Tis the season to count your blessings. And hopefully, your winnings! Thats exactly what the Minnestota Vikings are doing this week. The Vikes, at 11-2, looked like Super Bowl material for the first 14 weeks of the regular season. But suddenly, Robert Smith stopped running, the defense decided they wouldnt stop anyone, and Daunte Culpepper was hobbled with an ankle injury. The Vikings lost their last three games to finish 11-5.
But sometimes Santa Claus rewards you for being good most of the year. St. Nick realizes you cant always be perfect 365 days a year. So Santa allowed the Vikes to open a present the day before Christmas. The gift was overwhelming. The Vikes, though far from Super Bowl material, were still invited to the playoffs. And that was just a stocking gift. The Vikes also were allowed to unwrap an opening round bye gift! Count your blessings, Denny Green. Instead of momentum heading into the playoffs, the Vikes have what Santa Claus might call ho-ho-homentum!
Denny The Dog knows exactly how the Vikings feel. The Dog felt the sting of the final regular season week. You might say hes limping into the money games. But the best bets still look good for the season. Here are four more to ring in the New Year!
Colts +1 vs. DOLPHINS
SAINTS + 6 vs. Rams
Broncos +4 (estimate) vs. RAVENS (or Titans)
EAGLES + 2 vs. Bucs
Saturday, Dec. 30
Colts +1 vs. DOLPHINS: The Colts are peaking at the right time. Indy has more momentum than Miami by a long shot. The Fish appear to be caught in an oil spill, finishing the season with losses to the Bucs and Colts before squeaking by the Pats.
The Colts might be the dark horse in the AFC race. Indy has put together impressive wins over Buffalo, Miami and Minnesota to save their season and appears finely tuned for the money games. Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Harrison always gave the Colts a potentially deadly combination on offense. The Colts D was the weak link. But no more.
The Colts limited the Bills to 294 yards, registered nine sacks and three takeaways. The resurgent D was then stingy with Miami, allowing only 272 yards, producing four more sacks and two takeaways. The Colts came back last Sunday. For the first time in the Vikings last 32 games, they held the Vikes to less than 300 yards 236, to be exact. The Colts are improving each week and cant be taken lightly in Miami this Saturday.
SAINTS + 6 vs. Rams: You dont have to go out of your way to sell me on a dog. But make that dog a home puppy and you have my full attention. Make that home dog a playoff mutt and you have my bankroll hook, line and sinker!
Im taking the over-achiever over the under-achiever. The Rams, theunder-achiever, were expected to be a powerhouse again this season. Their return to the Super Bowl was a given. Instead, the Rams floundered. The defense was spotty, even after hiring savior Bud Carson. Kurt Warner was injured and never was the same upon return to the starting line-up.
The Rams lost four of their last six games. But just after beating the Saints last week, they were beating their chests and proclaiming, "The Super Bowl goes through St. Louis!" Heck, theyre ready to do the bob n weave without playing the next game.
The road to the Super Bowl goes through New Orleans first. Thats where the game is played Saturday. And Im taking the over-achiever. The Saints werent on anyones Christmas playoff list. They lost starting QB Jeff Blake. Ricky Williams went down for the regular season and probably beyond. Still, the Saints never gave up and managed to win the NFC West. The Saints are 0-4 in playoff games. Who dat, who dat say the Saints cant win a money game?
Sunday, Dec. 31
Broncos +4 vs. RAVENS (or TITANS): Broncos have seven straight playoff wins under their belt. Theyre 5-3 on the road this season. Far be it from me to bet against those numbers. The Ravens have more momentum than any team coming into the playoffs, winning their last seven regular season games.
But something scares me about a team that only managed five first downs at home last week versus Jets. The Ravens D also scares me, since they allowed the fewest points ever in a 16-game schedule. But Mike Shanahan will find a way to generate the offense. The Jets may have helped show him the way.
Take the Broncos plus the points, even if the opponent is Tennessee. The Titans havent played any real competition for a month. When they did, they squeaked out a two-point win over Philly. The Titans also lost the previous week to Jacksonville. Theyre not exactly a light-up-the-scoreboard team versus great teams!
EAGLES +2 vs. Bucs: Oddsmakers must have gone back to that Titans game four weeks ago to come up with this number. The Eagles lost by two at home to Tennessee. The Titans have a makeup similar to the Bucs, only theyre stronger. So the Eagles should be able to handle the heat of Bucs running game. Warrick Dunn is good, but he cant be as powerful as Eddie George.
Speaking of heat, dont tell Tony Dungy, but the mercury isnt supposed to top 35 degrees Sunday in Philly. The Bucs are 0-19 in temperatures below 43 degrees.