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AFC Playoffs Preview

   by Al McMordie - 01/04/2006

Now that the suspense is over, we can get to the real portion of the NFL season. The playoffs kick off this weekend with four first round games, while the top four-seeded teams get a valuable bye (Colts, Seahawks, Broncos, Bears). Weather conditions are definitely going to be a factor, with the Patriots and Bengals hosting outdoor cold-weather games this weekend in the AFC. Here’s an early peak at the AFC playoff games on Saturday.

Steelers at Bengals: The good news is there’s a wealth of data to examine as both teams have played each other twice this season. The Steelers come into this game brimming with confidence, on a 4-0 SU/3-1 ATS run playing at a high level in all phases of the game. A mid-season slump (injuries) that jeopardized their postseason chances is long in the rearview mirror. The bread-and-butter ground game is rolling, getting 190, 142, 209 and 199 yards the last four games! And the defense has been sensational, allowing 8 points per game the last four! Overall the Steelers allow 16 ppg, and will begin the playoffs on the road, where they are 7-1 under the total. Pittsburgh is also 6-2 SU/ATS on the road.

The Bengals enter the playoffs off their worst two games of the season, losing 37-27 at home to the Bills, and 37-3 at Kansas City. So what gives? The Bengals' defense has been the main culprit, as it's giving up a lot of yards and points. Over the final 7 games the Bengals held only two of their opponents under 28 points! When Cincy and Pittsburgh met on December 4, the Bengals won 38-31, with 102 rushing yards and 222 passing yards. They were also lucky with turnovers and got a key kickoff return. In that game, Cincy stacked the line to stop the Pittsburgh run and Ben Roethlisberger had 379 passing yards. But in the first game, won 27-13 by Pittsburgh, the Steelers had 221 rushing yards. Are the Bengals ready for prime time? Cincy is 10-2 SU, 7-5 ATS as a favorite this season, but 1-3 SU, 1-2-1 ATS as a dog. They allow 17.8 ppg as chalk, but 34 as a dog! This is also the first playoff game for the Bengals since 1990.

Jaguars at Patriots: Both teams bring rugged physical defenses, particularly against the run, into this game. Which means the quarterbacks and the passing games are going to be key. The Jaguars have been going with mobile QB David Garrard, but Byron Leftwich is rumored to be close to available. It makes more sense to stick with Garrard, who’s started the last 7 games. This game will be played in the evening Saturday, so will the boys from Florida be concerned with the New England January cold? The Jaguars haven’t been in a playoff game since 1999. Jacksonville is 6-2 SU/ATS on the road.

The Patriots have had a tale of two seasons. The first half was loaded with injuries, no running game, and a poor secondary. The second half has seen a resurgence, largely due to several players regaining their health (LB Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Corey Dillon, WR David Givens) and changes being made in the secondary (dumping ineffective/injured Dwayne Starks for rookie CB Ellis Hobbs, who has played very well). The Jaguars have played one cold weather game this season, winning 20-14 at Cleveland the first week of December. These teams met in December on this field two years ago, as well, with the Patriots winning 28-13 in frigid conditions. We’ll see how important the Patriots' experience and home field is. And the reward for the winners? Trips to Denver and Indy! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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