Odds-makers Showing Visitors No Love
The Wild-Card round went pretty much as expected, with the exception of San Diego's victory over the Colts. This week, the four visiting teams once again enter their games riding high crests of momentum.
In this round, however, Las Vegas is not buying into the hype.
These are the playoffs, after all, and home field is still worth three points (as Bryn Swartz keeps reminding me).
Last week, I gave you six winners out of eight plays. The only two losers were the Colts and the o/u on the Ravens-Dolphins game. Both of those could have gone either way, too.
This week, I'm going to stick with the trends. The last time both top seeds made it to the Super Bowl was 1993. Usually one of the No. 1 seeds survives.
Since the Giants have just been down this road and have beaten the other three remaining teams in their bracket, I'm going to say its them.
TITANS (3) Ravens (O/U 35)
Baltimore is evoking memories of their 2000 Super Bowl run with a smash-mouth running game and a smothering defense. As we predicted, they dominated Miami last Sunday and look to be firing on all cylinders.
Tennessee will be without Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae, which hurts their vaunted running attack greatly. That puts the onus on their venerable QB Kerry Collins, who is seeking to avenge his poor Super Bowl XXXV performance against these same Ravens.
the skinny...The Titans won in Baltimore 13-10 on Oct. 5, but they were assisted by a controversial personal foul call late in the game which kept an 80-yard, winning TD drive alive...Also keep in mind that QB Joe Flacco was still a bit green and his running attack was unsettled.
Since then, Flacco has been steadily improving and the Ravens' offense has become almost as effective as their defense.
the pick...Ravens and under....Even though Collins' beard is now grey, he still gets flustered under a heavy rush. With no Mawae to level-set the Baltimore pass rush and anchor the running game, the Titans will be out-manned.
On defense, they will be able to stop the Ravens' rushing attack and get after Flacco. I predict a lot of punting. Somehow, Ed Reed will make a play and turn the tide in the Ravens favor.
PANTHERS 10 Cardinals (O/U 48 1/2)
The Panthers have not lost at home all season and don't plan to start now. The Cardinals were not supposed to beat the Falcons last week, but they did and now they must play on the east coast where they are absolutely horrible.
That being said, early bettors have foolishly jumped on the Panthers even with the spread in double-digits. Carolina's last game was a shootout against New Orleans - which they won on a last-minute field goal.
The Cardinals were underdogs at home to Atlanta because no one thought they could stop Michael Turner, but they did.
the skinny...Carolina is vulnerable to passing offenses. They are also very average against the run, which the Cardinals finally showed us they can do last week. These two teams met in Charlotte on Oct. 26 with the Panthers winning, 27-23.
Kurt Warner threw for 381 yards. That game was wide open and if this matchup holds true to form, the Cardinals have a good shot at not just covering, but winning outright.
the pick...Cardinals and over...Remember, all they have to do is get within 10 points. I see this as a shootout, which favors Arizona.
GIANTS 4 Eagles (O/U 40)
A divisional matchup that is always close, regardless of the stakes. The Giants lost three of their last four, including a stinker at home to these same Eagles. They did, however, win the only game they HAD to win, an overtime affair against the Panthers.
The Eagles are hot right now and a sexy pick to become this year's dark horse. Too bad for them the dark horse this year is the Ravens. America is big, but it is not big enough for two dark horses.
the skinny...In the two previous meetings this season, the teams split, with the away team winning each time...The Eagles outscored the Giants 51-50 in the two games...The Giants and Eagles both know what they need to do win this one.
New York must contain Brian Westbrook, and Philadelphia has to safeguard getting steamrolled by "Earth, Wind and Fire."
The pick...Eagles and under...That does not mean the Giants can't win this game, let's say, 20-17...Which I believe will be the final score.
STEELERS 6 Chargers (O/U 38)
Right now, no team in the NFL should be laying points to the Chargers, never mind six. Philip Rivers is playing like, well, we thought he could when San Diego traded Eli Manning for him and let Drew Brees walk.
The Steelers are juuuuust getting by these days. When the teams met in Pittsburgh on Nov. 16, the Steelers won the first 11-10 game in league history. The game was thatclose, and this one should be closer (if that's possible)...
the skinny...Darren Sproles is having one of those stretches that can carry a team. He is exactly what this Charger team needed to run the table at the end of the season. Ben Roethlisberger is coming off a concussion, which HAS to effect his play.
He is the key to this game, which promises to be a nail-biter.
The Steelers do not have the playmakers to keep up with the Chargers right now. They will need to get very physical and make oodles of stops on third down to stay afloat in this game.
the pick...Chargers and over...Nail-biters come down to the last minute, which means I'd rather have the points than lay them.