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BYE AND BYE, THIS WEEK'S WINNERS LOOK DOOMED

Eight National Football League teams are sacrificing their Christmas week to prepare for this weekend's wild-card playoff games.

While the wild-card losers will curse the futility of it all, the winners face some unpleasant prospects of their own.

For, sitting home and basking in their bye weeks are the teams that will play host to this weekend's winners. Three of those teams -- San Francisco, Green Bay and Kansas City -- will be defending perfect 8-0 home records. The fourth -- Pittsburgh -- is 7-1 at home.

So enjoy this week's games if you can. Even if they are much ado about nothing.

Best bet

No team in the NFL accomplished more with less than the Giants this season. Although I doubt they can make it to the NFC Championship Game, I like them this week at home against Minnesota. The Giants won their last three games of the regular season by an average score of 27-12. They are 6-2 at home.

The Vikings had lost five games in a row before outscoring Indianapolis last week. They also had gone six straight games without covering a point spread. They have lost three straight road games.

These teams last met in 1996, the Giants winning at home, 15-10, as 5 1/2 -point underdogs. They also faced each other in the playoffs in 1993. The Giants won that game at home, 17-10, as six-point favorites.

All signs point to a Giants victory by at least five points.

Jacksonville at Denver

The Jaguars dashed the Broncos' Super Bowl dreams last year with a stunning 30-27 playoff upset. The Broncos were 14-point favorites after winning the AFC West with a 13-3 record.

This year, the Broncos slipped to 12-4 and lost the AFC West title to the Chiefs. Nevertheless, they have a remarkable record at home, going 8-0 and winning seven of those games by 16 points or more. The Broncos are the highest-scoring team in the NFL, with 472 points. The only other team to top 400 points is Green Bay at 422.

The Jaguars ended the regular season with road wins over Buffalo and Oakland, so this is their third straight road game. The odds against winning three straight on the road in the NFL are astronomical.

Terrell Davis will be back and raring to go at running back for the Broncos, who won, 38-3, without him last week. I like the Broncos by at least 16.

Detroit at Tampa Bay

The Lions beat the Buccaneers on the road earlier this year, 27-9, as six-point underdogs after losing at home to the Bucs, 24-17, as 4 1/2 -point favorites.

The Lions won five of their last six regular-season games and were 5-1 against the spread as well. Right now, they are a better team than the Bucs, who went 5-6 after starting the season 5-0. And nobody anywhere is playing better than Barry Sanders.

The Bucs are favored in this game, but I'll take the Lions to win it outright.

Miami at New England

I'm sick of writing about the Patriots and the Dolphins. Neither team impressed me in the poorly played AFC East showdown Monday night. Dan Marino looked like he was doing impersonations of the Bills' quarterbacks. Still, the Patriots were fortunate to win.

So consider this: The Patriots are 0-4 against the spread in their last four home games. They have beaten the Dolphins twice this year -- by three points and two points.

I'll take the Dolphins and the points.

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