Wild Card games kick off playoffs

Dec 31, 2002 3:02 AM

 

   The real NFL season begins this weekend with the Wild Card round of the Playoffs. In what has been perhaps the most competitive regular season in NFL history there is no clear-cut favorite to win it all.

   Both Oakland and Philadelphia, co-favorites at 4-1 to win the Super Bowl, have questions entering the Playoffs. Third choice, Green Bay at 6-1, did not look as sharp over the second half of the season as they did in September and October.

   Tampa Bay is a fundamentally sound team and at 7-1 odds are very attractively priced considering their outstanding defense and that the Buccs played in the best balanced Division.

   If you believe in momentum your choice might be Tennessee. The Titans have won 10 of their last 11 games including their last five in a row.

   One of the preseason favorites in the AFC, Pittsburgh, is currently 7-1 to win it all but the Steelers have had some problems on defense. San Francisco is priced at 10-1 but the 49ers may suffer from having played in a weak Division.

   A case can me made for any of the five longshots. Both the Jets and the New York Giants played their best football over the last month of the season. Cleveland played in many tight games this season.

   Indianapolis has a much improved defense under new coach Tony Dungy and a record setting wide receiver in Marvin Harrison. And Atlanta has perhaps the most exciting single player in the NFL today, Mike Vick.

   All in all the Playoffs figure to be every bit as exciting and competitive as was the regular season. Three of the four Wild Card games involve rematches of games played earlier this season, including one game involving Division rivals meeting for the third time this season.

   Here’s a preview of Wild Card weekend.

Indianapolis (+5½) at New York Jets (Over/Under 42½): The Jets ended the regular season with a thumping of Green Bay that marked their fourth straight home win and completed a stretch that saw them win seven of their last nine games. The offense has come to life behind QB Chad Pennington and the defense showed improvement throughout the season. The Indy “D” finished the season ranked in the top 10 in both yards and points allowed. This game has all the makings of being decided by a FG so the points are worth taking with an outright upset not a shock. The play is on INDIANAPOLIS.

Atlanta (+6½) at Green Bay (42): These teams played a wild one on opening day with the Packers surviving in overtime, 37-34. But now the conditions clearly favor the Packers who are unbeaten at home in their Playoff history including their last five home wins by at least double digits. Atlanta did not play that well down the stretch, losing three of their last four games. Atlanta has the better rushing offense while both teams are similar in stopping the run. Green Bay has the better overall defense. The play is on GREEN BAY.

Cleveland (+7) at Pittsburgh (42): Cleveland has played many close games this season including a pair of three point losses to Pittsburgh, one of which was in overtime. Since 1999, five of the eight games between these teams have been decided by a FG or less with Pittsburgh easily winning the three one sided games. This is the most difficult of the games to forecast because although Pittsburgh is clearly the better team their inability to blow teams out is a concern. Cleveland’s Butch Davis is an excellent coach and that is just enough to tip the scales towards the underdog. The play is on CLEVELAND.

New York Giants at San Francisco (No Line): As we go to press there was no line on this game as the 49ers were ending their season in St Louis on Monday night. Despite needing overtime to make the Playoffs with a win over Philadelphia last Saturday, the Giants dominated the Eagles. San Francisco was not the high powered offensive team in 2002 that they were perceived to be, finishing in the middle of the league in both points scored and allowed. They have a strong running game and an average passing game. The Giants, in fact, had a much stronger passing offense than the 49ers and also are better at defending the pass. The Giants have not lost a game by more than a FG since late October. The play is on the NEW YORK GIANTS.

Odds to win Super Bowl

Open  

Current

Steelers  

 6-1  

 6-1

Eagles  

 8-1  

 4-1

Colts  

 10-1  

 12-1

Raiders  

 10-1  

 4-1

49ers  

 12-1  

 10-1

Packers  

 15-1  

 6-1

Titans  

 15-1  

 6-1

Jets  

 20-1  

 10-1

Giants  

 20-1  

 15-1

Buc’s  

 25-1  

 7-1

Falcons  

 50-1  

 15-1

Browns  

 50-1  

 18-1