Best strategy this late is siding with home teams

January 15, 2002 6:52 AM
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Home sweet home.

NFL playoff teams were reminded again this past weekend why they fought so diligently during the regular season for home field advantage.

If you were able to stay home, chances are you won the game and covered the point spread. The only road dog to win the money or the game straight up was Baltimore.

You absolutely need a good reason to pick against the home team starting with the last month of the regular season and continuing down the road to the Super Bowl.

The road is made extra bumpy for a guy like me who is trying to find live dogs. Because we all know you have to find them on the road. There are none at home in the playoffs. That animal doesn’t exist.

But enough about how tough it is to pick winners. That’s no secret. Picking football is a lot like playing cards. As far as the dogs go, you just have to know when to hold’em and know when to fold’em. I’m holding on to these puppies for this weekend’s second round.

 

Eagles +3

PATS —3

STEELERS —5

Packers +10

Saturday, Jan. 19

Eagles (+3) over BEARS: I have to concede I’m caught up in the same Donovan McNabb cinderella story that everyone else seems to be writing and talking about. You can’t deny that the young QB out of Syracuse appears to be smack dab in the middle of a major maturation process. He’s looking over the entire field, seeing the whole picture very clearly and making the right decisions on where and when to throw the football. The mobility of McNabb was also a very decisive factor in the selection of the Eagles plus the points

Everything else in this game looks fairly even. Both teams have great defenses. Philly hasn’t allowed over 21 points in a game the entire season. Bears opponents only busted over 21 twice. Both teams have great rushing attacks. Duce Staley carries the load for Philly while Anthony Thomas grinds out the tough yards for Chicago. I think the Bears have the advantage being at home. But when I say you better have a good reason to pick against the home team, I think I have nailed it here. McNabb.

PATRIOTS —3 over Raiders: I liked the Raiders last weekend against the Jets. I love the wildly, enthusiastic Jon Gruden. And I don’t think anyone spreads the ball around any better than Rich Gannon. But I don’t think the Raiders defense will allow them to last too long on the road to the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, the Pats D should allow them to hang around for at least the AFC championship game. None of their last six opponents have reached 18 points. Bill Belichick has always been able to take a defense and scheme masterpieces. But lo and behold this season, along comes a man named Brady.

Tom Brady has made Belichick’s Bunch a mega-hit. After losing the first two games with Drew Bledsoe, Brady has led the Pats to an 11-3 mark the rest of the way. All season long many writers and fans expected Brady to crack. But the wily Wolverine never did and the Pats unexpectedly won the AFC East. I’m looking for a big game out of Antowain Smith. I know he didn’t go over 100 yards in every game, but it seemed like it. Whenever the Pats needed a big run Smith seemed ready to meet the challenge. And I think Brady and Smith will meet the Raiders defensive challenge.

Sunday, Jan. 20

STEELERS —5 over Ravens: At first glance it looks like too many points to lay I mean you have to take the Billick brain over the Cowher chin, right? But that’s just a glance. The Ravens may have a big two game winning streak and one playoff win under their belt. And the defense is starting to knock offenses around like they did last year.

Elvis Grbac is starting to look a lot like Trent Dilfer. But before you get too excited over the last year’s champs let me tell you this. Dilfer provided very little offense last year for the champs. So they invested big time in Elvis Grbac. And all year long, he couldn’t make the fans forget about Trent Dilfer.

Grbac didn’t throw any better, didn’t put more points on the board, didn’t win more games. Maybe Billick the Brain thought too hard about improving the offense before he made that QB investment?

And then again, maybe you should consider a solid chin over a flaky brain from time to time. The Steelers did lose 13-10 at home to Baltimore in the middle of the season. But if Brown didn’t miss four field goals that loss never would have happened.

Statistically, the Steelers ran over Baltimore. The Steelers dominated the Ravens again later in the year on the road, 26-21. Pittsburgh rushed for over 150 yards and Bettis didn’t even play. ­­Kordell Stewart threw for over 300 yards and a couple of TDs. I’m looking for a repeat of that performance on the road. Only now the Steelers have a second chance to beat the Ravens at home, like they should have done the first time.

Packers +10 over RAMS: Man, that’s like John Q. Public spitting on Brett Favre’s bullet spiral! It’s actually more like everyone in America agreeing with Chris Berman’s recent comment that the only team that can beat the Rams is the Rams. In other words, if they don’t beat themselves with turnovers, nobody can.  But if I’m Brett Favre or anyone on the Packers, I’m taking special offense to that betting line.

The Pack only lost one time all season by over 10 points. And that was to the Vikes inside a dome stadium. We know Brett hasn’t had some of his most memorable games indoors. but the Packer D has shown great promise over the last four weeks. No one is running any better right now than Ahman Green. But above all, I have to show due respect to the best QB in the NFL (sorry Kurt Warner) and take the Pack plus the double digits.