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ROAD-TESTED TITANS HAVE THE STUFF TO WIN OUTRIGHT

The game is being played indoors, but the Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis Rams bring a breath of fresh air to Super Bowl XXXIV.

The franchise formerly known as the Houston Oilers has never played in the Super Bowl, the Oilers being the only original member of the old AFL not to make it.

The Rams, formerly of Los Angeles, made it in 1980 but lost to Terry Bradshaw and the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-19. No St. Louis team, neither the transplanted Rams nor the departed Cardinals, ever went Super Bowling.

But the Rams and Titans carry some impressive credentials into the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Sunday.

Let's take a closer look at both teams before jumping to any conclusions.

Ram-o-rama

The Rams had the best regular-season record in the NFC (13-3) and are 2-0 in the playoffs.

Their 526 points scored were light-years ahead of any other team.

They had the best division record in the NFL, going 8-0 in the NFC West.

Their record against the point spread is the best in the NFL (13-3 in the regular season, 1-1 in the playoffs).

They have won 10 of their last 11 games, losing only at Philadelphia, 38-31, in a meaningless game on the last week of the regular season.

Quarterback Kurt Warner was the NFL's most valuable player. He completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns. His quarterback rating was a super 109.2.

Running back Marshall Faulk led the NFL in total yards with 2,429. He rushed for 1,381 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 87 passes for 1,048 yards and five touchdowns.

The Rams top the Titans in eight of 10 offensive categories and eight of nine defensive categories.

The Rams averaged 272.1 net yards passing per game and 128.7 yards rushing per game.

Their defense allowed 74.3 net yards rushing per game and recorded 57 sacks.

Titan-iana

The Titans matched the Rams' 13-3 regular-season record and are 3-0 in the playoffs.

The Titans' division record (9-1) was best in the AFC.

They are on a seven-game winning streak.

They defeated the Rams, 24-21, at home Oct. 31 as three-point underdogs.

They have defeated stronger teams than the Rams have faced, including two regular-season victories over Jacksonville and playoff wins over Buffalo, Indianapolis and the Jaguars.

Their record against the spread was 8-5-3 in the regular season, and they are 3-0 against the spread in the playoffs.

Rookie sensation Jevon Kearse recorded 14 1/2 sacks.

Running back Eddie George rushed for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns.

The Titans' offense turned the ball over just 22 times in the regular season and allowed only 25 sacks.

Their defense forced 40 turnovers and recorded 54 sacks.

The bottom line

The two teams played similar schedules, although the Titans' was a bit tougher. They both played four games in each other's division. The regular-season record of the Rams' opponents was 93-163. The Titans' regular-season opponents were 110-146.

During the regular season, the AFC's record against the NFC was 38-22.

I keep thinking that sometime early in the game Kurt Warner is going to stand at the line of scrimmage, look over the defense and say, "What am I doing here?"

The Titans will miss injured safety Marcus Robertson, but the key to their pass defense is to put pressure on Warner, who was sacked 29 times during the regular season and lost 201 yards. He threw three interceptions last week against Tampa Bay.

One last thing. This is the Rams' first road game in the playoffs. The Titans have won two in a row on the road.

The pick

I like the Titans with the points, and I think they will win the game. Let's say 27-21.

NEWS STAFF SELECTIONS Larry Allen Jerry Mark Milt Felser Wilson Sullivan Gaughan Joffe Tennessee ( 7) vs. St. Louis TennesseeTennessee Tennessee TennesseeTennessee Last Week 0-2 1-1 0-2 1-1 1-1 Year to date 116-126-11127-115-11125-117-11136-106-11 117-125-11 Best Bets 5-14 12-7 9-9-1 10-8-1 9-10 All picks were made against the point spread. * -- Best Bet.

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