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NFL’s Final 4!

Jan 13, 2004 7:37 AM

It may not be March Madness but certainly January Jubilation would apply to this weekend’s AFC and NFC Conference Championship Games.

The four Divisional games produced the lowest combined margin of victory since the AFL/NFL merger more than 30 years ago. None of the games was decided by more than 7 points and the four games were decided by a total of just 19 points.

Last week’s results were also shocking from a pointspread perspective as all four road underdogs got the money. Two of them — Carolina and Indianapolis — won outright.

Here’s a look at both games this Sunday in what will be rematches of games played earlier this season, ironically on the same day, November 30.

Indianapolis (plus 3½) at New England (42½): For a second straight week, Indianapolis did not punt. That is truly amazing and a testament as to how powerful and efficient Indy’s offense has been behind the on field leadership of QB Peyton Manning, RB Edgerrin James and WR Marvin Harrison. Expect to see plenty of punts this week. The biggest concern is New England coach Bill Belichick’s longstanding ability to frustrate Manning and the Colts’ offense. In the earlier meeting this season, won by New England 38-34, the Patriots led 31-10 in the third quarter before Manning tossed three TD passes in about a five-minute span to tie the contest. The game ended with the Patriots making a tremendous goal line stand to preserve the win. The Colts have won 8 of 9 games on the road. But the Pats have now won 13 in a row with a well-balanced team. It’s a long held axiom in the NFL that defense wins championships. We have seen many high-powered offenses over the years sputter and stall against top defenses. This has been especially true in this round of the playoffs where over the past quarter century the team which allowed the fewer regular season points has covered better than 70 percent against the pointspread. New England allowed nearly 100 fewer points this season than did the Colts. The recommendations are for NEW ENGLAND and the UNDER.


Carolina (plus 5) at Philadelphia (38): Philadelphia survived yet another game in which their rush defense betrayed them. The Eagles again allowed the Packers to rush for over 200 yards but parlayed an amazing fourth down completion to get into position to force overtime. Some questionable decisions by Packer coach Mike Sherman aided the Eagles by giving them an opportunity to score late. Carolina again played fundamentally sound football in winning at St. Louis although their inexperience was almost their undoing as the Panthers gave up an 11 point lead late in the fourth quarter that forced overtime. QB Jake Delhomme is only now starting to receive credit and much in the manner of New England QB Tom Brady, Delhomme has been a quiet yet effective leader. The Panthers have been competitive all season and have won all the close games. Despite their modest statistics the Eagles played better than expected by the lines maker. It’s hard to ignore the historical success of teams with the better defense. After four close games last weekend it would not be surprising to see more one sided games this weekend. In a game that should feature more scoring than expected look for Philadelphia to advance to the Super Bowl. The recommendations are for PHILADELPHIA and the OVER.