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Home OK, if you win

Jan 6, 2004 6:49 AM

As the playoffs began, there were betting numbers available on what teams would meet in the Super Bowl.

The Eagles/Patriots were 3-2 odds (the favorite), while a wide-open Chiefs/Rams Super Bowl was 7-1. Colts/Rams were 10-1, the Chiefs/Eagles were 7-2, and a rematch of the 2002 Super Bowl ”” the Patriots/Rams ”” was 5-2.

Recent history shows that the favorites don’t often meet in the Super Bowl. Last year the Eagles were favored to represent the NFC, but got upset by the Bucs. Two years ago the Steelers were the favorite and fell short. Before that, the Ravens had to win at Tennessee and at Oakland during their surprising run to the title.

Home field advantage is important, but you still have to play the game and win. Here’s a look at the four teams that come into this weekend’s playoff games rested and with home field.

RAMS: The ”˜Greatest Show on Turf’ is back for another playoff run. St. Louis fans are used to this, with the Rams winning the 2000 Super Bowl and getting there again two years ago. They appear formidable again, with the No. 9 offense in football, the No. 3 passing attack (247 yds pg) and the 16th-ranked defense under coordinator Lovie Smith, who may be an NFL head coach next season.

But there are plenty of question marks. This offense turned the ball over 39 times - the most in the NFL. Young QB Marc Bulger threw as many TDs (22) as interceptions. Coach Mike Martz has endured criticism since blowing the Super Bowl to New England as a 14-point favorite (getting outcoached by Bill Belichick). St. Louis blew the No. 1 seed and home field advantage this year with a stunning 30-20 loss as a 12-point favorite at Detroit to end the regular season. How important could that have been? The Rams are 8-0 at home this season, 4-4 (3-5 ATS) on the road.

EAGLES: Philly doesn’t dazzle, just simply keeps winning. The Eagles (12-4 SU, 11-5 ATS) have great balance on offense (126 yards rushing, 188 passing per game) led by QB Donovan McNabb. This team went 5-3 at home and a remarkable 7-1 SU/ATS on the road. They come into the playoffs on a 10-1 SU / ATS run!

Still, this defense ranked 20th, with a run defense that allows 129 yards per game (ranked 21st). Philly faced four playoff teams and went 3-2 SU/ATS (playing the Cowboys twice), and got smacked by the best of the AFC in a 31-10 home loss to the Patriots. Also, a "close but no cigar" label is hovering over Coach Andy Reid by virtue of losing the NFC championship game the past two seasons. (Philly fell 27-10 at home to Tampa Bay last January as a 4-point favorite).

CHIEFS: No one wants to face this offense, ranked second overall with 369 yards per game. QB Trent Green (24 TDs, 12 INTs), RB Priest Holmes (27 TDs), TE Tony Gonzalez (10 TDs) and WR/return specialist Dante Hall (5 TDs) lead a devastating high-octane attack that averages 30.3 points per game. At 13-3, the KC offense looks as deadly as when coach Dick Vermeil took the Rams to the championship four seasons ago.

The defense, however, is a serious weak spot. They struggled mightily with the run allowing 146.5 yards rushing each game, 30th in the NFL. KC went 10-6 "over" the total and comes into the playoffs with a 4-3 SU/2-5 ATS mark the last seven games (giving up 45 points twice), so they’re not exactly peaking at the right time.

PATRIOTS: No nonsense Coach Bill Belichick got passed over for Coach of the Year two seasons ago to Chicago’s Dick Jauron, who was fired last week. Belichick is in the running for another Super Bowl title after guiding the Pats to a 14-2 season (13-2-1 ATS). He may get passed over again, as Cincy’s Marvin Lewis and Dallas’ Bill Parcells are deserving candidates. The Pats are on a 12-game win streak, including 8-0 at home both SU and ATS.

The Patriots win with QB Tom Brady and defense (8.5 ppg allowed at home), surrendering the fewest points per game (14.9) in the NFL. They have to rely on Brady with a running game (ranked 26th) averaging just 100 yards. In what has been the year of the quarterback injury, if anything happens to Brady they might be dead. Backups Damon Huard and Rohan Davey have thrown a total of eight passes all season. Two years ago, Brady got hurt in the NFC title game against Pittsburgh and Pro Bowl QB Drew Bledsoe came off the bench to lead New England to victory. They don’t have that luxury this time.