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Monday, Jan 16

   by Larry Ness - 01/16/2006

EIGHT of the NFL's 11 playoff games are in the books and what have we learned? Home teams are just 3-5 SU and ATS, with all eight SU winners of the games, also covering the pointspread. The closest any SU winner came to NOT covering the pointspread was Seattle (closed as a 9 1/2-point favorite), in its 20-10 win over Washington this past Saturday.

Over/under bettors have seen SIX of the eight games go under the total, with the highest-scoring game being the one with the lowest-posted total (naturally!). That would be Carolina's 29-21 win over Chicago yesterday, a game which saw its total close at 31.

My free play for Monday is in college hoops, taking Kansas over Missouri at 7:00 ET. I have just a SINGLE play on Monday and that's my 10* Western Conference TV Game of the Month, featuring the game between the SA Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Playoff Musings

Maybe defense doesn't win championships? The Bears owned the league's best-scoring defense in the regular season, allowing 12.6 PPG. In fact, they had allowed just 61 points in their eight home games (just 31 points over their last six!), the lowest point total of any team since the NFL went to a 16-game season back in 17978. However, the Panthers 'ripped' the Bears for 29 points and 434 yards on Sunday.

The Colts owned the league's second-best scoring defense at 15.4 PPG but allowed the Steelers to go 84 yards in 10 plays on their first drive of the game and then 72 yards on seven plays in their second drive, giving Pittsburgh a 14-0 lead which set the tone for the remainder of the game.

Turnovers did in the defending champs, as New England was guilty of FIVE turnovers on Saturday night, leading to 24 points by the Broncos. In New England's previous 10 playoff games (all wins), the Pats had committed just SIX turnovers.

Interestingly though, the other three games this weekend were NOT decided by turnovers, as Washington, Indy and Chicago combined for just two giveaways while forcing SIX takeaways. That's not the norm though, as in the wildcard round, the four winning teams won the turnover 'battle', 12-1!

While passing attacks may be more "sexy", the rule of thumb for winning in the NFL is run the ball better and more often than your opponent. All eight playoff winners have out-rushed their opponents, as well as had more rushing attempts during the game.

Rex Grossman was the fifth and final QB to make his NFL playoff debut in this year's postseason. With Chicago's 29-21 loss to Carolina, that makes playoff 'virgins' 0-5 SU and ATS in this year's postseason. However, Cincinnati's Carson Palmer deserves a mulligan, as he was injured and lost for the game on the Bengals' second offensive play.

Speaking of QBs, was there a more pathetic site than Peyton Manning in his post-game press conference saying he wanted to be a good teammate, then 'ripping' his teammates. Peyton surely doesn't deserve all the blame for Indy's loss but how does he explain away his 3-6 career mark in the postseason? In comparison, Carolina's Jake Delhomme, is 5-1 in his six career playoff starts, with a TD-to-interception ratio of 10-2!

The championship games are set for next Sunday with Pittsburgh at Denver (Broncos are 3 1/2-point favorites with a total of 41) and Carolina at Seattle (Seahawks are 4 1/2-point favorites with a total of 43 1/2). Pittsburgh is the first No. 6 to advance to a conference title game since the league expanded to its current playoff format in 1990. Ten other No. 6 seeds had tried, including Washington this year, before the Steelers broke through. As for the Broncos, Denver is 12-2 in its playoff history at home, compared to a 3-8 record on the road.

Carolina has now won four straight playoff games on the road (tying an NFL record) and will face a Seattle team which just ended a 21-year drought between playoff wins by beating the Redskins on Saturday. This will be just the second conference championship game for Seattle in its 30-year history (lost the '83 AFC title game to the LA Raiders 30-14) and its first-ever at home. The Panthers, in the league since just 1995, will be making their third NFC title-game appearance.

The NBA features a 12-game schedule on Martin Luther King Day, beginning with games tipping at 1:05 ET. TNT has a great doubleheader, with the Spurs taking on the Grizzlies at 8:05 ET and then the Heat at the Lakers at 10:35 ET.

Memphis is the league's top defensive team allowing 86.7 PPG and San Antonio ranks second at 88.8 PPG. These teams just met Saturday night in San Antonio with the Spurs winning 80-79. However, using the Carolina/Chicago "theory", the final will probably come 110-109. San Antonio is favored by 1 1/2-points with a total of 169. It's Shaq vs Kobe in the nightcap, for the fourth time since they 'split'. Miami's won the three previous meetings but LA's covered two of the three. The Heat are favored by 3 1/2-points with a total of 204.

Tonight's college basketball schedule features a 15-game card, including a tripleheader on ESPN. Kansas, which lost Saturday to Kansas St for the first time in 32 meetings, is at Missouri at 7:00 ET. The Jayhawks are favored by 2 1/2-points with a total of 129.

Connecticut (14-1) is at Syracuse (15-2) at 9:00 ET, where the Huskies are a 1 1/2-point choice, even though Syracuse is on a 12-game winning streak (total is 148 1/2). At midnight ET, Gonzaga hosts Loyola-Marymount, as the Bulldogs look to extend their home winning streak to 32 straight games. Led by the nation's leading scorer, Adam Morrison (28.2 PPG), Gonzaga is favored by 18 points with a total of 155.

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