NFL Sunday Playoffs

NFL Sunday Playoffs

Bolts need to beat Manning again to keep playoff run alive
January 7, 2008

SAN DIEGO (AP) -The San Diego Chargers know all about beating Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

They did it in Indianapolis in 2005 to ruin the Colts' 13-0 start. They did it in San Diego in mid-November, when Manning threw a career-high six interceptions and Adam Vinatieri missed what for him would have been an easy field goal.

None of it matters now to the Chargers (12-5), who will have to beat the defending Super Bowl champion Colts (13-3) in their stadium on Sunday in order to keep advancing in the playoffs.

Granted, Shawne Merriman is still going to try to bull-rush Manning as he did as a rookie in 2005, when he got two sacks and forced an important intentional grounding by Manning in San Diego's 26-17 win.

In Merriman's mind, that was a long time ago.

``I think they're going to take a different approach this game, we're going to take a different approach and go out there and see what happens,'' the Pro Bowl outside linebacker said Monday. ``We're going to get their best shot and they're going to get ours and I think it's going to be a great game.''

The Chargers are fresh off their first playoff win in 13 seasons, a 17-6 decision over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. They won't know until later in the week whether they'll be without three-time All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates, who has an injured left big toe.

The Colts had a bye as the AFC's No. 2 seed.

San Diego has won 11 of 13 games, among them a 23-21 decision over the Colts at Qualcomm Stadium on Nov. 11.

The Colts were missing several starters that rainy night. It was a breakout game for two Chargers - Antonio Cromartie had three interceptions and Darren Sproles returned the opening kickoff for an 89-yard touchdown, then added a 45-yard punt return touchdown later in the first quarter. Vinatieri, who'd won two Super Bowls for the New England Patriots with last-second field goals, missed a 29-yard attempt with 1:31 left.

``Peyton threw six picks and that's probably never going to happen again in his career,'' Merriman said.

``I think so many things happened in that game that you can almost scratch it,'' quarterback Philip Rivers said, ``other than learning how they played you and watching individual matchups, how they played you, blocking up front, seeing the corners, how they played the wide receivers, things like that, from a scheme standpoint.

``But the way all those plays and things happened, you don't go into this game going, 'Hey guys, we wore them out the first time,' or vice versa, I wouldn't think. It's one of those games we came out on top, but I don't think it really has a huge impact as we go forward in this game.''

Norv Turner, 2-1 in the playoffs as a head coach, agrees that this game is likely to be different than the past matchups with the Colts.

``I just don't know that it matters,'' Turner said. ``This is a whole new scenario because of being in the playoffs and the importance of the game. I know it's a challenge. Because of what's happened this year in the league, people have kind of forgotten that Indianapolis won the Super Bowl last year. They were the best team in the league last year and they were about four minutes away from beating who everyone perceives is the best team in the league this year.''

The week before they lost to the Chargers, the Colts led the Patriots by 10 points with less than 10 minutes left but lost 24-20.

Rivers said the Chargers, who have won seven straight games, are confident but know the challenge they face.

``Barring something crazy, we're going to be the underdogs here on out,'' he said. ``But it doesn't really matter what's said or what's predicted. It matters what we do in the locker room and our staff and our team and what we believe, and go in there and fight hard and try to get a win.''

Sunday's win over the Titans snapped a four-game postseason losing streak dating to the 1994 season. Two of those losses occurred in the past three seasons.

``We're very happy to be able to win so we have an opportunity to move on,'' general manager A.J. Smith said.

Notes: Gates had an MRI on Monday on his injured left big toe. Gates said on Sunday that the toe was dislocated, but the Chargers are saying it's sprained. Gates was taken off the field on a cart during the second quarter on Sunday. Turner said Gates is day to day. ... FB Lorenzo Neal, who broke his lower left leg in an overtime win at Tennessee on Dec. 9, will be able to practice Wednesday, Turner said.

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Colts ready to face familiar foe
January 7, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -The Indianapolis Colts pride themselves on consistency.

But when they play San Diego, they usually look like somebody else. The scoring efficiency drops, the mistakes compound and the lapses have created some forgettable moments.

It's a trend Indy must change Sunday if it hopes to defend its Super Bowl title.

``I think they've definitely had our number the last couple of times we played them, but I don't think that will be the case Sunday,'' middle linebacker Gary Brackett said.

Of all the nondivision teams, other than New England, the Colts (13-3) may know the Chargers better than anybody. Sunday's divisional-round playoff game marks the fourth meeting between these teams since 2004, with San Diego holding a 2-1 edge.

And it doesn't take a genius to figure out a winning formula: Stop LaDainian Tomlinson, block Shawne Merriman and figure out how to make plays against San Diego's stingy defense.

Recently, the script has been problematic.

In December 2005, San Diego's last visit to the RCA Dome, the Colts were 13-0 and trying to maintain their quest for perfection. The Chargers (12-5) relentlessly pressured two-time league MVP Peyton Manning and used a long touchdown run from Michael Turner to seal a 26-17 victory.

Indy returned to San Diego in November, and the result was worse. Manning, nicknamed Perfect Peyton by former Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf, threw a franchise-record six interceptions, Darren Sproles returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in the first quarter and Mr. Clutch, Adam Vinatieri, pushed a 29-yard field goal wide right with 1:31 left. San Diego 23, Indy 21.

Of course, one reason for the Colts' poor play two months ago was because they weren't themselves. Receivers Marvin Harrison and Anthony Gonzalez, tight end Dallas Clark, left tackle Tony Ugoh and linebackers Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler were all out with injuries.

Indy also lost three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney and right tackle Ryan Diem during the game because of injuries. All but Freeney, who is on injured reserve after having foot surgery, are expected to play on Sunday.

But the Colts understand that having a full cast does not necessarily mean they'll be heading to their third AFC championship game since 2003.

``Not at all,'' Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday said when asked if injuries alone explained the loss. ``Look we turned the ball over, we gave up touchdowns on special teams, we gave up a lot of things that game. We've got to play better than that this week.''

What's the problem?

Some contend that Indy struggles against 3-4 defenses, which the Chargers use heavily. The track record against other 3-4 teams, such as New England and Pittsburgh, adds credibility to the premise.

The Patriots and Steelers eliminated Indy from the playoffs in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and the Colts have lost 10 of their past 11 against the Steelers and are 3-5 against the Pats since Tony Dungy arrived in 2002.

Dungy, however, does not believe its merely the defensive front that causes problems.

``I don't know that we've had trouble with the 3-4, we've had trouble with teams that play the 3-4 who have good players and can have four guys come in at any time without having to blitz and still be in man coverage,'' Dungy said. ``There are a lot of variations of it, and it can cause you problems.''

Which is one reason the Colts spent part of their bye week cramming.

Dungy wanted his team to focus on basics last week without wasting time preparing for three possible opponents, but made part of the lesson a refresher course on the basics of playing the 3-4.

``If you look at the teams we've lost to in the past, some of them have been 3-4 teams, and they aren't going to change when they come in here,'' Saturday said. ``But I always think it's the personnel and we know them pretty well.''

The extra time may help them contend with more than just Merriman and Shaun Phillips, too, because a win could set up a rematch with New England.

But given the matchups, and the Colts' recent struggles against San Diego, Indy knows it will require more than a little fine-tuning to get ready this week.

``We played poorly in all phases the last game and we fought in the second half,'' Brackett said. ``If it proved anything, it's that we have to start fast and that's what we want to do Sunday.''

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Re: NFL Sunday Playoffs

What bettors need to know: Chargers at Colts
COVERS.COM

It’s a Marvin miracle

Colts receiver Marvin Harrison went down in Week 3 with what the club initially called a “deep knee bruise” but he hasn’t played since. Now that’s a heck of a knee bruise. The heralded wideout is practicing again this week and may finally start on Sunday.

Harrison was supposed to start Week 16’s game against the Titans after practicing leading up to the game but was held out by head coach Tony Dungy.

"He's a guy that if he didn't play this week, I wouldn't be worried about him,'' Dungy told reporters before that game "If he's feeling good and healthy two weeks from now, I'd think he'd have a great game."

Let’s go streaking

San Diego dropped three of its first four games straight up and against the number to start the year. It took a while for the Chargers to wake up, but now they’ve covered in seven straight games – five of which they were favored by at least nine points – to sit at 12-5 against the number this season.

LaDainian Tomlinson was instrumental in the late-season surge, scoring seven rushing touchdowns and rumbling for more than 700 yards in the seven games.

Don’t doubt the ‘D’

The Colts proved that they can play some defense when it counts in last year’s playoff run and didn’t miss a beat this season. They allow a league-low 16.4 points a game and own the league’s third-best total defense, thanks in no small part to super safety Bob Sanders, who was named the Associate Press Defensive Player of the Year.

He’s the main cog in what has turned out to be a young, but bone-rattling secondary. Cornerbacks Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden are a physical upgrade to last year’s starting corners and Antoine Bethea is perfect fit beside Sanders.

"Nobody really knew anyone here besides Bob (Sanders), and I think we've all done that - made a conscious effort to be more physical," Jackson told reporters.

