Sometimes it gives me great solace to know that I can sit here at my desk, shielded from the possibility of being splattered by rotting fruit being launched at my head. This is one of those weeks. One of the great things about the regular season is I get a multitude of games from which to pick and choose and find the best value. One of the major drawbacks of the playoffs is the limited amount of said games and the associated risk of having a real stinker of a week. With the stench of divisional weekend permeating my nostrils, I will attempt to make sense of what happened.
All four underdogs covered last week. Two of them won outright, one of the others SHOULD have won and the last one took it down to the wire. The utmost thing to remember is something we discussed before the playoffs began. Winning is the goal in the playoffs, point spreads and totals be damned. It’s all about survival. The problem with that conservative approach is if it goes against your pattern, it can throw your team out of balance. It can also get you beat. That being said, I just have to comment on a few things.
All year the St. Louis Rams were a gambling, high scoring juggernaut. Mike Martz’s choice of Marc Bulger as his starting quarterback, despite obvious signs that he lacked consistency and maybe confidence, proved to be his undoing. Rather than taking chances to put the game away early, Martz played it close to the vest and settled for 3 field goals. Undefeated at home or not, if you let a road dog hang around until the fourth quarter, a lot of times you get bit. By the fourth quarter, Carolina obviously had momentum and the Rams were soiling their undies. With over 30 seconds left and after driving deep into Panthers territory, Martz once again inexplicably refused to go for the jugular and let the clock run down to assure a tying field goal. As we all know now, Carolina won in overtime. Of course, by that time Carolina was guaranteed to get the cover (+7½) so my concern should have ended then, but the outcome still bugs me. The Rams played scared, and it cost them a trip to Philadelphia this week.
The Kansas City Chiefs went 13-3 in the regular season, essentially by just continuing to score until the opposition could no longer keep up. I had concerns about their defense going in, but once again we had a team that was undefeated at home and it was only a three point spread. The Colts came in off a trouncing of the Broncos in a revenge game on their own turf. Should we have expected a shootout? Probably. Should we have expected Indianapolis to score on EVERY possession except when they were running out the clock in each half? The Colts offense is good, but they aren’t THAT good. Watching the Chiefs defense do their best imitation of a matador (OLE!!!) was almost comical. Every time Peyton Manning went back to pass, he could have stopped for a sandwich and a manicure before he tossed the ball to one of his receivers standing conveniently a few yards past the first down marker, if not streaking to the endzone. I’ve heard it said that you can call holding on almost every play, yet the Colts had ZERO offensive penalties. You could say Indianapolis played the perfect game, and the evidence backs it up., but Kansas City has nobody to blame for their demise but themselves.
The score of the Tennessee-New England tilt suggests that the game went according to prediction. A defensive slugfest settled by a field goal. But the actual game was something else entirely. 21 points were scored in the first 16 minutes and I was thinking the over that I had predicted was a forgone conclusion. But the offenses seemed to freeze up at that point and only ten more points were scored. Given the near zero temperatures, that is the only explanation I can fathom.
Finally we have the story of the Cinderella Green Bay Packers. Alas, the best story of the postseason turned into a pumpkin when Green Bay eschewed a chance to go for a first down on fourth and one from the Philadelphia 40 with a minute and a half left, even though Ahman Green had gashed the Eagles defense for 156 yards to that point. The Eagles got the ball back and took the game into overtime, where Bret Favre once again fired a ball toward the heavens that looked more like a punt than a pass. The resulting interception gave the Eagles the ball in outstanding field position and they drove to the winning field goal. So every sportswriter in America, including yours truly, is ticked off at Mike Sherman for taking away our “Team of destiny” storylines this week. The Packers SHOULD have won this game. I just have to be satisfied they were the one pick I made that actually covered.
So last week’s 1-3 leaves us at 3-5 for the playoffs and 32-29-4 for the season. At least a break even season is assured with 3 games left to call. Let’s get to it.
Indianapolis (+3) at New England o/u 44
First of all, rumors that Indy’s punter will be inactive for the AFC championship are completely unfounded.
The temperature in New England last week was four degrees at kickoff (a night game in the coldest part of the country this side of Alaska? Duh! ) This week, the climatory observationists are predicting a balmy 25 degrees at the mid afternoon start. They are also predicting snow showers which, depending on the severity, could put a serious crimp in the Colts’ game plan. What I am hearing through the grapevine is that Indy is the new “team of destiny” based on their offensive explosions the past two weeks. But I also remember another old adage: Defense wins championships. I’m not concerned with championships. I’m here to try to make us some money. I see this game going right down to the wire, and since the offensive numbers favor Indy, I’m going to pick them to at least stay inside the number. So, with an eye toward the clouds, I say take the COLTS and play the UNDER, but be aware that every snowflake that falls could be the determining factor on both.
Carolina (+5) at Philadelphia o/u 36½
Once again we have threatening weather in the forecast for this game. This is the major drawback in putting this column out two days in advance. My local meteorologists have trouble telling me what it will do tonight, much less two days from now. Fortunately, I don’t think it is going to matter all that much as I thought going in that this was going to one very DULL contest. Carolina’s defense is stout and unless Philly finds a way to open it up, I see another slugfest here being settled by a late field goal. That scenario favors Carolina to get the money in this game, and I concur. Play the PANTHERS and, on a coin flip, take the OVER on the low total.
For The Record:
Dana Harris' Best Bets ATS:
Last week: (1 - 3 - 0)
YTD: (32 - 29 - 4)