There’s no snowing down Patriots

January 22, 2002 8:47 AM
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We prefer not to bet on the favorites, but it’s a no-brainer this time of year. The home teams are never the underdogs, and always seem to win the game or the money.

The home team favorites are 6-2, zipping along at a 75 percent winning pace since the post-season started. And yes, I’m counting the Patriots as a winner with their three-point squeaker over Oakland.

The Patriots may have been a push on your ticket but I was a Pats backer last weekend and had no trouble finding 2½ points.

Here’s my take on the AFC and NFC championship match-ups this Sunday.

AFC Championship

Pats +8 over STEELERS: I know. I know. I just explained how tough it is to bet against the home teams or favorites in the playoffs. So how in the world can I go for the underdog? Why buck the trend? Pittsburgh looks unstoppable right now. The point margins in the last three home wins averaged over 20.

The Steelers might be the most physical team in the NFL. They’re number one in rush defense and also have the top rushing attack on offense with or without Jerome Bettis. Even if the team doctor double-clutches with the needle and misses his mark again (How do you miss a bus?), Cowher’s running game keeps on trucking.

The Steelers have averaged 160 yards per game on the ground. Bettis has not made an appearance, but Pittsburgh has been impressive. There is no doubt how effective they are running the football and stopping the rush. So again you ask, why buck the trend? The Steelers are flying high. And no pun intended, opponents playing at Heinz Field don’t seem to be able to catch up.

There is absolutely no chance of the Steelers being overrated in this game. They’re the best the AFC has to offer and they’ve gone out on the field and proved it. They just have to do it one more time to make the Super Bowl. But there is a real good chance that their opponent in this AFC title game is underrated. The Patriots are on a seven game roll since the Rams beat them 24-17 in Week 10. And they haven’t been beaten on the road since their trip to Denver in Week 7.

So you have to give the Pats a speck of respect. Tom Brady took his team on an 11-3 ride starting in Week 3 and it hasn’t stopped yet. Brady finally started hearing some overdue kudos following the comeback win over Oakland in OT. He wasn’t given much of a chance during the regular season. Everyone kept waiting for him to collapse. It didn’t happen.

Even his own coaching staff didn’t show much confidence in him during the first half versus Oakland. The coaching staff kept as many blockers in to protect him as they could, limiting his potential targets. In the second half they left him on his own in the pocket to fend for himself and the rest is history. Brady hammered the Raiders, completing 32 of 52 passes for nearly 300 yards in a driving snowstorm. Hope RB Antowain Smith figures out a way to be more involved in the offensive attack. Take PATRIOTS.

NFC Championship

Eagles +12 over RAMS: The only thing the Eagles have to fear is fear itself. And the only team that can beat the Rams is the Rams. Do I believe both those statements. Yes. Am I afraid to bet against the Rams. No.

I have nearly the same comments for the Rams as I had for the Steelers. They’re the best the NFC can bring to the game. St. Louis is on a seven-game winning streak since falling at Tampa Bay when the Bucs and Warren Sapp still had some sock.

Kurt Warner drives a well-oiled machine. And the only way to stop that machine is to get inside the driver’s seat and knock the driver’s head off. The Eagles need to put pressure on Warner like the Bucs did that Monday night.

The Eagles have the horses to run at the Rams. Trotter and Douglas are a couple of heavy hitters that come to mind. But the entire defense is relentless. Philly hasn’t allowed over 21 points this season. I should mention that these two teams met opening week and the Rams won 20-17 in OT.

Both teams have come a long way since then. However, Donovan McNabb is twice the threat he was at the beginning of the year. Eagles have a little four-game run going. The last two wins have been playoff games and no one has been more on the money than McNabb.

Either with his feet or arm, McNabb will find a way to win you the money. Take EAGLES.

Championship Picks
AFC : PATS +8
NFC : RAMS —12