Fire sale

Dec 31, 2002 5:39 AM

The NFL is so crazy this season that it’s easier to predict firings than game outcomes.

Monday brought three expected ousters ”” Dick LeBeau at Cincinnati, Dave Campo at Dallas and Tom Coughlin at Jacksonville. There could be other coaching changes in Miami, Seattle and Detroit.

But you can’t bet on coaching changes, so here’s some hints on what should be a wild first round of NFL playoff games.

"The betting should intensify every day starting now," said John Avello, race and sports director at Bally’s/Paris Las Vegas. "It’s way too soon to project a Super Bowl matchup. My best advice is take the highest price team (Cleveland at 18-1). Any team is capable this year."

Saturday

COLTS at Jets: Avello has a warning to the Jets as a fellow New Yorker. "They have to be careful of Indy. The Colts went into Philly and won. They can’t be taken lightly."

The Jets opened at 5½ and could climb to 6 or 6½ with the heavy New York interest. There could be a letdown, but Chad Pennington is playing too well to think the Jets won’t advance to the next round. QB likes Colts to cover, but not win.

FALCONS at Packers: Says Avello: "Green Bay losing at home would be the biggest upset of the first round. They have Favre and the playoff streak at Lambeau. Plus, Atlanta comes in on a downer. They don’t look like they belong in the playoffs."

Green Bay opened at 6½ and went down to 6 in a matter of hours. Call it the Michael Vick factor. The QB likes Atlanta to upset the apple cart and make history.

Sunday

BROWNS at Steelers: "Two teams well familiar with each other and play some ugly football," Avello said. "The Browns play better on the road and with Holcomb at QB. Steelers are solid, but not being discussed much."

The X-factor is William Green, who has brought balance to a Cleveland running attack that has been barren. If Green gets his 100, the Browns have a shot at the upset. At 7, Cleveland should hang in.

GIANTS at 49ers: "The spread indicates how much support New York has. San Francisco should be a 5 or 6-point favorite, but it opened at 3½ and could go down to 3. The 49ers have talent, but played better at the beginning of the year. I like the Niners because the value is with them."

The Giants are playing the best ball in the NFC right now. This is a rematch of opening night at the Meadowlands, won by SF. The G-men are better, especially Shockey. Play the Giants on the money line.

Philadelphia is the Super Bowl favorite at 7-2, followed by Oakland at 9-2.

Both have the week off to see what happens. That sounds like a winner.