Tim from Middleburg, FL:
Watching the playoff games with my father in law, I had the pleasure to look through his father's old photo album. In the back there were old photos from Cleveland Browns games in the early 1950's. Almost everyone in the stands had on shirts and ties. Was this the common attire back in those days?

Vic: I don't know to what generation you are speaking, but I can tell you that my grandfathers' generation was the last of the coat, tie and hat guys. Wearing hats is what I remember most. They never went out into public without wearing a dress hat. It was considered vulgar not to wear a hat. The 1950's? Yeah, I guess so, although the late '50's is when men started dressing more casually.

Tom from Jacksonville:
I agree, Larry Fitzgerald is awesome. My two favorites I have seen as I grew up were Swann and Rice. Do you think Fitzgerald is as good as those two?

Vic: In my opinion, Fitzgerald is as athletic as Lynn Swann and as technically sound and polished as Jerry Rice. Statistically, Fitzgerald will blow Swann away, but not Rice. In terms of longevity and achievement, Rice is without peer. Fitzgerald, however, is the most graceful, natural, athletic, fluid and instinctive receiver I have ever seen. Will he eclipse Rice's records? I doubt it. I'm just speaking from an appearance standpoint. He makes me go wow!

Bruce from St. Simons Island, GA:
What do you see will be the affect on the Colts from the change in coaches?

Vic: I think the transition to Jim Caldwell will be smooth, for the obvious reasons that he's schooled in the Colts' ways and the Colts are familiar with his ways. The two, no doubt, agree. I'm very impressed by the Colts' continuity. That is a very well-run football operation.

Ryan from Chattanooga, TN:
I love how everyone questions run the ball, stop the run, since the Cardinals have won two playoff games. Did they not watch those games? They shut down Michael Turner and the Carolina duo. Plus, they ran the ball more and played better defense. There's the answer.

Vic: You're absolutely right.

Joni from Jacksonville:
Given the way Jake Delhomme played last weekend, would you have pulled him out of the game? Five interceptions is a lot.

Vic: I don't know what good that would've done. The defense didn't show up. What interests me is that all four losing teams from this past weekend's games scored first.

Matt from Philadelphia, PA:
I know you have to like what the Eagles have done with their offensive line. They lost a Pro Bowl guard in Shawn Andrews, then lost his backup, but have still played solidly up front due to drafting many linemen the last few years.

Vic: You don't have to have five first-round picks on your offensive line. You usually have to get your left tackle in the first or second round of the draft, but the rest of the guys can be acquired and developed from the late rounds of the draft and undrafted free agency. The key word is "developed." A team has to have a constant supply of what I call "jars on the shelf" at the offensive line positions. You can never allow your shelf to go empty or you're in deep trouble. The Steelers lost their left tackle, Marvel Smith, and their best interior lineman, Kendall Simmons, early in the year and for the season, but they've managed to get by because they had a couple of "jars on the shelf." No area of the team requires more players. You absolutely must be vigilant about stockpiling and developing young offensive linemen.

John from Crossville, TN:
Even though the Jags fell off and the Texans started slow, wouldn't you agree the AFC South is the toughest division? What team would want to play any of them?

Vic: I don't think that's a claim you can make in a season in which the AFC South hasn't won a playoff game. In this case, perception isn't reality. The reality is that the AFC South is 0-2 and the AFC North is going to win the AFC and post a 4-1 playoff record.

Adam from Louisville, KY:
I recall a time when having homefield advantage appeared to mean something. What has happened to get us where we are right now? What are teams doing differently to win on the road in the playoffs?

Vic: They're stopping the run. That's the big thing. If a team gets you at home, especially if it's a cold-weather team, and runs the ball on you, dominating time of possession and the physical aspect of the game, the cumulative effect of all of that is too much for the visitors to overcome. All of a sudden, the crowd sounds louder and more intimidating, and the weather feels colder and more foreboding. If you stop the run, you have a chance. You make the home team play fast and loose with the ball and, in the cold weather, anything can happen when the ball is in the air.

Earl from Jacksonville:
Based on your answer regarding Kurt Warner's chances for the Hall of Fame, would you also think twice about Peyton Manning? I thought for a long time he would be a lock for the Hall, but then you answered this question and it made me think twice.

Vic: No, I would not think twice about Manning. He's a first ballot selection. No quarterback has ever had a more domineering career. His stats are overwhelming. They are undeniable, plus, he has a ring.

Chris from Crestview, FL:
Question about the play clock: When exactly does it start? Is it when the play is ruled dead, when the officials spot the ball or at some other time?

Vic: The 40-second play clock starts when the previous play ends.

Chris from Palm Coast, FL:
Since Tebow is going back to Florida next season, do you think he will end up being the best college football player in history?

Vic: I think that goes without saying. The problem with old guys, such as Jim Thorpe, is that they're so, well, you know, old and they shouldn't count any more. New is everything. Nobody likes old.

Kenneth from Jacksonville:
What is the main thing the Colts will miss without Tony Dungy?

Vic: His calm; calm is greatly underrated.

Jason from Virginia Beach, VA:
What did Gene Smith mean when he said, "I have a base-hit philosophy. The more you get on base, the more you're going to score, whereas the more you try to hit home runs, the more you're going to strike out."

Vic: I'm really surprised you need that explained. He's saying that he doesn't believe in taking wild swings in the draft. He doesn't believe in playing hunches and attempting to catch lightning in a bottle by drafting a player who represents a high degree of risk/reward. Smith is saying that he believes in being true to his board. He's saying he believes in drafting productive players who represent a high degree of hit and a low degree of miss, even though their home run potential may be low. Haven't you ever played baseball? Singles hitters have short, compact swings and seldom strike out. They put the ball in play and make the other team field it. Home run hitters often take wild swings and strike out. What's the literal transition? He'd rather draft a guy with physical limits but who will likely make the roster, than waste a pick on a guy with a lot of physical upside but routinely under-achieves.

Michael from Fruit Cove, FL:
You said before the season that the AFC North had a tough schedule and that its champion might have a worse record than other division champions. Is it fair to say their schedule battle-tested them and made them ready for the playoffs?

Vic: It's certainly fair to say it challenged them. It is still mind-boggling that the Steelers and Ravens were able to overcome the schedules they faced to reach the AFC title game. The Steelers played the Eagles, Giants, Colts, Patriots, Cowboys, Titans, Chargers and Ravens (twice). The Ravens played the Giants, Colts, Titans, Cowboys, Dolphins and Steelers (twice). I honestly believed the possibility existed that the AFC North champion would be 8-8 or worse.

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