"We are aggressive guys," Jackson added. "There's a confidence there because I know we're all going to fly around the football and hit guys."

Peyton who?

Hey, don’t forget about Peyton Manning. Tom Brady stole the spotlight by breaking his touchdown record, but Manning still had a great year even though he was often without some of the team’s top offensive weapons.

Manning still threw for over 4,000 yards to go along with 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, while helping Indy score 28.1 points a game, ranking just two spots behind the Pats. 

Gates a no-go?

Chargers tight end and leading receiver Antonio Gates looks doubtful after spraining and dislocating his left toe in last week’s comeback win over Tennessee.

"I took a hit," Gates told reporters. "At first, it didn't seem like a big deal. As I got up, it was weird. I tried to put pressure on it. We're searching for answers right now."

A report in Tuesday’s San Diego Union-Tribune says the injury will "almost certainly" keep Gates on the bench.

Turn back the calendar

San Diego has taken the last two meetings between these two teams, dropping the Colts 23-21 as 3½-point underdogs earlier this year. Peyton Manning was terrible in that contest, tossing a career-worst six interceptions.

Before that, the Chargers downed Indy 26-17 as seven-point underdogs back in December 2005.

“I think we're both really different teams,” head coach Norv Turner told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I think we're a different team than when we played them, however long ago it was, eight weeks ago. I just think it's a new game, and it's a new matchup. Our guys I think will go into the game with confidence, but there's a great respect, too. We know what the challenge is.”

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What bettors need to know: Giants at Cowboys
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Owens update

Terrell Owens will be a game-time decision three weeks after hitting the shelf with a high ankle sprain, though he is back on the practice field.

"It was a limpthrough for him," Dallas head coach Wade Phillips told reporters after Monday’s workout, "and a walkthrough for others. He jogged some, but that was with the rehab people. He's favoring it."

However, a number of Cowboys, including Jason Witten, seemed confident that Owens would be in the lineup, so it could be a case of Phillips trying to keep his cards close to the vest.

Dallas downturn

The Cowboys head into Sunday’s game on a four-game against the spread losing streak, including a pair of outright losses. Dallas’ offense is catching most of the blame.

With Owens on the sidelines and Tony Romo’s romantic life all over the headlines, the Cowboys have scored just 32 points in the last three games. By comparison, Dallas cracked the 30-point barrier in eight different games this season and is averaging more than 28 points a game on the year.

All Eli, all the time

It’s tough being a Big Apple quarterback. Eli Manning had his struggles this season, throwing 23 interceptions, but it’s hard to get a fair shake from the New York media.

Manning still makes mistakes that a young quarterback is going to make, like his late interception against the Patriots in Week 16. He showed poise in taking care of the ball in last weekend’s win over Washington

“ I thought he did an excellent job, one of the best I've seen with regard to his utilization of his eyes and his pump-faking and his ability to recognize what he was trying to do, pulling defenders out of position so he could then go to other voids in the zone coverage," Giants coach Tom Coughlin told the New York Post. "He had great confidence that his protection was going to allow him to and that followed through. A very, very impressive game."

Manning has completed better than 71 percent of his passes against two of the best defenses in the league over the last two weeks. If the Giants stick to their running game, he can be effective.

Open the Barber shop

Without much to play for down the stretch the Dallas Cowboys limited running back Marion Barber to just 42 carries for 179 yards over Dallas’ last four games, so he’ll be ready to go this weekend.

The third-year back rushed for 973 yards on 4.8 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns and added 203 receiving yards with two touchdown catches despite the slow finish. Expect to see a lot of Barber on Sunday, especially if Owens is out. 

Road trippin’

Whether it’s the nasty New York fans or the swirling winds of Giants Stadium that gets Coughlin’s club down, it has been a much better home team this year. Last weekend’s win at Tampa Bay pushed New York to 7-2 against the spread on the road.

Familiar foes

Dallas has won and covered both of its meetings with the Giants this year, recording a 45-35 win as a 6½-point favorite in Week 1 and a 31-20 win as a two-point favorite in Week 10.

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T.O. practices, on track to play vs. Giants
Associated Press

IRVING, Texas (AP) - Terrell Owens ran routes and caught passes in his return to practice Thursday, showing only a slight limp at times. The All-Pro receiver seems on track to play in the Dallas Cowboys' playoff game against the New York Giants.

Owens, recovering from a sprained left ankle, didn't go against any defenders during the short period of practice open to the media. But he took part in some team drills after that.

While he was taking full strides running routes and making some cuts without any apparent problems, Owens had a slight limp at times when he jogged or walked.

"I thought that he moved well, and ran at the level that we were practicing, and those weren't half-speed," owner Jerry Jones said. "He's in very good spirits, very competitive spirits, very focused on our success here Sunday."

T.O. stopped and spoke with receivers coach Ray Sherman after completing one route. Owens then took off his helmet and could be seen smiling while talking to backup quarterback Brad Johnson.

Seen in the perimeter around the locker room during lunch before practice, Owens appeared to be walking fine, though he said little.

"You're not getting anything out of me," Owens said.

Owens hurt his ankle Dec. 22 in the game at Carolina, and sat out the regular-season finale at Washington. He took part in the team's light walkthrough Monday, but didn't practice Wednesday while doing rehabilitation.

"Obviously, he was better today because he practice some. It was limited," coach Wade Phillips.

Phillips insisted that the receiver is still a game-time decision.

"You think he's going to play, you don't think he's going to play, that's where I am. We'll see," Phillips said. "No, I don't think it would be a surprise (if Owens plays), but it would be a nice present."

Jones said it is a "very legitimate game-time decision" and that one consideration would be if playing could threaten Owens' availability for future playoff games if the Cowboys beat New York.

But Jones then made it clear that, "Sunday is the major point of emphasis, and any decision will be made risking most anything to have success Sunday."

Plus, Jones knows it would be hard to keep Owens out if the receiver wants to play.

"I haven't said 'no' to Terrell Owens since I gave him the check," Jones said. "There's no question that he's going to say that he wants to play. ... Terrell knows his situation better than any trainer, or any doctor or certainly than Wade or anybody else. He knows his situation very well, and you're going to have to count on him to use a little bit of judgment."

Fellow receiver Sam Hurd said Owens has spent "like 19 hours out of his day" trying to get back on the field and expects T.O. will play.

"He tells me all the time, opportunities like this don't come around every season, so he wants to take advantage of them," Hurd said. "He believes in this team so much that he wants to get out there and help this team get to the Super Bowl."

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Game Preview for Chargers vs Colts

(Sports Network) - The San Diego Chargers will have an opportunity to reach their first AFC Championship since 1994 on Sunday afternoon, but will have to get through the reigning world champions in order to make it there.

Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts will be the team standing in the Chargers' way at the RCA Dome in Sunday's AFC Divisional Playoff, and Indy has significantly more experience with that type of white-hot spotlight than does San Diego.

With a win over the Bolts, Indy will have reached its third AFC Championship in the past five years, and will have notched its eighth playoff win in head coach Tony Dungy's six years on the job.

By comparison, the Chargers have eight postseason victories in their 48-year franchise history, and one of those came in last Sunday's 17-6 triumph over depleted Tennessee in an AFC First-Round tilt.

Still, San Diego has ample reason to come into Sunday's game as a confident bunch.

The Chargers have now won seven straight games since starting the year a disappointing 5-5, and also have a positive recent history against the team they will be facing at the RCA Dome.

San Diego was a 23-21 home winner when it hosted Indianapolis back on Nov. 11, a game in which Manning threw a career-high six interceptions.

The Chargers also scored a 26-17 road upset in their most recent visit to Indianapolis, in Week 15 of the 2005 season, a game that knocked the then-13-0 Colts off of their perfect pedestal.

Indianapolis comes off a First-Round playoff bye, a game that was preceded by a 16-10 Week 17 loss to Tennessee. The Colts, who saw their six-game winning streak go by the wayside in that contest, rested many of their key players for large stretches of that game.

SERIES HISTORY

The Colts won the only postseason meeting between the teams all-time, claiming a 35-20 win on the road in a 1995 AFC First-Round Playoff.

The Chargers hold a 14-8 advantage in the all-time regular season series with the Colts, including the aforementioned 23-21 home win when the teams met in Week 10 and the 26-17 road upset in 2005. The Chargers lost the three previous head-to-head meetings, including a 34-31 overtime affair at the RCA Dome in 2004.

Dungy is 2-2 all-time against San Diego, including a win for his Buccaneers in the 1996 season. The Chargers' Norv Turner is 2-3 all-time against Indianapolis, including 1-2 while head coach in Washington (1994-2000). Turner is 1-2 head-to-head against Dungy, including a loss for his Raiders to Indy in 2004.

WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL

San Diego was able to beat Tennessee last Sunday despite a weak showing from running back LaDainian Tomlinson against a Titans defense that stacked the box in order to stop him. The two-time reigning NFL rushing champ managed just 42 yards on 21 carries for the day, though he did deliver the fatal blow with a controversial one-yard touchdown plunge in the fourth quarter. Tomlinson rushed for 76 yards and a TD on 21 totes against the Colts in Week 10, and also led the Chargers with four receptions in that win. Michael Turner spelled Tomlinson with 28 yards on nine carries last Sunday.

After enduring a shaky first half against the Titans last week, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (292 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) was instrumental in San Diego's ability to recover from a 6-0 halftime deficit. Working without tight end and top target Antonio Gates, who was carted off with a foot injury, Rivers managed to complete 12-of-17 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown during the second-half rally. Inconsistent wideouts Vincent Jackson (5 receptions, 114 yards, 1 TD) and Chris Chambers came up huge for San Diego, with Jackson putting the Chargers ahead on a 25-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter and Chambers picking the right time to turn in the best performance of his 11-game career with the team. Gates (2 receptions) is regarded as questionable for Sunday, and if he can't go, the Chargers could rely more on Brandon Manumaleuna (2 receptions) as a pass-catcher over the middle of the field.

Running the football doesn't figure to come any easier for Tomlinson against an Indianapolis defense that ranked sixth in the league in yards per rushing attempt allowed (3.768) during the regular season and counts NFL Defensive Player of the Year and safety Bob Sanders (96 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 INT) as its most feared run-stopper. Sanders, who finished second on the team in tackles to only middle linebacker Gary Brackett (116 tackles, 4 INT), was a major reason for the ascendancy of the Colts' defense during last year's playoff run. Brackett and starting tackles Darrell Reid (31 tackles) and Ed Johnson (41 tackles, 1 sack) have also been essential to the Indy run-stopping effort this season.

Rivers and his receivers will face up against a statistically sound Colts secondary that led the team to the NFL's No. 2 rank in passing defense (172.8 yards per game), behind only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In addition to the work of Sanders, cornerbacks Marlin Jackson (87 tackles, 1 INT), Kelvin Hayden (83 tackles, 3 INT), and safety Antoine Bethea (65 tackles, 4 INT) turned in solid 2007 campaigns. Linebacker Clint Session (26 tackles, 2 INT) had both interceptions against Philip Rivers in Week 10, but has done little of note since returning to his reserve role following that game. The Indianapolis pass rush has not been as furious since Dwight Freeney went down with a season- ending foot injury against San Diego in November, but end Robert Mathis (32 tackles, 7 sacks) still has to be accounted for coming off the edge.

WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL

Much of the focus as it pertains to the Indianapolis offense this week will rest not on Manning's 4,040 passing yards this season, his 31 touchdown passes, or his glistening 98.0 passer rating. Instead, league observers will hearken back to his six-INT night against the Chargers eight weeks ago, and wonder if the future Hall-of-Famer will again struggle against San Diego's 3-4 defense. Despite that poor outing, Manning also threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns on 34-of-56 passing in that game, and had Indianapolis in position to take a late lead before Adam Vinatieri missed a chip-shot field goal. Also, the Indianapolis offense was without wideouts Marvin Harrison (20 receptions, 1 TD) and Anthony Gonzalez (37 receptions, 3 TD), tight end Dallas Clark (58 receptions, 11 TD), and left tackle Tony Ugoh in that contest, and all of those players are expected to be in uniform on Sunday. Harrison, who has not played since Oct. 22nd due to a knee injury, is not listed on this week's injury report. Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne (104 receptions, 10 TD) had 10 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown in his last meeting with the Chargers.

After starting the year as a consistent focal point of the Indianapolis offense, Colts running back Joseph Addai (1072 rushing yards, 41 receptions, 15 TD) was less of a factor down the stretch. Addai averaged just 46 ground yards per game during the second half of the season, and never amassed more than 72 yards in a contest during that period. Included in that group of games was a lackluster 22-carry, 56-yard showing against the Chargers in Week 10. Addai had 294 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Indy's four-game run to the Super Bowl title last season. Kenton Keith (533 rushing yards, 13 receptions, 4 TD) spells Addai.

Judging by his last performance against San Diego, you can be fairly certain that Manning will be aware of the whereabouts of cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who logged three of his NFL-best 10 interceptions against Indianapolis back on Nov. 11th. Cromartie (1 tackle) was quiet against Tennessee last week, but fellow d-back Drayton Florence did manage an interception of the Titans' Vince Young. The Chargers finished the regular season with an NFL-best 30 INTs. The high-octane San Diego pass rush, which sacked the usually-untouchable Manning twice in Week 10, managed to bring Young down three times in the First-Round. Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman (4 tackles) had one sack after getting to the quarterback 12.5 times during the regular season, and the team's second- most-feared pass rusher, Shaun Phillips, notched 10 tackles and a fumble recovery in the win.

San Diego was a middle-of-the-pack 16th in the league against the run (107.1 yards per game) during the regular season, but held the Titans' LenDale White in check to the tune of 69 yards on 19 carries last week. Luis Castillo paced the Bolts' three-man front with eight tackles in the game, and inside linebacker Stephen Cooper managed another eight stops playing behind him. Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams was credited with just one tackle last week, but disrupts opposing running games with his mere 350-pound presence. Williams had six tackles against Indianapolis when the teams met in November.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Chargers have to be concerned about kicker Nate Kaeding, who has been great during the regular season during his four-year career but has missed key field goals in each of his three postseason appearances to date. Last week, Kaeding misfired on a 45-yard attempt that would have tied the game at 3-3 in the second quarter. The Iowa product later connected on a 20-yard kick. Ex- Packer and Chief Dave Rayner will continue to kick off for San Diego, and Mike Scifres (40.8 avg. last week) will punt.

Return man Darren Sproles made history against the Colts in Week 10, becoming just the second player in NFL history to return both a punt and kickoff for touchdowns in the same quarter.

Vinatieri may be the greatest clutch kicker in the history of the NFL, but this has not been a banner year for the 35-year-old. Vinatieri (23-29 FG) did not make a field goal longer than 39 yards this season (and that kick came in Week 2), and his two misses against San Diego in Week 10 led directly to the team's two-point loss. Still, Dungy won't go sleepless worrying about either him or reliable punter Hunter Smith (41.9 average).

Reserve corner T.J. Rushing (13.1 punt return avg., 1 TD, 23.0 kickoff return avg.) will likely handle all return chores if he is able to overcome an illness that has him listed as questionable on the injury report. If Rushing can't go, backup wideout Craphonso Thorpe (21.2 kickoff return avg., 5.2 punt return avg.) would be the guy. Sproles' game-opening TD against the Colts in Week 10 was one of three that Indy allowed off of kickoff returns this season.

OVERALL ANALYSIS


The Colts and Chargers have played three close games in their three head-to- head meetings of the last four seasons, and there is little reason to expect that this one will be any different. Both clubs are talented, confident, and possess few major weaknesses. Indianapolis, however, has two important advantages. One lies, strangely enough, in the health of a team that has been injury-scarred for much of the year. The Colts look to be as healthy as they've been in some time, whereas the Chargers appear unlikely to have Gates, a key offensive cog, on the field. The other advantage lies with a loud home crowd, which won't allow Rivers to get totally comfortable or display the type of performance he put up in the second half last week. San Diego won't go down without a fight, but the Chargers will go down.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colts 31, Chargers 24

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Colts host hot Chargers, look to avenge Week 9 loss

- Indy begins defense of its Super Bowl title against the mercurial San Diego Chargers, who looked awful in the first half of their Wild Card win and great in the second half. The Colts continue to get healthier, but have lost some key players for the year and they face a team that has beaten them two in a row. Of note, San Diego ranked just 27th in road run defense, a problem for Joseph Addai to exploit Sunday.

Oddsmakers currently have the Colts listed as 9-point favorites versus the Chargers, while the game's total is sitting at 46.

The Chargers defeated Tennessee 17-6 as an 11-point underdog in the AFC Wild Card round. The combined score fell UNDER the posted over/under total (39.5).

Vince Young passed for 138 yards with an interception for Tennessee, while LenDale White rushed for 69 yards on 19 carries in the loss.

The Colts lost to Tennessee 16-10 as a 4.5-point underdog in Week 17. The combined score fell UNDER the posted over/under total (39).

Jim Sorgi completed 11-of-24 passes for 68 yards with a touchdown for Indianapolis, while Reggie Wayne caught 12 passes for 87 yards.

Team records:
San Diego: 11-5 SU, 11-5 ATS
Indianapolis: 13-3 SU, 9-7 ATS

San Diego most recently:
When playing in January are 6-4
When playing on turf are 5-5
After outgaining opponent are 9-1
When playing outside the division are 6-4

Indianapolis most recently:
When playing in January are 6-4
When playing on turf are 8-2
After being outgained are 7-3
When playing outside the division are 8-2

A few trends to consider:
San Diego is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games
San Diego is 10-1 ATS in its last 11 games when playing on the road against Indianapolis
San Diego is 6-0-1 ATS in its last 7 games
San Diego is 10-3 ATS in its last 13 games when playing Indianapolis
Indianapolis is 16-2 SU in its last 18 games at home
Indianapolis is 6-1 SU in its last 7 games
Indianapolis is 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games at home
The total has gone OVER in 4 of Indianapolis's last 6 games

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Game Preview for Giants vs Cowboys

(Sports Network) - The New York Giants were able to end a lengthy playoff losing streak last week. Now, the Dallas Cowboys will be the ones attempting to break out of a long postseason drought when these two rivals square off this Sunday in an intriguing NFC Division Playoff matchup at Texas Stadium.

