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NFL Conference Championship Games

   by Larry Ness - 01/21/2005

Visiting NFL teams won three of four games during the wild card round (3-1 ATS) but the home teams rebounded to take all four of last weekend's divisional round games (3-1 ATS). Sunday, the Eagles will host the Falcons while the Steelers will host the Patriots in this year's NFL conference championship games.

Historically, home teams have gone 45-23 SU in the 34 years of conference title games since the 1970 merger. They are 38-28-2 ATS, with home favorites going 31-21-2 and home underdogs going 7-7 (the Gold Sheet lists the 1998 NFC title game as a pick but the visiting 49ers who won 28-3 really got 'steamed' that year playing in Chicago, closing as high as three-point favorites in some places).

While home teams have a fairly solid record overall since 1970, that HASN'T been the case recently. Since 1990, home teams have gone just 8-6 SU in each conference for a combined 16-12 mark, going an unimpressive 12-16 ATS. In the NFC, visiting teams have 'covered' SIX of the last seven years, with the lone 'cover' by a home team coming in 2000 when the Giants beat the Vikings 41-0, as 2 1/2-point home dogs!

Since the Steelers are a home dog, it should be noted that there have been just four home underdogs in conference title games since 1990. As mentioned earlier, the New York Giants (plus-2 1/2) beat Minnesota 41-0 in 2000 but the other three home dogs all lost! In 1997 Denver won at Pittsburgh 24-21 as a 2 1/2-point road favorite and Green Bay won at San Francisco 23-10, also as a 2 1/2-point favorite. In the 1992 AFC title game, Buffalo won at Miami 29-10 as a 2 1/2-point road favorite.

That 1997 year is worth re-visiting, as it marked the ONLY time since 1970 in which BOTH visiting teams were favored in the two conference title games and only the SECOND time in which BOTH road teams won. In 1992, Buffalo won at Miami 29-10 while Dallas won at San Francisco 30-20.

HERE'S A THOUGHT....Maybe the EASIEST way to determine the point spread winner for Sunday's games is to just go with the team you expect to win? Of course that's easier said than done but the fact remains that you DON'T want to be taking the points in these games if you DON'T think 'your' team will win!

In the 34 years of conference championship games since 1970, 61 of 68 SU winners have also been the ATS winner in those games! In the NFC, the St Louis Rams have won and failed to cover twice. In 2001 they beat Philadelphia 29-24 as a 10 1/2-point favorite and in 1999, they beat Tampa Bay 11-6 as a 14-point favorite. The 1983 Washington Redskins beat the San Francisco 49ers 24-21 as a 10 1/2-point favorite and in 1974, the Minnesota Vikings beat the LA Rams 14-10 but 'pushed' as they were 4-point favorites.

In AFC title games, there has been one 'push' and two favorites that won but failed to 'cover'. The 'push' occurred in 1975 when Pittsburgh beat Houston 16-10 as a 6-point favorite. In 1991 Buffalo beat Denver 10-7, failing to 'cover' as an 11 1/2-point favorite and in 1995, Pittsburgh beat Indianapolis 20-16, when also favored by 11 1/2 points.

This year's two home teams, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers, both come in with LOTS to prove! The Eagles will be making their FOURTH consecutive title-game appearance, including their THIRD straight at home (an NFL record). Only the Raiders, who made five straight AFC title-game appearances from 1973-77, have a longer consecutive-year streak since the merger. Those Raider teams by the way, went just 1-4.

Philadelphia of course, has lost three straight NFC Championship Games, getting outscored 41-13 the last two years at home. Philadelphia wide receivers have caught a total of just 12 passes (with one TD) over three straight title-game appearances. The addition of Terrell Owens was supposed to change all of that but his injury in Week 15 leaves the Eagles, "Back to the Future".

Over in the AFC, Bill Cowher has earned the reputation as one of the NFL's best head coaches. You'll get no argument from me on that one but it's hard to ignore the fact that while this is his FIFTH AFC title-game appearance in the last 11 years, Cowher's teams are just 1-3 SU and 0-4 ATS in the previous four.

All four have been home games, three coming as big favorites. Pittsburgh lost in 1994 to San Diego 17-13 as a 9-point favorite, beat Indianapolis 20-16 as an 11 1/2-point favorite, lost to Denver in 1997 24-21 as a 2 1/2-point underdog and lost to New England 24-17 as a 10-point favorite.

Enjoy the games and I'll be back with a recap plus an early look at the Super Bowl on Monday.

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