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History calls for an upset

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

Joe Ellison

The National Football League produced great drama during last week’s Divisional Playoffs, with all four games decided by a touchdown or less and two going to overtime. Therefore, it’s quite unfortunate that coach and player stupidity ended up being the weekend’s main theme.

The biggest goat these playoffs would have to be St. Louis head coach Mike Martz. Down by three points with 36 seconds left in regulation, it appeared the Rams were about to score a game-winning touchdown. Having just scored a touchdown, converted the two-point conversion, recovered an on-side kick and moved the ball to the Carolina 15-yard line with one time out left, St. Louis was carrying unbelievable momentum. But instead of playing to win, Martz inexplicably played not to lose. Martz decided to let the clock run down, kick a field goal and take his chances in overtime, where his team eventually lost.

Martz foolishly chose to run only four plays in the final 2:35, then blamed his quarterback, saying Marc Bulger could have thrown an interception or a tipped pass. Yes, Terry Holt dropped a touchdown pass, and St. Louis should have recovered a Carolina fumble and prevented the first Panther TD, but Martz’s actions are inexcusable. This isn’t the first time Martz has come up with such a stupid strategy, and he’s lucky I’m not the Rams owner, because right now he wouldn’t have a job.

In Green Bay’s overtime loss at Philadelphia, it would be easy to blame Packer quarterback Brett Favre and his interception that led to the Eagles’ game-winning field goal, but really it was a collective effort. The first big Green Bay mistake was failing to score when inside the Philly one-yard line during the second quarter. Then, with two-and-a-half minutes left in the contest, on the Eagle 39-yard line and clinging to a three-point lead, Packer head coach Mike Sherman showed poor judgment by electing to punt rather than attempt to gain one yard and win the game. But the most staggering Pack error came on defense, giving up a first down on fourth and 26 in the middle of Philadelphia’s game-tying drive. Every one of those four situations contributed equally to Green Bay’s demise.

In Kansas City’s home loss to Indianapolis, the Chiefs suffered through Johnnie Morton’s dropped passes, Priest Holmes’ key second half fumble, and a highly questionable offensive pass interference call on Tony Gonzalez that negated a touchdown. But clearly the difference was KC’s defense that neglected to force even one Colt punt the entire game. Tuesday, Chief defensive coordinator Greg Robinson resigned, and rightfully so.

As for the New England-Tennessee match-up, that was by far the best played game, and in my opinion, involved the two best teams.

– In this coming Sunday’s championship games, one might think that the home teams own a huge advantage. But home teams win at a solid, but not so perfect, 65 percent, and recent history suggests that one road squad will pull off the upset. Last year Tampa Bay won at Philadelphia. In 2002 New England won at Pittsburgh. In 2001 Baltimore won at Oakland. In 2000 Tennessee won at Jacksonville. In 1999 Atlanta won at Minnesota, and in 1998 Denver won at Pittsburgh. That’s pretty consistent, so I’ll predict one upset this weekend.

Indianapolis at New England – This is a rematch of the Nov. 30 game at Indianapolis won by New England 38-34. In that contest the Patriots forged out to a 31-10 lead, relaxed, and needed a late goal-line stand to preserve the victory.

Last week the Colt defense was exposed, giving up 408 yards and failing to force a single Kansas City punt. The Indy D was 20th versus the run in the regular season, and it is allowing a whopping six yards a carry in the postseason.

The Colts offense is excellent, but it is meeting its match here. The New England defense was No. 1 in points allowed this year, led the league with 29 interceptions, and is better than the one that won the 2002 Super Bowl. Indy quarterback Peyton Manning loves to look over a defense and change plays, but the Pats are masters at disguising blitzes and coverages. Prediction: New England -3 and Over 43 1/2.

Carolina at Philadelphia – This is a rematch of the Nov. 30 game that saw Carolina outgain the visiting Eagles by 50 yards, but lose on the scoreboard 25-16. Panther kicker Jon Kasay missed three field goals and an extra point, and quarterback Jake Delhomme had a costly fumble.

Last week Carolina rushed for 216 yards at St. Louis, but could be without star running back Stephen Davis. Deshaun Foster would need to continue his fine play if Davis can’t go.

Philadelphia’s defense was a dismal 22nd against the run, has given up an average of 162 yards rushing in its last 12 games, and allowed 210 on the ground to Green Bay last week.

I picked Philly to reach the Super Bowl the last two seasons, and they choked with a better team last year featuring Hugh Douglas and Brian Mitchell. Prediction: Carolina +4 and Over 37.

Joe Ellison is the Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com.