It's been more than 11 years since the Cowboys' last playoff victory, a 40-15 home triumph over Minnesota in the Wild Card round on December 28, 1996. Dallas has lost five consecutive postseason games and gone through four different head coaches since that win, which came under the regime of Barry Switzer.

Then again, the Cowboys haven't had a team as successful as this one over the last decade. Dallas' 13-3 record entering Sunday's showdown tied a franchise record for wins in a regular season, matching the mark of the 1992 squad which captured Super Bowl XXVII.

Dallas earned the top seed in this year's conference playoffs and handled the Giants in each of the two earlier meetings between the NFC East inhabitants in 2007. However, New York has been the more impressive of the clubs as of late.

The Cowboys closed out the regular season with losses in two of their final three games and haven't played at a championship level since recording a 37-27 decision over NFC North champion Green Bay in Week 13. In the team's most recent outing, a usually-potent Dallas offense mustered season lows of 147 yards and seven first downs in a 27-6 setback at Washington on December 30.

Dallas played that game without the services of star wide receiver Terrell Owens, who suffered a high ankle sprain in a Week 16 triumph at Carolina and could be sidelined for this pivotal encounter as well. If the game-changing All-Pro cannot play on Sunday, it would be a serious blow to the Cowboys, as Owens burned the Giants for a pair of touchdowns in each of Dallas' two victories over New York during the regular season.

While the Cowboys sputtered down the stretch, the fifth-seeded Giants have proven their playoff worth with a string of strong outings. After securing a postseason berth with a hard-fought win at Buffalo on December 23, New York delivered an inspired showing during a narrow 38-35 loss to unbeaten New England in the regular-season finale, then disposed of NFC South champ Tampa Bay in last week's opening round of the playoffs.

The Giants' 24-14 victory over the Buccaneers was led by a sound defensive effort and an extremely efficient performance under center from Eli Manning. The highly-scrutinized quarterback completed 20-of-27 passes for 185 yards and a pair of touchdowns to help Big Blue snap a four-game skid in postseason play.

Prior to last Sunday's breakthrough, New York had not won a playoff game since a 41-0 rout of Minnesota in the 2000 NFC Championship.

The win was also the eighth in a row on the road for the Giants, who haven't lost as the visiting team since a 45-35 setback to the Cowboys at Texas Stadium in the 2007 season opener.

Dallas also came through with a 31-20 verdict over New York at the Meadowlands in November, but has never defeated a foe three times in the same season. The Cowboys swept a home-and-home series with Arizona in 1998, but the Cardinals turned the tables with a 20-7 upset win in Dallas during that year's NFC Wild Card Playoffs.

The Cowboys do have history on their side, however. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, teams with an opportunity to earn a three-game sweep of an opponent have succeeded on 11 of those occasions.

SERIES HISTORY

The Cowboys lead the all-time series with the Giants by a 54-35-2 count, including this past year's regular season sweep. Dallas earned an unconventional split of last year's home-and-home with a 36-22 loss at Texas Stadium in Week 7 and a 23-20 victory when it visited the Meadowlands in Week 13.

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has a 5-6 record against Dallas as a head coach, including 4-4 since arriving in New York in 2004. Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips is 2-1 against the Giants in his career as a head coach, with the defeat coming for his Bills team in 1999. Phillips is 3-0 against Coughlin head-to-head, as his Bills also scored a win over Coughlin's Jaguars during the 1998 campaign.

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL

New York has been able to achieve good balance on offense in recent weeks, with Manning's (3336 passing yards, 23 TD, 20 INT) back-to-back outstanding outings complementing a formidable running game that ranked fourth in the NFL (134.3 ypg) during the regular season. Manning has put together his best quarterback ratings of the year over the last two games, with Sunday's well- executed performance preceded by a four-touchdown night against New England. The former No. 1 overall pick also threw for four scores and amassed a season- best 312 passing yards in the Giants' Week 1 loss at Texas Stadium. Wide receiver Amani Toomer (59 receptions, 3 TD) had seven catches for 74 yards against Tampa Bay, and New York may need a similar output from the steady veteran this week. Dallas will pay close attention to the dangerous Plaxico Burress (70 receptions, 1025 yards, 12 TD) and doesn't have to worry about tight end Jeremy Shockey, who's out for the season with a broken leg.

If Manning is to maintain his recent high level of play, his offensive line will have to contain Dallas' terrific pass-rushing duo of linebackers DeMarcus Ware (84 tackles, 14 sacks) and Greg Ellis (31 tackles, 12.5 sacks). The Cowboys sacked Manning five times and forced him into two costly interceptions during the teams' Week 10 encounter, a big factor in their 11-point win. Dallas has plenty of talent in the secondary, as cornerback Terence Newman (50 tackles, 4 INT, 13 PD) and safeties Ken Hamlin (62 tackles, 5 INT, 15 PD) and Roy Williams (92 tackles, 2 INT) will all be headed to next month's Pro Bowl, but its defense has shown a vulnerability at times against the pass.

The Giants can further aid Manning by running the ball effectively with their tandem of Brandon Jacobs (1009 rushing yards, 23 receptions, 6 total TD) and Ahmad Bradshaw (190 rushing yards, 1 TD). The rookie Bradshaw has recently emerged as an excellent complement to the bruising Jacobs, as he racked up 151 yards on just 17 carries in the late-season win at Buffalo and had a team-high 66 yards in the Wild Card game. New York played last week's tilt without center Shaun O'Hara, but the valued eight-year pro is hopeful he can return from a left knee sprain for Sunday's matchup.

Dallas finished the regular season ranked sixth overall in run defense (94.6 ypg), but was a little soft in that area late in the year, surrendering 131 rushing yards or more in three of their final four games. Inside linebacker Bradie James (101 tackles, 3 sacks) and Williams are the Cowboys' top two tacklers, and each had 10 stops in the club's November win at the Meadowlands. The Giants' ground attack didn't perform badly in that game, though, as Jacobs recorded 95 yards on 24 attempts.

WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL

While the presence of Owens (81 receptions, 1355 yards, 15 TD) is clearly important, the Cowboys' offensive success is ultimately dependent on how quarterback Tony Romo (4211 passing yards, 36 TD, 19 INT) fares and how well his highly-decorated offensive line protects him. The celebrity signal-caller has proven that he can shred opposing secondaries when he gets ample time to throw, as was the case in both meetings with New York this season. However, Romo was constantly under heavy duress in late-season losses to Philadelphia and Washington, and responded with two of his worst games. Two of his best came against the Giants, in which Romo combined for 592 yards and eight touchdowns through the air. Owens does expect to play on Sunday, but chances are he'll likely be limited. That means either Patrick Crayton (50 receptions, 7 TD) or veteran Terry Glenn will need to step up and team with All-Pro tight end Jason Witten (96 receptions, 7 TD) as the primary receiving options. Glenn has the pedigree to do so, having four 1,000-yard campaigns to his credit, but the 33-year-old has only played in one game this year due to a knee injury.

The Giants had trouble slowing down Dallas' fourth-ranked passing offense (256.6 ypg) in those two earlier games because they only sacked Romo two times. However, New York had no trouble terrorizing enemy quarterbacks throughout the year, as evidenced by the team's league-leading total of 53 sacks. Ends Osi Umenyiora (52 tackles, 13 sacks), Michael Strahan (57 tackles, 9 sacks) and Justin Tuck (65 tackles, 10 sacks) have all been disruptive off the edge, while tackle Fred Robbins (42 tackles, 5.5 sacks) often gets overlooked for his contributions in the middle. New York has some health issues at cornerback, as the battle-tested Sam Madison (67 tackles, 4 INT, 14 PD) may miss a second straight game due to an abdominal strain and Kevin Dockery (46 tackles) has been bothered by a hip flexor. Former starter Corey Webster (18 tackles, 1 INT) did step up big in Madison's absence, registering an interception and two passes defensed while shutting down Tampa's Joey Galloway a week ago.

New York was also able to neutralize the Buccaneers on the ground in last Sunday's win, limiting Tampa Bay to just 69 yards on 22 run attempts. That's been an area of strength for the Giants in 2007, having finished eighth in the NFL in rushing defense (97.7 ypg). Vocal middle linebacker Antonio Pierce (103 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack) is the leader of a quality front seven that should have weakside starter Kawika Mitchell (76 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT) ready for an increased role on Sunday after he played sparingly in the Tampa game because of a sprained knee.

