Betting column for the week |

Betting column for the week

Joe Ellison

By instituting the salary cap and liberalizing free agency a few years ago, the National Football League created what it wanted all along – parity. With the Vikings, Redskins, Dolphins and Colts all having lost last weekend, we are assured of having a first-time Super Bowl champion. In fact, the four remaining franchises are a combined 1-10 in conference championship history, with the Rams making the only Super Bowl appearance in a loss when they were playing in Los Angeles. With smaller market teams now on a level playing field, television ratings are down, but the overall fan base throughout the country has increased, to the delight of the big-wigs of the NFL.

So, who will be in the championship game? Let’s take a look at Sunday’s conference title match-ups. Super Bowl odds are in parentheses.

— Tennessee (8/1) at Jacksonville (12/5) – Considering that Tennessee swept the season series among these two division rivals, the line of Jacksonville -7 seems out of line. The only reason I can think of that the Jaguars are favored by so much is last Saturday’s 62-7 dismantling of Miami.

But, when you evaluate Miami’s performance last week, you have to rank it up there with the most pathetic and embarrassing displays of football in the history of the game. At times the Dolphins looked like they were playing the Kennedy family in a game of two-hand touch football, and at times it appeared they were playing a team of lepers in a game of no-hand touch. I’ve never seen such poor tackling in a playoff game.

You can expect a much better effort from Tennessee. The Titans know they can beat the Jaguars because this year they won 20-19 in Jacksonville and then pummeled them 41-14 four weeks ago in Nashville. Plus, the Jags’ all-world offensive lineman, Tony Boselli, is out. Confidence going into Jacksonville will not be a problem for the Titans as Tennessee has won four of the five games played in Florida in the series history.

Most people would think that beating a team three times in the same year is almost impossible, but recent history tells us otherwise. In the last 12 attempts, seven teams completed the three-game season sweep, and teams are 2-1 when attempting to complete the sweep in conference championship games. The only knock against this stat is that none of the teams had to win the third game on the road, but it is a very unusual situation when a team beats another twice yet finishes behind that team in the division standings. Either way, I expect a good, close game. Prediction: Tennessee +7.

— Tampa Bay (15/1) at St. Louis (5/12) – Tampa Bay is the kind of team that wants to keep a game close until they beat you in the fourth quarter, and a prime example of that strategy was displayed last Saturday. Down 13-0 and showing absolutely nothing on offense, the Bucs’ John Lynch made what I thought was an innocent interception which essentially amounted to a 30-yard Washington punt. The next thing you know, the score was 13-7.

In the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers forced a fumble in Washington territory. The result of the ensuing drive – a Tampa Bay touchdown to take the lead 14-13. Still, the Redskins had a shot to win at the end of the game, but a bad snap on a 52-yard field goal attempt sealed their fate. Yes, Tampa Bay was somewhat lucky, but that’s been the secret to their success-causing turnovers and capitalizing late in the game.

Unfortunately for the Buccaneers this week, however, they play the St. Louis Rams. I don’t expect St. Louis to make many offensive mistakes, and I don’t expect the game to be within Tampa Bay’s reach in the fourth quarter.

Even when the Rams made mistakes in the first half and were down 17-14 last week to Minnesota, they simply came out in the second half with a 35-point onslaught that took all of a quarter and a half. That’s explosiveness! Although the final score was 49-37, the score was 49-17 with five minutes to go.

Tampa Bay has a great defense, but they just don’t have the offensive firepower to respond against an underrated St. Louis defense. The Rams have too much offense, too much speed, and too many weapons, not to mention a perfect 9-0 winning and covering record at home. Prediction: St. Louis -14.

— I got in trouble betting totals last week, so I’m staying away from them this week.