NFL’s Final 12

Jan 4, 2005 4:17 AM

It’s here! The NFL playoffs begin this weekend — and it’s about time.

Beginning Saturday, the last 12 standing teams will fight it out for the right to compete in the Super Bowl on Feb. 6.

It’s time to forget about teams sitting key players to rest up for the post-season or bad teams packing it in. Now we’re going to witness teams going all-out for the full 60 minutes — and more, as some games will likely find overtime. Here’s a close-up look at this weekend’s opening round action.

Jets at Chargers -6: All right, Chad, this is another big game you have a chance to save face. The Jets have struggled badly against strong teams, losing to the Ravens, Steelers, Patriots (twice), averaging 9 points in those defeats (0-3-1 ATS). The Jets come into the playoffs 0-2 SU/ATS, losing to the Patriots and Rams as a favorite each time.

On the plus side, the Jets played the Chargers in Week 2 in San Diego and won 34-28. In that game, the Jets had 380 total yards while San Diego mustered 327. However, the Chargers got red-hot after that defeat, winning the AFC West going 12-0-2 ATS.

Both these teams are in the top 10 in rush defense in the NFL, so quarterback play may be the difference. San Diego has great balance offensively with quarterback Drew Brees (27 TDs, 7 INTs), tight end Antonio Gates, running back LaDainian Tomlinson and midseason pickup receiver Keenan McCardell. San Diego is 7-1 SU, 6-1-1 ATS at home and 5-0 ATS as a favorite.

Broncos +10 at Colts: Déjà vu all over again! A year ago, the Broncos ripped the Colts late in the season, 31-17, to secure a playoff spot. Their reward was a trip to Indy, where the Colts returned the favor in a 41-10 playoff rout. That defeat helped Coach Mike Shanahan realize he needed a shut-down corner, so Clinton Portis was dealt for Champ Bailey. Denver gets another shot after securing a playoff spot after beating the Colts on Sunday.

They will need Bailey to be at his best. Indianapolis has the No. 1 offense in the NFL, behind record setting Peyton Manning (49 TDs, 10 INTs). The Colts won seven of eight games at home, where the offense averages 36 points. Combined with a shaky defense, the Colts went 6-2 "over" the total at home.

Vikings +6 at Packers: Minnesota comes into the playoffs on a roll, albeit a bad one. The Vikings are 3-7 SU/ATS the last 10 games. Offense isn’t a problem, as they rank third in the NFL. Defense is another story, as this bunch will not remind anyone of the Purple People Eaters. The Vikings have allowed 27 points or more in eight of the last 13 games. Needing a win to clinch a playoff spot, the Vikings lost 21-18 at Washington in the finale, but still backed into the postseason. Minnesota went 3-5 SU and 4-4 ATS on the road, giving up 29 points and is 0-3 SU as a dog.

Conversely, Green Bay is on a roll, going 9-3 SU and 7-4-1 the last 12 games. The Packers have veteran quarterback Brett Favre running the show and running back Ahman Green providing balance to the offense. Green Bay was just 2-6 ATS at Lambeau Field. These teams met twice this season, with Green Bay winning both, 34-31. Each meeting sailed "over" the total.

Rams +4 at Seahawks: On a wing and a prayer! Not to mention a wild overtime victory over the Jets in the finale, which helped the Rams squeeze into the playoffs. The Rams are one of several lousy NFC teams still playing, with the second-worst run defense in the league. St. Louis (8-8) is a poor 6-10 ATS. As an underdog, the Rams went 2-4 ATS while allowing 29 points per game.

Seattle also has problems, carrying a 6-7 SU and 2-11 ATS record into this game. They’ve had defensive problems and injuries much of the season, and are 11-2 "over" the total the last 13 games. Seattle is 4-9 ATS as a favorite and 1-7 ATS at home! On the other hand, the Rams are poor on the road (2-6 SU and ATS).