Although the Cowboys have been more of a passing team, their backfield pairing of Marion Barber (975 rushing yards, 44 receptions, 12 total TD) and Julius Jones (588 rushing yards, 2 TD, 23 receptions) have combined for nearly 100 yards per game on the ground, and neither lost a fumble during the course of the year. Look for Barber to play a key role as a receiver on Sunday, serving as Romo's safety valve if the Dallas quarterback is hurried into quick throws, and Dallas to accumulate more than the one rushing yard it mustered in the season finale against Washington.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Give Dallas the edge here in the kicking department, as impressive rookie Nick Folk and strong-legged punter Mat McBriar have been a better combo than New York's duo of Lawrence Tynes and 41-year-old Jeff Feagles. McBriar ranked third in the NFC with a 47.1 yard average and Folk received a Pro Bowl nod by making good on 26-of-31 field-goal attempts.

Crayton also rates ahead of the mediocre R.W. McQuarters as a punt returner, although he's hardly been spectacular in that area. Both teams have done well bringing back kicks, as the Cowboys' Miles Austin averages a solid 25.5 yards per return and Bradshaw's shown flashes of big-play ability for the Giants. New York also has Domenik Hixon, who took a kick 74 yards for a touchdown in the regular-season finale with New England.

Austin had a 93-yard kick return score in Dallas' 21-20 loss at Seattle in last year's NFC Wild Card Playoffs, a game in which special teams were a determining factor in the final outcome. The Cowboys were lined up to attempt a potential game-winning field goal in the closing seconds, but Romo mishandled the snap from center and was tackled just short of the first-down marker.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Many consider this game to be the most attractive of the four playoff matchups on tap for this weekend, mainly because there are so many questions that both need to be answered on both sides. Will Owens, who's come through big in the postseason in past years, be healthy enough to make an impact? Can Romo rebound from his December dropoff, and have his well-publicized off-field exploits been a distraction? Is Phillips, who brings an 0-3 career postseason record into Sunday's showdown, capable of winning a game of this magnitude? Can Manning continue to make excellent decisions and keep his mistakes to a minimum? Will the Giants be able to apply the heat to Romo, an essential ingredient to their upset hopes? The thought here is that Owens will play but not be much of a factor, but Dallas still manages to come up with enough points to advance. While the Cowboys' regression over the season's final month is concerning, let's not forget that they're still the most talented team in the NFC. New York has proven that it is capable of scoring on the Cowboys, but the jury's still out as to whether the Giants defense can slow down a Dallas attack that has enough weapons to prevail in a shootout, even if Owens isn't on the field.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 27, Giants 24

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Cowboys host Giants in all NFC East Divisional Playoff

- The Giants looked awfully efficient in winning their eighth road game of the year. Dallas had better be ready for a stout defense, tough running game and a team that is looking to go 9-1 on the road. Dallas won and covered both meetings this year, but before that, the Giants had gone 5-0-1 ATS in the previous three seasons.

Oddsmakers currently have the Cowboys listed as 7½-point favorites versus the Giants, while the game's total is sitting at 47.

The Giants defeated Tampa Bay 24-14 as a 3-point underdog in the NFC Wild Card round. The combined score fell UNDER the posted over/under total (39.5).

Eli Manning threw for 185 yards with a pair of touchdown passes for the Giants, while Brandon Jacobs rushed for 34 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown and caught a TD pass in the win.

The Cowboys lost to Washington 27-6 as a 9-point underdog in Week 17. The combined score fell UNDER the posted over/under total (39).

Tony Romo completed 7-of-16 passes for 86 yards with an interception for Dallas and Sam Hurd caught three passes for 64 yards.

Team records:
New York: 10-6 SU, 10-6 ATS
Dallas: 13-3 SU, 9-7 ATS

New York most recently:
When playing in January are 4-6
When playing on turf are 6-4
After outgaining opponent are 8-2
When playing within the division are 4-6

Dallas most recently:
When playing in January are 2-8
When playing on turf are 8-2
After being outgained are 6-4
When playing within the division are 5-5

A few trends to consider:
NY Giants are 5-0 SU in their last 5 games on the road
NY Giants are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games on the road
The total has gone UNDER in 7 of the NY Giants last 8 games on the road
NY Giants are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games
Dallas is 13-3 SU in its last 16 games
Dallas is 4-1 SU in its last 5 games at home
Dallas is 12-5 SU in their last 17 games when playing at home against NY Giants
The total has gone UNDER in 9 of Dallas's last 13 games when playing at home against NY Giants

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THE GOLD SHEET

SAN DIEGO (12-5) at INDIANAPOLIS (13-3)

INDIANAPOLIS 31 - San Diego 13

Sometimes, we’re tempted to dismiss
entirely any regular-season meetings between postseason combatants. And
we certainly don’t expect the same set of circumstances to occur in this
rematch of San Diego’s hard-to-explain 23-21 win over Indy back on
November 11 at Qualcomm Stadium. But so many of the particulars of that
matchup were out of the ordinary that we simply have to rehash some of them
to lend a proper backdrop to our analysis of this playoff battle.

The surreal tenor of that Sunday night clash was established on the opening
kickoff, when the Chargers’ Darren Sproles went 89 yards for TD. Before the
first quarter was finished, Sproles scored on another return, taking a Hunter
Smith punt 45 yards to the house, staking underdog San Diego to a 16-0 lead
after barely 9 minutes of action. The lead mushroomed to 23-0 before the Colts
began to chip away, and Indy was even positioned to win the game in the final
minutes when normally-reliable PK Adam Vinatieri pushed a routine 29-yard FG
wide to the right. When the dust settled, San Diego was a 23-21 winner, and
Peyton Manning had endured his worst night as a pro, suffering six
interceptions (three of those by CB Antonio Cromartie) and recording a career-
low 30.6 passer rating for the game. The Bolts did little offensively, and almost
nothing in the final 30 minutes, outgained better than 2-to-1 while QB Philip
Rivers experienced a brutal night, passing for just 104 yards. But those returns
by Sproles and Manning’s inordinately uncharacteristic sloppiness, not to
mention Vinatieri’s rare miss, added up to a frustrating night for Indy.

Do we expect anything close to those circumstances arising again in what
might be the last-ever game at the RCA Dome? In a word—no!

The dynamics are going to be far different for the rematch, one the
defending-champ Colts dare not overlook as they might have the last two series
meetings, which also include San Diego’s 26-17 win in ‘05 that stopped a 13game
Indy win streak. Expect a sharper Manning, especially since key WR
Marvin Harrison (who missed the Nov. 11 clash) is likely going to be available for
the first time in more than two months. The Colt stop unit proved it could deal
with L.T. in the first meeting, allowing him a modest 76 YR, and Indy’s top-ranked
pass defense (which shackled Rivers in November) might have even less to
worry about if star Charger TE Antonio Gates is limited (or absent altogether)
after last week’s toe injury vs. the Titans. Moreover, San Diego might be feeling
a sense of relief after finally getting a long-awaited playoff win that had it eluded
them for 13 agonizing years. And the thought still persists that this year’s Bolts
aren’t as good as last year’s version, despite their notable current 7-game win
and cover streak.

Indy, sturdier defensively than it was a year ago, and undoubtedly primed after
the fiasco at Qualcomm in November, should gain its revenge...and then some.
(07-S. DIEGO 23-Indy 21...I.25-11 S.24/91 I.26/75 I.34/56/6/311 S.13/24/2/86 S.1 I.1)
(07-SAN DIEGO +3' 23-21...SR: San Diego 14-9)


NY GIANTS (11-6) at DALLAS (13-3)

DALLAS 30 - N.Y. Giants 27

There are a couple of different ways to
interpret the meaning of multiple regular-season meetings between playoff
foes—especially when there was a lot of similarity between the first two
matchups. Can we expect a repeat of the first two results? Or will the third time
finally prove the charm for the vanquished regular-season side?

Both meetings TY ended up as Dallas wins by nearly-identical margins (45-35
& 31-20), with the dynamics of each matchup quite similar as well. The
Cowboys were able to get their big-play offense in gear, especially thru the air,
with Tony Romo passing for 4 TDs in both games. Terrell Owens caught a pair
of scores in each, and indeed 8 of Dallas’ 10 TDs were on plays of 15 yards or
longer. On the other side, Eli Manning had his moments, including 4 TD passes in
the opener, but his two picks in the Nov. 11 rematch at the Meadowlands proved
costly. Moreover, the Giants’ renowned pass rush had little impact in either game,
recording only 3 sacks combined in the two tussles. Given time to throw,
Romo was able to make the game-changing plays to break each game open.

However, it’s worth noting that the Giants were hanging close in both of
those battles until the late going, cutting Dallas’ lead to 3 deep in the 4th Q before
Romo and Sam Hurd hooked up on a 51-yarder to put the first game away, and
within 24-20 in the rematch until Romo connected on a late 50-yard strike to T.O.
But this time, we wouldn’t count on Romo extending the margin out of New
York’s reach with another long, late TD pass.

