Road dogs ready to upset home-field bias

January 02, 2001 11:28 AM
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There’s no place like home. Right, Dorothy? Just snap the rubber band on your bankroll three times. Then click your heels for good measure, walk up to the window and unload on the home teams.

If you did nothing else last weekend except play the home team side of the game, you did a smart thing. Home teams were 4-0. Three of the four home teams were underdogs. That didn’t hurt. But in the end, the points didn’t help because the homeboys didn’t need them. The three home dogs won straight up!

I’d like to know the last time there were four playoff games on one weekend, which included three home underdogs? Unusual, to say the least. There will be no home dogs this weekend as the higher seeds await the winners of wild card weekend. But there will be dogs and there will be home teams. You just have to pick out the winners, because there’s one in every game. They’re just hard to find sometimes.

Here are four quality selections. Easy to say "quality picks" this time of the year because every team that’s left is there for a reason. They’re darned good!

Eagles +4 vs. GIANTS

Ravens + 5 vs. TITANS

Saints + 8 vs. VIKINGS

RAIDERS -7 vs. Dolphins

Saturday, Jan. 6

Saints +8 vs. VIKINGS: Talking about holding on for dear life. That’s exactly what the Vikes did while losing their last three regular season games, allowing 104 points and 1,353 yards in the process. The Vikes’ defensive unit looks a tad undersized. The offense has alarms going off with Robert Smith struggling and Daunte Culpepper nursing a sprained ankle.

Are the Saints for real? That’s been the big question all season. After beating the Rams two out of three (the last one a big upset in the first round of the playoffs), the question has been answered. The Saints have to be commended for the way they dealt with the loss of key players during the season. Jeff Blake and Ricky Williams went out many weeks ago. Joe Horn is questionable for this game.

Somehow, some way the Saints seem to have a knack for having players step into injured players’ shoes. No reason to suspect they won’t fill those shoes again this week. They found a way to shut down Marshall Faulk a week after he ran for over 200 yards. I believe they’ll stop Robert Smith and make Culpepper make some plays he can’t pull off right now, with his ankle not 100 percent. Aaron Brooks needs to keep playing like he has no idea he’s a rookie. Four TD passes last week versus St. Louis was huge.

The big key in this game is the Saints’ offensive line. What they’ve been able to accomplish without Ricky Williams tells me they’re the main reason the Saints offense has kept right on ticking, even with all the key players going down. Saints win the battle up front and cover the spread!

 

RAIDERS –7 vs. Miami — Dolphins have been able to overcome some ugly Fiedler interceptions. Lamar Smith and the fast Fish D bailed him out again last week. But there’s no escaping Oakland’s big home field advantage this weekend.

The Raiders have won the last five home games by an average of 27 points. The Raiders are explosive at home. No reason to think they won’t have all their top guns loaded at their first home playoff game in many moons. The home teams covered all the point spreads last weekend. This week I’m hoping for just this one.

Sunday, Jan. 7

Ravens +5 vs. TITANS — I’ve ignored the Ravens for about as long as I can without going broke. Baltimore’s first playoff victory in the Ravens’ history made it eight consecutive wins. In that string of victories was an upset of Tennessee at Adelphia Coliseum. The Ravens have the No. 1 defense against the run. Eddie George hasn’t had a big day against them in either match-up this season.

The Titans have the NFL’s No. 1 defense. But both defenses are super strong. Both held offenses to under 250 yards per game. Buckle up the old chin strap for this one. Take the points and hold on for dear life.

 

Eagles +4 vs. GIANTS — Jim Fassel guaranteed the G-Men would make the playoffs. He didn’t say anything about being around long enough to enjoy them. Giants have won five straight and defeated Philly both times in regular season. In fact, since Fassel’s arrival as head coach, the Giants have defeated the Eagles eight straight games.

Winning the game, however, doesn’t say a whole bunch about covering the almighty point spread. The Eagles would have an eight-game regular season winning streak going if it wasn’t for a two-point loss to the Titans a few weeks ago that should have been a win. Both Eagles’ losses to the Giants were in the first half of the season when Philly was having trouble stopping the run.

The rush defense problem has been corrected. Hugh Douglas and company have shut down runners like Eddie George and Corey Dillon in the second half of the season. Donovan McNabb proved himself all season long. Against the Bucs, he made everyone a believer in his cold weather ability. I think McNabb’s versatility, ability to run when his receivers are covered, and his touch with the pass when he needs to throw off his back foot are the ingredients for an Eagle upset.