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Raiders, Eagles host NFL wildcard contests

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OAKLAND, Calif. — If this is Jerry Rice's last trip to the NFL playoffs, he wants to make it something to remember.

The game's most prolific receiver returns to the postseason for the first time since 1998 on Saturday when his Oakland Raiders play host to the New York Jets in a wild-card matchup.

After 23 postseason appearances with the San Francisco 49ers in which he earned three Super Bowl rings and the MVP award from the 1989 game, Rice is especially excited by the prospect of his next playoff adventure.

"Now it's time for me to basically take my game to the next level," said Rice, who has had seven 100-yard receiving games in the postseason. "This time of the year, you're always excited, because it is do-or-die."

The Raiders have slipped a little bit in each of the past three weeks, however. Three straight losses cost Oakland a first-round bye and pushed the AFC West champions into an unwanted wild-card game against the Jets, who have both momentum and recent history on their side.

New York beat Oakland 24-22 six days ago at the Coliseum on John Hall's 53-yard field goal in the final minute. The Jets clinched a playoff victory with the win, while the Raiders gave away the bye they seemed almost certain to earn.

Four losses in the Raiders' last six games seemed to indicate Oakland's roster of old-timers finally was showing its age. The Raiders have the oldest team in the NFL — a team built to challenge for the Super Bowl this season with little regard for the long-term future.

Until the Raiders' slide began, nobody questioned that philosophy. Now, Oakland must make an abrupt about-face to avoid entering an unpleasant offseason filled with questions.

"I don't know what to expect when you play the same team twice in six days," Raiders fullback Jon Ritchie said. "It's an advantage that we're at home again and they have to travel in a short week, but they came out here and beat us last week. I'm sure they feel they have the same chance again."

NFC WILDCARD: The Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers know enough about each other. Now, it's time to play a game that really matters.

After spending two weeks preparing, and even playing a meaningless game last weekend, the Eagles and Bucs meet again in an NFC wild-card playoff game at Veterans Stadium on Saturday.

"We know what type of game it's going to be," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "We had a taste of it up there last year. We know that it's difficult to win on the road. We know what we have to do."

This is a rematch of last year's playoff game that Philadelphia won 21-3. The Eagles' backups and third-stringers came back to beat the Bucs 17-13 in Tampa last week to finish 11-5 for the second straight season.

The memory of a 20-10 loss to the New York Giants in the second round last season still lingers for some of the Eagles.

"It's something this year we had in the back of our minds that maybe we were one or two plays away from moving on," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "You want to go out to the game focused on your job and taking it one play at a time, and then turning it into something big. If you do that, you can turn things around for your team."

The most discussed topic this week was the weather because Tampa has never won a game when it's been 40 degrees or colder at kickoff. The Bucs are 0-20 in such conditions, including an overtime loss to Green Bay on the final day of the regular season last year, when it was 15 degrees.



Saturday, 7 p.m., Ch. 4

JETS: Five of the Jets' past six games have been decided by five points or less. They are 3-2 in those games. . . . The Jets were an AFC-best 7-1 on the road in 2001. They have not won a road playoff game since Jan. 15, 1983, when they defeated the Raiders 17-14. . . . The Jets are 2-0 against the Raiders in their playoff history. . . . Herman Edwards is the 10th head coach since 1990 to earn a playoff berth in his first season. . . . Quarterback Vinny Testaverde has a 59.1 completion percentage and 1,052 passing yards in four career playoff games.

RAIDERS: The Raiders lost their last three regular-season games. ... Oakland has won an AFC-best 22 playoff games. ... The Raiders have won consecutive AFC West titles for first time since five in row from 1972-76. ... Oakland has the AFC's No. 2 passing offense (231.7). ... Quarterback Rich Gannon is 1-1 in career playoff starts. Gannon, who has an AFC-high 95.5 passer rating, is the first Raider to lead the AFC in passing rating since 1976 when Ken Stabler had a 103.4 rating.