TENNESSEE (-3) over Baltimore: The Titans were hardly inspiring down the stretch, going 3-3 after winning their first 10 games. But one of their late-season wins — during Week 16 — was an impressive 31-14 pounding of Pittsburgh that locked up home field throughout the playoffs. Enter Baltimore, a scary club that worked over Miami last weekend in the wild-card round. Baltimore seemingly has it all: decent special teams, a special defense, and a steady offense led by a punishing ground game. But I must be missing something, because in the fourth quarter against Miami, I felt as though the Dolphins — despite five horrendous turnovers — had a chance to win the game. As unspectacular as Kerry Collins is, I don’t see him throwing four interceptions, as Chad Pennington did, but I can see Collins and the Titans moving the ball with some success against Baltimore as long as they don’t throw directly to Ravens safety Ed Reed. The Titans’ defense is just as formidable as Baltimore’s and is expecting lineman Albert Haynesworth back. Both teams have impressive marks against the number, so lay the points with the home team.
San Diego (+6) over PITTSBURGH: Pittsburgh is just OK passing the ball, and less than OK running the ball. What’s much better than OK is the Steelers’ defense, ranked first or second in every major category. San Diego, a club reliant on its high-scoring offense — 27.4 points per game, good for second in the league — surely realizes what it’s up against, and being up against it on the road in the playoffs is no bargain. But San Diego has been in this position before, and though not successful, it is experienced. The Chargers are walking with a swagger after upsetting the Colts, and I sense another upset — getting points is just a bonus. San Diego back LaDainian Tomlinson has an injured groin and may not play, but the Chargers have proven they can run the ball without him. Quarterback Philip Rivers has two great targets in Antonio Gates and Chris Chambers, and San Diego can move the chains quickly. Pittsburgh will try to establish the run against the Chargers. When that doesn’t work, expect the Steelers to be playing from behind, never to get over the hump.
CAROLINA (-10) over Arizona: These squads met during Week 8, and Arizona squeaked out a 27-23 victory. Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner had a huge day, completing 35-of-49 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns, but Warner often has huge days, win or lose. Also in that game, a third-year running back from Memphis named DeAngelo Williams had a nice day of his own, finishing with 108 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Up to that point, Williams had been splitting carries with Jonathan Stewart. He set himself apart around midseason, and by the final third of the year he was shredding NFL defenses. In Carolina’s last six games, Williams rushed 120 times for 733 yards and 13 touchdowns. Arizona did a fine job containing Falcon backs Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood last weekend in its wild-card win, but I cannot envision its defense slowing down Williams and Stewart. Arizona is on the road and, even worse, on the East Coast, where it went 0-5 this season. Ten is a large number to lay in the playoffs, but Carolina will grind this out and win going away.
NY GIANTS (-4) over Philadelphia: Philly’s bandwagon is growing by the hour, but I have no interest in jumping on. Yes, the Eagles have done a terrific job taking their season off life support, and they now find themselves in the second round of the playoffs. There’s something to be said for a hot team in the postseason, but I don’t consider Philadelphia hot — just lucky. The Eagles started their massive two-game win/cover streak by annihilating Dallas in the season finale, and then Philly outlasted the Vikings last weekend to pull off a nice cover. In picking the Vikings last weekend, I failed to consider the potential ineffectiveness of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. At one point against the Eagles, Jackson gift-wrapped a pick-six into the eager arms of Asante Samuel, who celebrated as if he had done something difficult. No matter. Such a giveaway of points is unlikely to occur against New York. The G-Men are superior to Minnesota, they are at home, they are 12-4 against the number, and they have had a week to get healthy.
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This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports