Friday, January 6, 2012

NFL Playoffs Feature Six Mostly Solid Teams

Twelve NFL teams remain as the playoffs begin with four games this weekend, and each team has at least some little flaws. The same can be said of the six remaining broadcast teams.

Here's a look at the postseason TV assignments, followed by a one-through-six ranking of the best remaining broadcast crews.
WILD CARD WEEKEND
Saturday
Bengals at Texas (4:30 p.m., NBC) / Tom Hammond-Mike Mayock-Alex Flanagan
Lions @Saints (8 p.m., NBC) / Al Michaels-Chris Collinsworth-Michel Tafoya

Sunday
Falcons @ Giants (1 p.m., Fox) / Joe Buck-Troy Aikman-Pam Oliver
Steelers @Broncos (4:30 p.m., CBS) / Jim Nantz-Phil Simms

DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS
Jan. 14
Falcons/Saints/Giants @ 49ers (4:30 p.m., Fox) / Kenny Albert-Daryl Johnston-Tony Siragusa
Bengals/Broncos/Steelers @ Patriots (8 p.m., Fox) / Nantz-Simms

Jan. 15
Broncos/Texans/Steelers @ Ravens (1 p.m., CBS) / Greg Gumbel-Dan Dierdorf
Falcons/Lions/Giants @ Packers (4:30 p.m., Fox) / Buck-Aikman-Oliver

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES
Jan. 22
AFC (3 p.m., CBS) / Nantz-Simms
NFC (6:30 p.m., Fox) / Buick-Aikman-Oliver

SUPER BOWL XLVI
Feb. 5
(6:30 p.m., NBC) / Michaels-Collinsworth-Michele Tafoya

Of the networks' top teams, the "Sunday Night Football" crew from NBC has the fewest assignments. They'll work a wild card game and not again until the Super Bowl.

That's a shame because the group tends to raise its game during the postseason. While Al Michaels can be overbearing at times during the regular season -- offering commentary as opposed to play-by-play (and that line has blurred for many in his seat through the years) -- he does better when the stakes are higher. And Collinsworth almost invariably does games well, bringing some insights and some self-deprecating humor.

For those reasons, they top the six remaining teams -- albeit just barely and complaining about any of these crews basically amounts to nitpicking. Here's the breakdown ...

1. Al Michaels-Chris Collinsworth-Michele Tafoya, NBC
Again, Michaels usually merits a B for his work and that typically increases at this time of year. Collinsworth certainly rains among the top of the color commentators who remain, and Tafoya provides information without everything being about her.

2. Jim Nantz-Phil Simms, CBS
They get the not here, only slightly over the next team, only because they do not have a sideline reporter. Without that to bog them down, the Nantz-Simms tandem has a proven rhythm and does quality work. Again, some might believe they can sense a bias, but they drew the weekend's biggest assignment for a reason.

3. Tom Hammond-Mike Mayock-Alex Flanagan, NBC
Sure, they do not work together regularly, but the opinions and prowess of Mayock make this crew worth of this spot. Hammond is a steady pro. He just does his job, and that's all that matters. Mayock shares a lot of information (sometimes to numbers heavy) in a short amount of time and knows players. Maybe not as strong on Xs and Os and some analysts, but he's good.

4. Joe Buck-Troy Aikman-Pam Oliver, Fox
Buck's one of the best play-by-play men working any sport -- and he's a standout in both baseball and football. Aikman is steady as well. Sometimes, though, it feels as if segments for Oliver are forced on viewers.

5. Greg Gumbel-Dan Dierdorf, CBS
Good tandem, worthy of postseason assignment. They work well together, too. Just a shade behind the others.

6. Kenny Albert-Daryl Johnston-Tony Siragusa, Fox
Have learned to like this group more, especially when Siragusa stays away from humor and shares his football knowledge and opinions. His role on the field is not as a sideline reporter but as a sideline analyst and it works for him, and the threesome, when the focus is football. Another group that might be stronger in the postseason than the regular season.

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