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Playoffs or Hitchcock -- the birds of the NFL take over

Jan 13, 2009 5:01 PM
Denny the Dog by Dennis Ball |
last week

Where have all the top seeds gone?

The high flying birds have swallowed up all the great seeds. It’s no different than when you lay your grass seed down in the spring. Those darn birds gobble plenty of big seeds up and that’s exactly what happened last weekend.

Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of his birds! They’re in the Final Four.

The Ravens stunned the top-seeded Titans on Saturday. Later in the day the Cardinals shocked the second-seeded Panthers. But the Hitchcock horror flick continued on Sunday as the Eagles flew into Giants Stadium and planted the No. 1 seed of the NFC, dousing any hopes the G-Men had of repeating as Super Bowl champs.

It’s anybody’s Super Bowl for the taking. That’s been my feeling since the Elite Eight took form a couple of weeks ago. With most of the top seeds eliminated and only a 2, 4 and two 6’s remaining, you definitely can say it’s "anyone’s ball game."

The ball game belonged to the dogs last weekend as three out of four puppies not only covered the spread but won straight up. The only dog that let Denny The Dog down was San Diego. Chargers fans needs not apologize. I deserved the punishment.

NFC Championship

Eagles -3½ at Cardinals: Within the last two months the Eagles have gone into the Giants’ backyard twice and slapped the G-Men silly both times. They won four of their last five regular season games and then defeated Minnesota and New York to set up this title bout. The Cards are champs of their division but there’s definitely an asterisk next to that title. The competition just isn’t there. (pictured Eagles'safety Brian Dawkins)

Arizona lost four of its last six regular season games. The Eagles deserve to be favored in this game. But will I lay 3½ points on a road favorite? Heck no. I’m backing the home underdog. Home dawgs finished the season on a strong note and I can’t pass on an opportunity to bet one in an NFC championship contest. Home dogs were nothing to brag about at the beginning of the year but were 12-4 coming down the stretch.

The Pats clobbered the Cards back east in Week 16 and since then the Redbirds have rededicated themselves to running the football and playing tough defense. The defense is suddenly playing inspired and the offense is able to show the run as a possible threat after outgaining both Atlanta and Carolina on the ground.

The Eagles clobbered the Cards 48-20 at Philadelphia in Week 13, but I believe this is a new Arizona team. The Cards will be playing with unbelievable emotion for their first home NFC title game. Arizona might get Anquan Boldin back, but if not I like their chances with Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston as big 1,000 yard gainers this season.

Tim Hightower was a solid performer at Carolina and both he and Edgerrin James should provide enough of a threat so Warner can find some time in the pocket.

I think the Eagles will need more heart to win this game. A home underdog in an NFC championship game is not a real funny thing. And I think Arizona will use this insult as a rallying cry. Take the home dog and the higher seed. You might not get a chance to bet a home dawg this far in the playoffs for a long time. CARDS.

AFC Championship

Ravens + 6 at Steelers: No secrets between these two defensive specialists. It’s a very similar matchup to one the Giants and Eagles played last weekend. These guys have played each other twice with the Steelers having the slight edge on both occasions. Both victories were only by a combined total of seven points.

In Week 4 the Steelers nipped the Ravens 23-20 in overtime. Pittsburgh went to Baltimore in Week 15 and eked out a 13-9 victory in the closing seconds on a controversial pass play that will undoubtedly be replayed many times before this game is played on Sunday. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Steelers have to sweat out another win here.

And, it wouldn’t shock me if the Ravens return the favor. Either way, I’m looking for a close game. I understand Pittsburgh being favored by 6. Willie Parker is feeling good again plus Big Ben has more experience than Joe Flacco. But I just don’t see a big difference in these defenses. The Steelers may be the No. 1 defense in the league, but the Ravens are a very close No. 2.

Baltimore went into Miami and forced four turnovers. Ray Lewis & Co. came right back to Tennessee and forced the No. 1 seeded Titans to commit three huge turnovers inside the red zone. Baltimore is a big play team and its defense is scary. McClain and McGahee ran for more yards than Pittsburgh in Week 15 and I think they have the potential to accomplish the same thing here.

Flacco is definitely a rookie. That’s well documented, but he’s also unflappable. Joe Cool threw only one touchdown pass and was picked off five times as the Ravens jumped off to an undesirable 2-3 start. But then Flacco helped turn that inauspicious start into an AFC title game. Who would have thunk it?

In Flacco’s last 11 regular season games he tossed 13 touchdowns and was only picked off five times. Although Joe is very cool, there’s no doubt the Ravens’ calling card is their shutdown defense. Flacco doesn’t turn the ball over. He takes what his coaches say very seriously. They preach to him every week how important it is to keep the ball safely in his hands and in the possession of his team.

If the Ravens don’t turn the ball over and pressure Big Ben, they just might pull off the improbable. With Baltimore, I’m getting the benefit of two extra points I wouldn’t get if it was a regular season game. RAVENS.