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Sunday’s Pregame Buzz

San Diego Chargers at Indianapolis Colts

* The San Diego Chargers are coming off their first playoff victory in more than 14 years. San Diego dominated the Titans in the Wild-Card round, holding them to 248 total yards on just 6 points. This has been the case over the last 14 weeks for the Chargers, as the team has posted an 11-2 record since Week 5 while holding opponents to just 14 points per game. EDGE: CHARGERS
* The Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts enter this game as prohibitive favorites yet again. The Colts finished the season ranked third in the league in scoring an average of 28 points per game. Quarterback Peyton Manning recorded his eighth 4,000-yard passing season, and WR Reggie Wayne had a career year with 1,510 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. WR Marvin Harrison (knee), WR Anthony Gonzalez (foot), and TE Ben Utecht (shoulder) are all expected to play – making this Colts offense near 100 percent for the first time in months. EDGE: COLTS
* Indianapolis is no longer the no-name Colts defense, as they finished as the NFL’s top ranked scoring defense yielding 16 ppg. The Colts have held five of their last seven opponents under 20 points, and with Bob Sanders anchoring the secondary no quarterback has thrown for more than 260 yards against team this season.The Chargers offese is expected to be down a man as well with their Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates (toe) listed as doubtful for the game. EDGE: COLTS
* The Colts will face a defensive scheme that has given them problems. Indianapolis' track record against 3-4 defenses is subpar. Pittsburgh eliminated the Colts from the playoffs in the 2005 season, and New England did the same in 2003 and '04. Indianapolis averaged just 13 points in those contests. Peyton Manning has thrown a total of 8 interceptions in the last two games against this Charger 3-4 defense. EDGE: CHARGERS
* Chargers are 7-0 SU & ATS in their last 7 games.
* Chargers are 10-1 ATS in their last 11 games vs. AFC opponents.
* Chargers are 6-2 ATS in the last 8 meetings.
* Colts are 10-4 ATS in their last 14 games vs. a team with a winning record.
* Colts are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 home games.
* Colts are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games on turf.
* The OVER is 10-2-2 in San Diego's last 14 road games.
* The UNDER is 6-2-2 in San Diego's last 10 games vs. AFC opponents.

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

* The Dallas Cowboys will be trying for their first playoff win in more than a decade; the drought is the longest in team history. In order to end their playoff drought, the Cowboys will have to pull off a franchise first by beating the New York Giants for the third time this season. Dallas has never completed a three-game season sweep of a team, and lost to Arizona in a 1998 Wild-Card game at Texas Stadium when trying to do so in its last attempt. EDGE: GIANTS
* The Giants only road loss on the season came on opening day, which was against this Cowboys team. Since then, New York has reeled off eight straight road victories, including a 24-14 win at Tampa Bay in the Wild-Card round. The G-Men are averaging 26 ppg on the road this season and Michael Strahan said “We perform better on the road, which is what we need here in the playoffs.” EDGE: GIANTS
* Dallas doesn’t have much momentum coming into this game, as it went 2-2 in December and failed to score a touchdown in either loss. Cowboys QB Tony Romo has been nursing a thumb injury along with the tabloids, and WR Terrell Owens has missed practice time this week due to an ankle injury. After a thirteen-win season Coach Wade Phillips said “We are now in the big game, and we’ll be just fine.” EDGE: COWBOYS
* Giants QB Eli Manning threw for 312 yards with four touchdowns on opening day against the Cowboys, but followed that performance with just one touchdown and two interceptions at Giants stadium. Cowboys QB Tony Romo threw for 8 touchdowns in those two games, with the team scoring a combined 76 points. EDGE: COWBOYS
* Cowboys are 10-4-1 ATS in their last 15 games on grass.
* Giants are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games vs. NFC opponents.
* The UNDER is 7-1 in New York's last 8 road games.
* The OVER is 14-6-2 in Dallas' last 22 games on grass.
* The OVER is 7-3-3 in Dallas' last 13 games vs. NFC East.

PREGAME.COM

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Harrison should be ready to go for Colts Sunday

Indianapolis, IN (Sports Network) - Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison, an eight-time Pro Bowler who has not played since mid-October, practiced both Wednesday and Thursday and is expected to start in Sunday's AFC Divisional playoff matchup with the San Diego Chargers.

Harrison has been out since October 22 with a knee injury, and though Colts head coach Tony Dungy wouldn't guarantee anything, it seems likely the 12-year veteran will be in Indianapolis' lineup against the Chargers.

"I probably can't say without any doubt that he'll play," said Dungy Wednesday afternoon. "I thought he might play the last week (of the regular season) and it didn't work out that way. He's practicing and we're planning on him starting, but we'll have to see how it goes."

Harrison has 20 catches for 247 yards and one touchdown in six games this season. He initially sustained the injury in a September 30 win over Denver, and left the game during the Colts' Week 7 win over the Jaguars. Harrison then proceeded to miss the next 10 games - the longest stretch he has sat out in his NFL career.

Prior to this season, Harrison had accumulated at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns receiving in every season since 1999.

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San Diego (12-5 SU and ATS) at Indianapolis (13-3, 9-7 ATS)

The Chargers get a shot at the defending Super Bowl champion Colts for the second time this year, this time in the divisional playoffs and this time on the road at the RCA Dome.

San Diego last week earned its first playoff win since the 1994 season, holding off Tennessee 17-6 as a 10-point chalk to run its SU and ATS streak to 7-0. QB Philip Rivers was effective enough, going 19 of 30 for 292 yards with one TD and one INT, but it was the Chargers’ defense that proved the difference. San Diego allowed just 248 total yards and forced two turnovers, including recovering a fumble deep in inside the red zone to stop a first-half Titans drive. RB LaDainian Tomlinson mustered just 42 yards and a TD on 21 carries, but scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter to salt the game away.

Indianapolis, as the No. 2 seed, had a bye last week. The Colts, in a game with no bearing on the playoffs, closed the regular season with a 16-10 loss to Tennessee as a four-point home underdog. The meaningless defeat snapped the Colts six-game winning streak (3-3 ATS) that started following a 23-21 road loss in San Diego as a 3½-point road favorite on Nov. 11.

In that contest in California, Colts QB Peyton Manning threw a career-high six interceptions and Indy also allowed the Chargers’ Darren Sproles to return both a kickoff and punt return for touchdowns in the first half. Still, despite those miscues, Indy had a chance to win the game, but normally clutch kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a chip-shot 29-yard field goal in the final minute. San Diego won despite netting just 177 yards of offense.

Including the victory this year, San Diego is 2-1 SU and 3-0 ATS against the Colts going back to the 2004 season. The Chargers faced a 13-0 Colts squad in December 2005 in Indianapolis and prevailed 26-17 as a seven-point underdog. The previous December, the Colts rallied from a 31-16 fourth-quarter deficit and pulled out a 34-31 overtime win, but again San Diego cashed as a seven-point ‘dog.

The Chargers were a middling 4-4 ATS on the highway this season, including 1-2 SU and ATS as an underdog. Beyond that, though, they have almost nothing but positive ATS trends: 42-20-2 overall, 10-1 against the AFC, 13-3-1 as an underdog, 8-1-1 as a ‘dog of 3½ to 10 points, and 10-3-2 as a road pup. Also, the straight-up winner has covered the pointspread in each of San Diego’s 17 games this season.

The Colts are on several positive ATS runs as well, including: 7-3 at home, 4-0 in the playoffs (last year’s Super Bowl title run), 5-1 as a playoff favorite, 4-1 at home in the playoffs and 10-4 against teams with a winning record. Also, Coach Tony Dungy is 6-2 ATS as a playoff favorite. One negative note is Indy’s 2-5 ATS mark in its last seven starts against the AFC.

The Colts and Chargers had eight common opponents this season, with Indianapolis going 9-2 SU but just 5-6 ATS, and San Diego going 9-3 SU and ATS.

In the regular season, San Diego’s offense finished among the top 10 in scoring (25.8, 5th) and rushing (127.4, 7th), but was just 20th in total yards (315.2). However, the Chargers have outgained seven of their last eight opponents, and they’re outgaining foes by an average of 13 points per game (25-12) during their seven-game winning streak.

Defensively, San Diego allowed just 17.8 points per game (5th) and recorded 42 sacks (5th) in the regular season. Perhaps the most telling stat for San Diego, though, was its stunning plus-24 turnover differential, which led the league. The Chargers also had an NFL-best 30 INTs, paced by Antonio Cromartie’s league-leading 10 picks.

Indianapolis finished in the Top 6 offensively in the NFL in scoring (28.1 ppg, 3rd), total yards (358.7, 5th) and passing yardage (252.1 ypg, 6th). Manning connected on 65.4 percent of his passes for 4,040 yards with 31 TDs and 14 INTs. RB Joseph Addai had 1,072 yards (4.1 per carry) and 12 TDs, and WR Reggie Wayne had 1,510 receiving yards (14.5 ypc) and 10 TDs.

On the other side of the ball, Indy led the league in scoring defense (16.4 ppg) and ranked third in total defense (279.7 yards per game). The Colts finished with a plus-18 turnover differential, second in the league behind the Chargers.

