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GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: Who will watch the NFC playoffs?

With NFL teams going up and down so quickly from year to year, the league's next television contract will allow networks to move games from Sunday to Monday night to provide more attractive prime-time matchups.

With NFL teams going up and down so quickly from year to year, the league's next television contract will allow networks to move games from Sunday to Monday night to provide more attractive prime-time matchups.


But how will Fox get people to watch NFC games during this season's playoffs?

Nobody in that conference is worth watching except Philadelphia, and its games are likely to be blowouts that viewers will tune out at halftime. Yeah, it can be more fun watching poker or figure skating than watching Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens play pitch and catch against overmatched mediocrities.

Sunday's results were indicative of what will happen in January, notably Tampa Bay's 27-0 rout of Atlanta, which is supposed to be the NFC's second-best team. Yes, the Falcons are only a win away from clinching the NFC South, but what does that horrible performance say about them?

As for the Eagles, on Sunday they beat Green Bay 47-17, leading 35-3 at halftime, then stringing things out in a game most notable for being nearly 3{ hours long and sending satellite TV viewers to other fare, such as the Denver-San Diego AFC West showdown.

The Packers are supposed to be one of the NFC's better teams and had won six straight after starting 1-4. Just six days earlier, they ran over St. Louis 45-17, and the way things are going, the Rams are likely to be in the playoffs; at 6-6, they would be the second wild-card team if the season ended now.

But there are a bunch of 5-7 teams on their heels and who knows if that could mean a sub-.500 team in the postseason?

This subject came up when the NFL realigned three years ago after Houston entered the league. It went from six divisions to eight and from three wild-card teams to two, raising the possibility some team could win a weak division at 8-8, while a 10-6 or 11-5 team from the same conference missed the playoffs.

But this is worse.

There is a conference full of mediocre or bad teams capable of going 8-8 or worse and getting in, while Philly is 15-1. Who's to say, for example that the champions of the NFC North and West (Green Bay or Minnesota and Seattle or St. Louis) don't finish at .500?

There are dissenters, many of whom work for NFC teams.

I don't think they are 40-some-odd points better than us,'' Brett Favre said after his team was thumped by the Eagles.They were today. But we can throw this in the recycle bin and see what happens from here on.''

Never ignore Brett Favre, although he added: ``They're obviously better than us.''

True, the recycle bin is full of NFC teams trashed by the Eagles and by teams from the other conference.

Is it a coincidence Philadelphia's only loss was to an AFC team, Pittsburgh, by a resounding 27-3? Since then, the Eagles have beaten the Cowboys, Redskins, Giants and Packers by a combined 151-50, an average of about 38-13.

Don't think this doesn't concern league officials. In casual conversations, they tend to say things like: someone will get hot,'' ormaybe there's a sleeper in there who can stay with the Eagles.'' But it's conveyed more as wishful thinking than optimism.

OK, what about Carolina, which got to the Super Bowl last season, lost a bunch of important players to injuries early and started 1-7? The Panthers now have won four straight; Jake Delhomme, written off as a one-year wonder, has become a phenom again despite playing with a broken right thumb; and career backup Nick Goings has three straight 100-yard games _ 349 yards in all after rushing for a total of 106 in his first three NFL seasons.

Sure, the Panthers could make it back to the playoffs, a tribute to coach John Fox's stick-with-it intensity. It would be remarkable considering they would be doing it without Steve Smith, Stephen Davis, DeShaun Foster and Kris Jenkins, among others, and without a bunch of supporting cast players who left as free agents after the Super Bowl season.

Then they could face some 8-8 or 9-7 division champion in the wild-card round, win and go to Philadelphia for a second-round game.

``We've become a new football team,'' Fox said after Sunday's win in New Orleans.

New enough to win in Philadelphia, as they did last January against a team that was without Brian Westbrook and had not yet acquired Owens and Jevon Kearse?

Even with three straight losses in the NFC title game hanging over the Eagles, forget it.

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