Sweeps week: 10 of 15 times sure looks impressive

Jan 4, 2005 6:48 AM

Now the real fun begins.

The storyline surrounding the four NFL playoff games can best be described as "familiarity breeds contempt." All four games feature rematches of games played earlier this season.

Before taking a look at each contest, here’s a global review of what we witnessed over the past four months.

The way to make money this season was to back road teams and those on a roll. Road underdogs were 89-76-6 (53.9 percent) against the pointspread. Road favorites were 43-38-2 (53.1 percent).

The home underdog/road favorite splits were roller coaster-like this season. For the first six weeks, road favorites were 17-10-1. Over the next four, they were 5-12. And over the final seven weeks of the season, they reversed direction again at 21-16-1.

Scoring rebounded this season, making up almost the entire amount by which scores fell during 2003. Games averaged 43 points. Yet the linesmaker did a perfect job in setting the "over/under numbers. The "under" held a scant 127-126-3 edge. It doesn’t get closer to 50-50!

Conventional wisdom holds that it’s tough to defeat a team three times in the same season. But history actually shows that 10 of 15 times the team winning the first two completed the sweep. Perhaps the combination of talent and matchups more than offsets any double revenge motive.

Rams +4 at Seahawks (53): Both teams greatly underachieved this season. Seattle did win games later in the season but had trouble covering as a favorite, often allowing ”˜backdoor’ covers as the defense consistently was vulnerable. The Rams out-yarded the Seahawks in both previous matchups this season by a combined 140 yards. They are the more talented team with a greater track record of postseason play and success over the past half decade.

Neither team has an edge in coaching as both St. Louis’ Mike Martz and Seattle’s Mike Holmgren have had more than their fair share of justified second guessers, especially with in game decisions and clock management. Both teams have plenty of weapons on offense and both defenses have weaknesses. Both teams have had locker-room controversy in recent weeks. St. Louis has the better overall statistics but the edges are slight. Seattle can exorcise many demons from that shocking earlier home loss with a win and the line is cheap. SEATTLE, UNDER.

Jets +6 at Chargers (45): After starting 5-0, the Jets won just five of the next 11. The only impressive win in the second half of the season against a decent team was 37-14 over schizophrenic Seattle. They did win at San Diego very early in the season, but that was before it was realized how strong the Chargers would become. The Jets both outrushed and outpassed the Chargers in their 34-28 win. A major reason for the Jets’ success this season has been an offense that rarely makes mistakes. QB Chad Pennington generally plays within himself but has not shown a consistent ability to make the big play.

Both teams have outstanding running games and merely average receivers, although San Diego TE Antonio Gates is an emerging star. San Diego won 11 of its final 13 games. The Chargers have great momentum and the league’s best pointspread record at 13-1-2. Ten of their 12 wins were by at least six points. Despite average statistics this is a typical Marty Schottenheimer team in which the sum is greatly better than the individual parts. SAN DIEGO, UNDER.

Broncos +10 at Colts (56): Denver needed a win last week over these Colts to secure a playoff spot, while the Colts were resting most of their key regulars. Indianapolis rode the arm of QB Peyton Manning and his record setting 49 TD passes to an outstanding season and a third straight playoff appearance. Last season they won twice in the Playoffs before succumbing in the AFC Title game in New England. The Colts would seem to be the team to take that natural progression from a conference title loss to the Super Bowl a year later. And their improved defensive play this season might enable them to do just that. Eight of Indy’s 16 opponents scored 17 or fewer points. The test for the Colts will be whether or not they can win in New England and/or Pittsburgh.

Denver will not be as easy to defeat this season as they were a season ago. Despite an offense that ranked fifth overall and defense that ranked fourth, Denver should have been able to win more than just 10 games. Six other teams in the playoffs managed to do just that. Still, those impressive rankings show the balance of the Broncos. Seemingly as go the fortunes of Denver QB Jake Plummer, so determines the fate of the Broncos. The Colts will have their charged up home crowd cheering for a repeat of last season’s blowout win. But Denver has enough fundamentally to not only keep this game close but to also pull off the upset. The line is way too high. DENVER, UNDER.

Vikings +6 at Packers (48): This is the third game between the league’s third and fourth ranked offenses and the number 25 and 28 defenses. Green Bay has the slightly better rankings on both sides of the ball. The outdoor conditions for this game greatly favor the Packers as Minnesota’s late season outdoor struggles surfaced again last week in their loss at Washington. Both teams have been relatively average in the running game on both offense and defense. Each is well above average in passing offense and well below in defending the pass. A high scoring game, barring terrible weather, should be a surprise to absolutely nobody.

Minnesota has not lost to Green Bay by more than four points since 2001. They have lost by more than six points to the Pack just once in their last 14 meetings. Although, Packers QB Brett Favre receives most of the well deserved notoriety, Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper is a star in his own right and had an outstanding regular season. After going decades without losing a home postseason game the Packers finally lost to Atlanta two seasons ago and needed overtime to get by Seattle last season. Minnesota is clearly capable of upsetting the Packers notwithstanding the recent slump. MINNESOTA, OVER.

Last week: 7-9

Season: 135-116-5