The over was 10-5-1 for San Diego in the regular season, including 7-1 on the road, and the over is 10-2-2 in the Chargers’ last 14 on the highway. However, last week’s game against Tennessee stayed well below the total, dropping the under to 5-0 in San Diego’s last five January contests, 6-2-2 in its last 10 against the AFC and 9-4-2 in its last 15 following a spread-cover.

For Indianapolis, the under is on streaks of 5-1 in divisional playoff games, 5-1 in its last six playoff starts, 4-1 against teams with a winning record and 4-1 following a SU loss. Conversely, the over is 5-1 following an ATS setback and 4-1 when the Colts are favored. Finally, each of the last two Colts-Chargers battles have stayed under the posted price.

ATS ADVANTAGE: INDIANAPOLIS and UNDER


N.Y. Giants (11-6 SU and ATS) at Dallas (13-3, 9-7 ATS)

Fresh off his first career playoff victory, Eli Manning leads the upset-minded Giants into Dallas to face the top-seeded Cowboys, who scored a pair of double-digit wins over New York in the regular season.

New York rolled past Tampa Bay 24-14 in last week’s wild-card round, cashing as a three-point underdog. It was the Giants’ eighth straight road victory (7-1 ATS) since opening the season with a  loss at Dallas. Manning was outstanding in his third career playoff game, going 20 of 27 for 185 yards and two TDs with no turnovers. RBs Ahmad Bradshaw (66 yards) and Brandon Jacobs (34 yards, 1 TD) combined for 100 yards, and the Giants’ defense allowed just 271 yards and fueled a 3-0 turnover edge, including two interceptions of Bucs QB Jeff Garcia.

The Cowboys, who enjoyed a bye last week, finished the regular season with a 27-6 loss at Washington as a nine-point underdog, though the majority of the team’s starters saw limited or no action in what was a meaningless game played in a driving rainstorm. Dallas finished with a meager 147 total yards, and QB Tony Romo played into the third quarter but went just 7 of 16 for 86 yards. Romo had just one TD and five INTs in the final three games, and the Cowboys closed the year by going 2-2 SU and 0-4 ATS.

Dallas won a 45-35 shootout over the Giants in Week 1, cashing as a 6½-point home favorite. In the rematch at the Meadowlands on Nov. 11, the Cowboys cruised 31-20 as a two-point road chalk. Dallas has won the last three meetings (2-0-1 ATS) and is 6-4 in the last 10 clashes (4-4-2 ATS), and this is the first-ever postseason battle between these NFC East rivals.

The favorite is 4-1-2 ATS in the last seven meetings.

The Giants improved to 5-3 ATS as an underdog this season after last week’s win, including 5-1 ATS in the last six. They’re also on positive ATS streaks of 5-0 on the road, 8-3 versus the NFC, 5-2 in the playoffs, 4-1 as a playoff underdog and 4-1 in January.

The Cowboys went 8-5 ATS as a favorite this season, but they were a more middling 5-3 ATS at home (5-2 ATS as a favorite) and 3-3 ATS against the NFC East. They’re also just 1-4 ATS in their last five playoff starts and 1-5 ATS in January, though the one spread-cover came in last year’s heartbreaking 21-20 loss at Seattle as a 2½-point underdog in the wild-card round.

The two teams had 10 common opponents this season, with Dallas going 9-2 SU but just 6-5 ATS, while New York was 8-4 SU and ATS.

In the regular season, New York averaged 23.3 points per game (14th in the league) and 331.4 total yards (16th), but the Giants had the fourth-best rushing attack at 134.2 per game. On defense, the Giants allowed 21.9 points (17th) but just 305.0 total yards (7th) and 97.7 rushing yards (8th). One glaring negative for New York was its minus-9 turnover differential, the worst of any playoff team, though it did rectify that in last week’s win at Tampa Bay.

Dallas had the league’s second-best offense behind New England, averaging 28.4 points per game. The Cowboys also ranked in the Top 5 in total offense (365.7, 3rd) and passing offense (256.6 ypg, 4th). In his first full season as a starter, Romo completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 4,211 yards with a team-record 36 TDs and 19 INTs. RB Marion Barber had 975 rushing yards (4.8 per carry) and 10 TDs, and WR Terrell Owens had 1,355 yards receiving (16.7 per catch) and 15 TDs. Finally, TE Jason Witten had a team-leading 96 catches for 1,145 yards and seven TDs.

Defensively, the Cowboys allowed 20.3 points (13th) and 307.6 yards per game (9th), but they fielded the league’s sixth-best run defense (94.6 ypg). Also, Dallas finished with a plus-5 turnover differential (9th).

The over cashed in both regular-season meetings between these teams (totals of 44 and 48) and is 3-0-1 in the last four in this series. For Dallas, the over is 7-3-3 in its last 13 against the NFC East and 4-1 in its last five against teams with a winning record. For New York, the under is on runs of 7-1 on the highway, 4-0 against the NFC, 4-1 against the NFC East, 5-1 as an underdog and 5-2 in the playoffs, with last week’s contest at Tampa staying low.

ATS ADVANTAGE: N.Y. GIANTS and UNDER

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Re: NFL Sunday Playoffs

Sunday NFL Gameday

The Indianapolis Colts will start their title defense against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, and the Dallas Cowboys will host the New York Giants. Here's your Gameday:

San Diego Chargers at Indianapolis Colts (-9) (Total 46)

The Chargers were big favorites against the Titans last week, but it took a second-half comeback for them to advance to the second round of the playoffs by a final score of 17-6. Philip Rivers went 19-of-30 for 292 yards passing against Tennessee, with one touchdown strike and one interception. LaDainian Tomlinson was held to only 42 yards rushing on 21 carries, but he did manage to punch in a score for the team in the fourth.

Tomlinson picked up 76 rushing yards on 21 carries in the Chargers' 23-21 home win over the Colts back on November 11, adding a second-quarter touchdown on the day. Rivers was good on 13-of-24 pass attempts for 104 yards in that contest, failing to throw a touchdown pass and getting picked off twice. Antonio Gates had three catches for 26 yards in the win, but he's listed as doubtful to play this weekend because of a toe injury.

Peyton Manning was picked off an incredible six times in that regular-season loss, making it one of the most forgettable outings of his career. Manning went 34-of-56 for 328 yards passing in that loss, with two TD passes. Joseph Addai rushed for 56 yards on 22 carries, and Reggie Wayne had 10 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown. Marvin Harrison sat out that game, but he's been taken off the injury report for this week

Here are the official injury reports for both the Chargers and Colts for Sunday . . .

San Diego Injuries
Antonio Gates TE Doubtful Divisional Playoffs (toe)
Lorenzo Neal RB Questionable Divisional Playoffs (fibula)
Antonio Cromartie CB Probable Divisional Playoffs (illness)
Nate Kaeding K Probable Divisional Playoffs (left fibula)

Indianapolis Injuries
Ben Utecht TE Questionable Divisional Playoffs (shoulder)
T.J. Rushing CB Probable Divisional Playoffs (illness)

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-7.5) (Total 46.5)

The Giants rumbled past the Buccaneers 24-14 on the road on Wild Card Weekend to set up this date with their division rival. Eli Manning went 20-of-27 for 185 yards passing against Tampa Bay, with two touchdown strikes and no interceptions. Brandon Jacobs had just 34 yards rushing on 13 carries, but ran for a score and also caught a TD pass. Amani Toomer had seven catches for 74 yards and a touchdown against Tampa Bay.

Dallas got past New York 45-35 at home in the first week of the regular season, with Tony Romo throwing for 345 yards and four touchdowns (with one interception). Terrell Owens had two of those TD catches, and Jason Witten had six catches for 116 yards and a score. Manning went 28-of-41 for 312 yards, with four TDs and one INT. Plaxico Burress had the big stats for the Giants, with eight catches for 144 yards and three TDs.

The Cowboys won the rematch in New York as well, picking up a 31-20 victory in Week 10. Romo was good on 20-of-28 pass attempts for 247 yards in that contest, with four more touchdowns and one interception. Owens had a big day as well, with six catches for 125 yards and two scores. Manning went 23-of-34 for 236 yards for New York, with one score and two INTs. Jacobs picked up 95 rushing yards on 23 carries in that defeat.

Here are the official injury reports for both the Giants and Cowboys for Sunday . . .

New York Injuries
Kevin Dockery CB Out Divisional Playoffs (hip)
Sam Madison CB Doubtful Divisional Playoffs (stomach)
Plaxico Burress WR Questionable Divisional Playoffs (ankle)
Kevin Boss TE Probable Divisional Playoffs (illness)
Kareem McKenzie T Probable Divisional Playoffs (ankle)
Shaun O'Hara C Probable Divisional Playoffs (knee)

Dallas Injuries
Terrell Owens WR Questionable Divisional Playoffs (ankle)
Terry Glenn WR Probable Divisional Playoffs (knee)
Andre Gurode C Probable Divisional Playoffs (knee)

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Re: NFL Sunday Playoffs

Giants getting surprising support

Remember when Dallas was regarded as America's Team?

