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Four teams doing some homework this week

Jan 7, 2003 2:28 AM

The NFL playoffs continue this weekend and four teams worked hard all season to acquire the all-important first round bye: The Eagles, Bucs, Titans, and Raiders. As a result, they have home field advantage this weekend with the luxury of an extra week of rest. Here’s a look at those four teams with the extra week of R&P (rest and preparation).

Philadelphia: The Eagles did just about everything right all season, outscoring foes by a 26-15 average. Coach Andy Reid’s team has plenty of recent playoff experience (and victories), as well. The Eagles upset Tampa Bay two years ago in a Wild Card game, 21-3, but then lost to the Giants. Last year Philly rolled over the Bucs and Bears before losing to the Rams in the NFC Championship game, 29-24. The Eagles went 4-1 against the spread in those postseason contests.

The offense has outstanding balance, averaging nearly 139 yards rushing and 211 passing. That rushing attack ranked seventh in the NFL and will be an asset with cold and windy weather a possibility in January postseason action. Of the remaining playoff teams, only the 49ers ranked higher rushing the football.

The strength of the team is defense, ranked No. 4 in the NFL. The Eagles are strong against the run and pass. The big question is how QB Donovan McNabb responds from a broken ankle that has sidelined him since Nov. 17.

McNabb is expected to play, but the Eagles have fared well (and won) behind QBs A.J. Feeley and Koy Detmer. Remember that the Eagles are 7-1 straight up at home, 6-2 ATS. As for potential NFC opponents, Philly beat Tampa Bay at home back in October, 20-10.

Tampa Bay: The Bucs get it done with defense, which has been their forte since reaching the 2000 NFC Championship game against the Rams. Tampa Bay has the No. 1 rated defense in the NFL, allowing just 12.3 points per game. The Bucs are tough to run on (97 yards) and pass (156).

Like Philadelphia, a concern for the Bucs is a hurting quarterback. Brad Johnson, missed the last two games of the regular season with a severe back bruise. This is important, because a poor running game is poor places the burden on Johnson to produce points through the air. Tampa Bay’s running game is 26th in the NFL, worst of all the playoff teams. The Bucs average 215 yards passing per game with WRs Keyshawn Johnson and Kennan McCardell.

Jon Gruden’s bunch would prefer to play at home in the nice weather of sunny Florida: Tampa Bay is 6-2 both SU and ATS at home. On the road, the Bucs are 6-2 SU and 4-4 ATS. Most noticeably, Tampa Bay went 1-4 ATS in its last five road games. One of those setbacks was a loss at Philadelphia, 20-10.

In that game, Tampa Bay did not score an offensive touchdown and finished with 207 total yards. The Eagles ran for 159 yards against Tampa Bay’s strong "D." If they meet in the NFC title game, the Eagles would have the home field again and the cold weather.

Oakland: While the top NFC teams win with defense, the best in the AFC couldn’t be more different. The Raiders play an aggressive, wide-open offense led by a bunch of talented old veterans. They are never out of any game with the No. 1 offense in the league.

Oakland outscores teams by a 28-19 average with the best passing offense in football (280 ypg), behind veteran QB Rich Gannon, WRs Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, and RBs Charlie Garner and Tyrone Wheatley. After a four-game losing streak in October, the Raiders have gone 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS.

Lost in the shuffle of a dynamic passing offense is a Raiders defense that ranks No. 11 in the NFL. Defense has been a weakness the last few years, but Oakland is No. 3 in the league against the run (90 yards). The Raiders had their poorest defensive games back in September and mid-October, but have held teams under 17 points four times in the last eight games.

Tennessee: It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Titans. Tennessee started the year 1-4 both SU and ATS. Since then, the Titans are 10-1 SU and 9-2 ATS. Coach Jeff Fisher’s squad does not dominate in any area, but keeps finding ways to win. Tennessee is ranked No. 10 in the NFL on offense, 17 on defense, including No. 24 against the pass (224 yards). During the 1999 season, Tennessee didn’t dominate either, but they wound up in the Super Bowl.

Fisher and QB Steve McNair have carried the Titans through a slew of injuries, including Jevon Kearse, Eddie George and even McNair himself. During the 10-1 run, rarely did a victory come easily. The Titans beat the Bengals by 6 points, the Colts by 8 and 10, had a miracle-comeback over the Giants, and beat the expansion Texans by 7 and 10.

Tennessee is 5-0 SU and 4-1 ATS in its last five home games. One wonders if the Titans will be licking their chops for a rematch with the Raiders: Back on Sept. 29, Tennessee lost at Oakland, 52-25.

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