With the divisional playoffs set for this weekend, that means by late Sunday afternoon only four teams will remain in the hunt for the championship of the National Football League.
But before we take a look at those games, I need to put to bed the controversy concerning Tennessee’s Immaculate Deception Kickoff Return last Saturday which resulted in the game-winning touchdown.
At first glance, I was certain that the Titans had thrown the ball forward during the return, but upon further review, we could all see that the ball never did go forward, which means the pass was a lateral. Thankfully, the officials called the play right, because had one official considered the pass to be forward, the play would have been blown dead and not subject to review. Then we would have had a controversy of epic proportions.
Now, let’s take a look at this weekend’s games. Super Bowl odds are in parentheses.
— Miami (15/1) at Jacksonville (7/2) – The Jaguars will make their playoff run without the services of all-world lineman Tony Boselli and quarterback Mark Brunell, who will give it a go with an injured knee which will limit his usually valuable mobility. The Dolphins have numerous offensive players banged up, but most of them are expected to play because this is a playoff game. Both teams’ defenses, however, remain intact. I like Under 37 1/2.
— Washington (15/1) at Tampa Bay (12/1) – As of Wednesday evening, it appears that Redskin running back Stephen Davis will be severely limited now that he has a knee injury to add to his existing ankle problem. To make matters worse, tackle Andy Heck is out and center Cory Raymer is playing badly hurt.
Washington did catch a break, though, when guard Tre Johnson was allowed to play in this game. In last week’s melee during the Detroit game, an out-of-control Johnson whacked the back judge on top of his head, and subsequently got tossed out of the game. In my opinion, that action sure didn’t look like it was an accident, either. The NFL copped out, though, by allowing Johnson to serve his one-game suspension in the first game of next year’s season.
Tampa Bay finished the season strong. If you throw out the Oakland game, the Buccaneers covered eight in a row, including five consecutive at home. Tampa -5.
— Minnesota (7/1) at St. Louis (1/1) – At home this season, St. Louis has been a juggernaut. The Rams won and covered all their home games, with the smallest margin of victory being 17 points. The only knock on St. Louis is that the Rams failed to beat a team with a winning record, but they don’t have any control over making their own schedule. I still see St. Louis winning the Super Bowl.
Minnesota, although playing better lately, covered only one road game and pushed one during the entire campaign. And if there is one unit between the two teams that is suspect, it’s the Viking defense. St. Louis -7.
— Tennessee (8/1) at Indianapolis (6/1) – In my opinion, the winner of this game will be the AFC representative in the Super Bowl, and I think it will be Tennessee.
I didn’t realize how good Buffalo’s No. 1 defense was until I saw it stuff Tennessee’s running game last week. The Titans and running back Eddie George will find the going much easier against a Colts defense that was already poor at stopping the run, and one that now will be without leading tackler Cornelius Bennett.
Indianapolis limped into the playoffs spread-wise by failing to cover its last four games, while Tennessee has covered five consecutive games, although the Titans cover last week should be considered a miracle. Tennessee +5 1/2.
Note: NFC teams with byes, such as St. Louis and Tampa Bay, are 17-1 straight up in divisional playoff games.
— In the midst of all the playoff excitement, tennis’ first major, the Australian Open, begins Sunday. With few tune-up tournaments and results to go by, this week’s tournaments could give people a good idea who the main contenders will be. On the women’s side, Martina Hingis is gunning for her fourth consecutive title, while Monica Seles and Venus Williams are out. I’m betting Hingis at a Leroy’s sports book because Megasports odds are better. On the men’s side, I’ll take a close look at this week’s results before making a choice, but I’m leaning toward Andre Agassi (4/1). Betting closes Sunday at noon.
Note: Catch me tonight on the second half of Sportstalk with The Pearl which begins at 9 p.m. on Channel 10.
Joe Ellison is the betting columnist for the Nevada Appeal.