Although the Cowboys still like to claim this mythical title, other NFL teams have muscled their way into the betting hearts of the country.

That's why the New York Giants have gained the most support -- out of the eight playoff teams -- this week despite being seven-point underdogs playing at Dallas.

According to TheSpread.com's betting chart, the Giants have picked up a whopping 72% of the bets against the spread. By comparison, Indianapolis -- the defending Super Bowl champion -- has received only 60% of the bets against the spread for today's game against 9 1/2-point underdog San Diego.

There are several reasons why money has flowed in the direction of the Giants, who were defeated twice by the Cowboys during the regular season.

New York has won eight consecutive road games and is 6-0 against the spread in its last six road games versus a team with a winning record. The Giants are also 4-1 against the spread in their last five playoff games as a road underdog.

The Cowboys also have a few negative trends working against them. Dallas went 0-4 against the spread in its last four games of the regular season and is 1-4 against the spread in its last five playoff games.

During the regular season, AccuScore.com, which simulates every game 10,000 times, had a 165-91 record against the spread for NFL games and went 3-1 for the four wild-card games last week. That may be good news for supporters of the Giants and Chargers.

AccuScore's simulations have the Cowboys winning 67% of the games but not covering the spread with an average score of 27-21. It's nearly the same for the Colts, who win 70% of the games with an average score of 28-21.

Here are a few off-the-wall NFL proposition bets available at BetUs.com: Will San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers be seen shouting, talking trash (5-2); odds on San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson rushing, catching and passing for a touchdown (20-1); odds on Colts' Peyton Manning completing passes to more than 6.5 receivers (10-11); odds on Giants' Eli Manning passing for more yards than Peyton Manning (2-1), odds on Jessica Simpson attending the Cowboys' game: yes (-115) or no (-115).

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Re: NFL Sunday Playoffs

Sunday’s Pregame Buzz

San Diego Chargers at Indianapolis Colts


* The San Diego Chargers are coming off their first playoff victory in more than 14 years. San Diego dominated the Titans in the Wild-Card round, holding them to 248 total yards on just 6 points. This has been the case over the last 14 weeks for the Chargers, as the team has posted an 11-2 record since Week 5 while holding opponents to just 14 points per game. EDGE: CHARGERS
* The Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts enter this game as prohibitive favorites yet again. The Colts finished the season ranked third in the league in scoring an average of 28 points per game. Quarterback Peyton Manning recorded his eighth 4,000-yard passing season, and WR Reggie Wayne had a career year with 1,510 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. WR Marvin Harrison (knee), WR Anthony Gonzalez (foot), and TE Ben Utecht (shoulder) are all expected to play – making this Colts offense near 100 percent for the first time in months. EDGE: COLTS
* Indianapolis is no longer the no-name Colts defense, as they finished as the NFL’s top ranked scoring defense yielding 16 ppg. The Colts have held five of their last seven opponents under 20 points, and with Bob Sanders anchoring the secondary no quarterback has thrown for more than 260 yards against team this season.The Chargers offese is expected to be down a man as well with their Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates (toe) listed as doubtful for the game. EDGE: COLTS
* The Colts will face a defensive scheme that has given them problems. Indianapolis' track record against 3-4 defenses is subpar. Pittsburgh eliminated the Colts from the playoffs in the 2005 season, and New England did the same in 2003 and '04. Indianapolis averaged just 13 points in those contests. Peyton Manning has thrown a total of 8 interceptions in the last two games against this Charger 3-4 defense. EDGE: CHARGERS
* Chargers are 7-0 SU & ATS in their last 7 games.
* Chargers are 10-1 ATS in their last 11 games vs. AFC opponents.
* Chargers are 6-2 ATS in the last 8 meetings.
* Colts are 10-4 ATS in their last 14 games vs. a team with a winning record.
* Colts are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 home games.
* Colts are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games on turf.
* The OVER is 10-2-2 in San Diego's last 14 road games.
* The UNDER is 6-2-2 in San Diego's last 10 games vs. AFC opponents.

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

* The Dallas Cowboys will be trying for their first playoff win in more than a decade; the drought is the longest in team history. In order to end their playoff drought, the Cowboys will have to pull off a franchise first by beating the New York Giants for the third time this season. Dallas has never completed a three-game season sweep of a team, and lost to Arizona in a 1998 Wild-Card game at Texas Stadium when trying to do so in its last attempt. EDGE: GIANTS
* The Giants only road loss on the season came on opening day, which was against this Cowboys team. Since then, New York has reeled off eight straight road victories, including a 24-14 win at Tampa Bay in the Wild-Card round. The G-Men are averaging 26 ppg on the road this season and Michael Strahan said “We perform better on the road, which is what we need here in the playoffs.” EDGE: GIANTS
* Dallas doesn’t have much momentum coming into this game, as it went 2-2 in December and failed to score a touchdown in either loss. Cowboys QB Tony Romo has been nursing a thumb injury along with the tabloids, and WR Terrell Owens has missed practice time this week due to an ankle injury. After a thirteen-win season Coach Wade Phillips said “We are now in the big game, and we’ll be just fine.” EDGE: COWBOYS
* Giants QB Eli Manning threw for 312 yards with four touchdowns on opening day against the Cowboys, but followed that performance with just one touchdown and two interceptions at Giants stadium. Cowboys QB Tony Romo threw for 8 touchdowns in those two games, with the team scoring a combined 76 points. EDGE: COWBOYS
* Cowboys are 10-4-1 ATS in their last 15 games on grass.
* Giants are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games vs. NFC opponents.
* The UNDER is 7-1 in New York's last 8 road games.
* The OVER is 14-6-2 in Dallas' last 22 games on grass.
* The OVER is 7-3-3 in Dallas' last 13 games vs. NFC East.

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Re: NFL Sunday Playoffs

Chargers at Colts
By Judd Hall

I know the old proverb goes “revenge is a dish best served cold.” However, I’m thinking in this instance of the Colts hosting San Diego (12-5 straight up, 12-5 against the spread), we’ll be able to substitute “room temperature” for “cold.”

I figured it’d be rather fitting seeing that this AFC Division Playoff would be played the temperature controlled RCA Dome. It’s humorous, but perhaps only to me.

Indianapolis (13-3 SU, 9-7 ATS) enters this tilt fresh off of a well deserved bye for winning the AFC South and clinching the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. The Colts also will be looking to avenge an earlier 23-21 loss in Southern California as four-point road favorites in Week 10.

For those of you out there that don’t remember too much of that game let me jog your memory. Peyton Manning threw six interceptions (most in his career), but still found a way to throw for 328 yards and a pair of touchdowns on a rain soaked Sunday night in San Diego. Hell, Indy still had a chance to pull out a win.

So why did the Colts still have a chance to win that game? It’s because Philip Rivers couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.

The North Carolina State product completed just 13 of 24 passes for 104 yards and a pair of picks. And let’s not forget a fumble Rivers had late in the game that was immediately turned into an Indianapolis touchdown.

VegasInsider.com expert handicapper Paul Bovi believes Rivers is where this game will happen.

“The Bolts’ offense will be hurt by the loss of Antonio Gate (toe), but they have capable receivers like Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson.”

Bovi believes that San Diego will need to score at least 27 points to have a chance at winning this game. And I’m inclined to agree with him, but the odds the Chargers can pull that off are slim.

Indianapolis is second in the NFL against the pass, allowing just 172.8 yards per game through the air while giving up 16 scores.

The Colts also have a major advantage on the offensive side of the ball in this match as Marvin Harrison is slated to return to the lineup. And unlike he was supposed to play in Week 17 against Tennessee…this time he appears to really be in the lineup.

VegasInsider.com’s expert handicapper Barry Holthaus think Harrison can make life difficult for the Chargers, even with the timing issues he’ll have on routes.

“It is hard to believe Harrison could just pick right up where he left off; however, just having him on the field gives the Chargers something else to think about,” says Holthaus. “I think the Colts need to get him in the game because there is nothing that can simulate game conditions.”

History is on Indy’s side in this game, but only as a money line play. And that is asking too much for someone as the Colts are minus 500 (risk $500 to win $100). I say that because home favorites are 14-6 SU in the divisional round, but are just 9-11 ATS since 2002. The ‘under’ is 12-8 during that time as well.

The Colts also have a solid home mark in the postseason, going 4-2 SU and ATS.

Below are a few trends that VegasInsider.com’s expert handicapper Pat Hawkins dug up…

- Play on any “rested” home team in the NFL playoffs if they…

1) Lost ATS in their last game (Dallas and Indianapolis)
2) Have a winning percentage of .750 or better (Colts & Cowboys are both 13-3)
3) When their opponent enters the match off of a win of seven or more points (San Diego won by 11, the Giants won by 10)

This system has gone 11-0 since 1980.

- Play against the wild card team that scored the fewest points in winning their first playoff match (Against Chargers, 23-8 ATS from 1995 to 2006)

- Play against a winning team that has scored 20 or less last week (Against Chargers, 27-12-2 ATS)

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