SEASON RECORDS TO DATE
Straight-Up: 155-105 (59%)
Against-The-Spread: 126-127-7 (49%)
Comment: Last week was the first time that as many as three road teams prevailed in the wild-card playoff round. I predicted the Jets' upset and sensed Minnesota's, although I didn't have the courage to go with the latter. Guess I'm too caught up believing teams can adjust, because I thought Denver would play the Colts much tougher and I figured Seattle was due to exploit the Rams. Wrong on both counts. As for this week? I believe things will go closer to expected form... with one significant upset. Enjoy.
New York Jets (11-6, AFC 5th seed) at Pittsburgh (15-1, AFC 1st seed)
Line: Steelers favored by 9. ATS Records: Jets 9-7-1, Steelers 11-5.
Jets Status Report: Riding an outstanding effort by their defense, the Jets clipped favored San Diego in overtime, 20-17, in the wild-card round.
Steelers Status Report: The top seeds were on a bye last week, after finishing the regular season with an impressive 29-24 triumph at Buffalo.
The Series: The Steelers pulled away late to beat the Jets, 17-6, at home last month. In December of 2003, the Jets blanked the Steelers, 6-0, at The Meadowlands. Overall, Pittsburgh has won four of the last five meetings.
Stats Worth Noting: The Jets have never won in Pittsburgh, and are just 2-3-1 ATS as underdogs this season. They are 5-2 ATS in conference games outside the AFC East. The Steelers are 6-2 ATS at home, but 0-2 when favored by more than a touchdown.
Game Summary: While I believe the feisty Jets defense will again make it relatively close, the top-seeded Steelers won't be denied at home because their defense is even better. The win over Buffalo in the regular season finale was impressive, considering the Steelers didn't need to win and the Bills desperately did, and it was a road game for Pittsburgh. QB Ben Roethlisberger is reportedly good to go for the Steelers, as are RBs Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis. The arm of Jets QB Chad Pennington looked fine to me against the Chargers, so it's my opinion that his alleged limitations have been exaggerated. Still, I envision this rematch to be similar to the Steelers' victory last month - fairly low scoring and relatively tight.
Prediction: STEELERS, 20-13
St. Louis (9-8, NFC 5th seed) at Atlanta (11-5, NFC 2nd seed)
Line: Falcons favored by 7. ATS Records: Rams 7-10, Falcons 7-9.
Rams Status Report: The Rams have now won three straight after last Saturday's 27-20 victory at Seattle in the wild-card round.
Falcons Status Report: Atlanta enters the playoffs on a two-game skid, the result of resting key players over much of the last two weeks of the regular season. The Falcons had a bye last week.
The Series: Atlanta whipped St. Louis, 34-17, in Week 2 at the Georgia Dome. Last season, the Rams routed the Falcons at home, 36-0, but Atlanta was without QB Michael Vick.
Stats Worth Noting: The home team has won and covered the last four meetings. Atlanta is 1-3 ATS when favored by a TD or more.
Game Summary: It's tempting to pick a Rams upset, just because their offense is so potentially explosive and they've won three in a row going in while the Falcons haven't won a game in nearly a month. But in my opinion, momentum is overrated - consider that streaking San Diego lost to the Jets last week and slumping Minnesota went into Green Bay and rolled. Atlanta is at home, where Vick is generally a much more effective weapon, and the Falcons get the edge in virtually every important category. They're rested and ready. Kudos to the Rams for a nice season-ending run, but their title hopes go kaput this week.
Prediction: FALCONS, 31-17
Minnesota (9-8, NFC 6th seed) at Philadelphia (13-3, NFC 1st seed)
Line: Eagles favored by 9 1/2. ATS Records: Vikings 8-9, Eagles 9-7.
Vikings Status Report: Minnesota finally won a road playoff game, trouncing the Packers at Green Bay in the wild-card round, 31-17.
Eagles Status Report: Philly lost its last two regular season games as it rested virtually all of its primary regulars. The Eagles were off last week, enjoying the bye they earned as the conference's top seed.
The Series: Philadelphia bested Minnesota at home on a Monday night in Week 2, 27-16. The home team has won the last five meetings.
Stats Worth Noting: The Eagles have won and covered in each of the last three meetings at Philadelphia. Minnesota is 3-1 ATS as a road underdog. Philadelphia has lost four straight ATS, but is 9-3 ATS in conference games. The Vikings are 4-9 ATS in conference games.
Game Summary: Because of the layoff, and the Eagles' poor showings in their last two games of the regular season while playing with reserves, many are expecting a degree of rust from the NFC East champs. Minnesota, meanwhile, is sky high after whipping Green Bay and will be loose. I say... so what? When trying to win, the Eagles are 13-1 this year. Sure, they will miss WR Terrell Owens' big-play ability and leadership. But remember that this team has advanced to the last three NFC title games without him. Philadelphia's defense is clearly better, and at home with everyone else healthy and rarin' to go, I like the Eagles to win although I expect the Vikes to hang tough throughout.
Prediction: EAGLES, 30-24
Indianapolis (13-4, AFC 3rd seed) at New England (14-2, AFC 2nd seed)
Line: Patriots favored by 2 1/2. ATS Records: Colts 10-6-1, Patriots 10-3-3.
Colts Status Report: Indianapolis piled up more impressive offensive numbers last week in a 49-24 home thrashing of Denver in the wild-card round.
Patriots Status Report: New England continues to roll along, enjoying a bye last week after a matter-of-fact 21-7 triumph over San Francisco in its regular season finale two weeks ago.
The Series: New England has won the last five meetings, including a season-opening 27-24 victory as well as the 24-14 triumph in last year's AFC Title Game. Both were played at Foxborough.
Stats Worth Noting: The Patriots are 17-5-1 ATS in this series since 1992, and 4-1-3 ATS at home this season. The Colts are just 1-1-1 ATS as road underdogs.
Game Summary: As good as the Patriots are, they're merely getting by more often these days, and dominating less. The defense is chewed up with injuries, but coach Bill Belichick continues to get quality play no matter whom he inserts. Still, the one team that figures to exploit the Pats' patchwork secondary is Indy, which is playing with more confidence than ever. The Colts' defense is also playing better than in the past... not as well as New England's, mind you, but better all the same. I'm not comfortable picking against the Patriots, especially at home. But this is the year the Colts finally conquer their former division rivals in the postseason.
Prediction: COLTS, 28-23