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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

NFL Notebook

As is often the case in the NFL playoffs, home field advantage was an important factor in deciding Saturday's games.

Although they lost Shaun Alexander to an injury, the Seattle Seahawks kicked-off the weekend with a 20-10 win and 'cover' over the Redskins. Despite a 13-point fourth quarter, the game still fell well below the closing total of 40 1/2.

The nightcap at Denver also finished below the total of 45 1/2, as the Broncos ended the Patriots' dreams of a 'three-peat' with a 27-13 victory. Uncharacteristically, New England shot itself in the foot by turning the ball over five times. Champ Bailey's 100-yard interception return (knocked out of bounds at the one-yard line) helped seal the Broncos' first victory since

Elway retired.
Sunday was a different story with the visitors scoring upset victories in both games. The Steelers, closing as 10-point underdogs, shocked Peyton Manning and the Colts with a stunning 21-18 upset victory. The Colts fell behind early and were thoroughly dominated. Thanks to a controversial instant-replay reversal and a Jerome Bettis goal-line fumble, Indianapolis very nearly battled back though. However, Mike Vanderjagt missed a field goal in the final minute, sending the Steelers on their way to Denver.

Denver has won its last two meetings with Pittsburgh, but both games were decided by just a field goal. The Broncos are currently favored by 3 1/2 points at most shops. The 'total' sits at 41.
The Bears and Panthers had the lowest 'total' (30 1/2 or 31) of the playoffs thus far. The game sailed above the number though in a 29-21 Carolina victory, sending the Panthers to Seattle to play in the NFC championship game for the second time in three years. The Panthers lost DeShaun Foster to injury but that didn't slow them down, as Jake Delhomme threw for 319 yards (218 to Steve Smith) making the vaunted Bears' defense look ordinary.
The Panthers opened as six point underdogs vs. the Seahawks with a 'total' of 43 1/2. However, early money came in on the 'dog' and the line quickly dropped to plus four. The teams have split a pair of meetings this millennium. The Panthers won by 23 points in 2004. The Seahawks returned the favor with a six point victory, at Seattle, in 2004. Carolina earned the 'cover' in both games.

Let's take a quick look at last season's conference finals and see if we can learn anything that could be valuable for this week's big games.

New England at Pittsburgh
Favored by a field goal, the Patriots traveled to Pittsburgh and snapped the Steelers' 15-game winning streak. The Patriots, who intercepted Rothlisberger three times, jumped out to a commanding 24-3 lead en route to a 41-27 victory. While Rothlisberger looked like a rookie, Brady played with veteran-like poise, completing 14 of his 21 passes. The game flew 'over' the relatively low 'total' of 38.

Atlanta at Philadelphia
After three consecutive losses in the NFC championship game, the Eagles, listed as minus 4 1/2 point favorites, were not going to be denied a fourth time. The Eagles led only 14-10 at halftime. However, the defense was stifling in the second half and the home team would finish with a 27-10 victory. Playing in the cold, Vick was ineffective in his first playoff game, finishing with just 11 completions for 136 yards. He was also unable to run the ball, as his 26 rushing yards were less than the 33 yards he lost while being sacked four times. Playing without Terrell Owens, McNabb was 'workmanlike' in completing 17 of his 26 passes.

As is often the case in the NFL playoffs, home field advantage was an important factor in deciding Saturday's games.

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