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Inconsistent Seahawks, surprising Saints among NFL's wild-cards

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The National Football League's regular season is finally over, leaving in its wake a path of imponderables best left to Rodin's contemplative statue, ``The Thinker.'' One is how the early-season players' strike affected the final standings. Might the playoff picture have differed with a full 16-game campaign instead of an interrupted season that lost one week and had three others contested with replacement players?

But now it is time to turn to the playoffs, which begin Sunday with the wild-card games involving the two teams in each conference with the best records among non-division winners. In the AFC it's Seattle at Houston, while in the NFC the amazing New Orleans Saints, whose 12-3 record marked the first winning season in the history of the franchise, are at home against Minnesota.

The division winners, who get the first week off, are San Francisco, whose 13-2 regular-season record was the best in the league, Chicago, Washington, Denver, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. Conspicuous by their absence are the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, who started 0-3, lost whatever chance they might have had to recover when the season then got disrupted by the strike, and eventually finished last in the NFC East with a 6-9 record.

Now for a capsule look at Sunday's games:

Houston vs. Seattle - Just when you think the Seahawks are about to explode they do something goofy, such as getting upset by a struggling team like the Bengals, Jets, or Raiders. You can't trust them. They are like a squirrel that gets halfway across the street and then changes directions five times in the next five seconds. Seattle will also be without its best running back, Curt Warner, who is out with injuries.

Yet this is a team that often comes up with days when it looks unbeatable; that has ``the mouth that roars'' in rookie linebacker Brian Bosworth; and that has a super wide receiver in Steve Largent. Last Sunday in a loss to Kansas City, Largent caught six passes to increase his career total to 752. That's two more than previous NFL record-holder Charlie Joiner.

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