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Championship Week News and Notes

Championship Week News and Notes

Opening Line Report

Las Vegas Sports Consultants senior oddsmaker Mike Seba isn’t a big fan of New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin and his on-the-field coaching strategy.

Seba also knows the Giants have multiple injuries and will be playing their third consecutive road game when they take on the Green Bay Packers Sunday night in the NFC title game.

But he’s surprised the Giants aren’t getting more respect on the betting line. The Packers are seven-point favorites. That’s the number LVSC recommended to its Nevada sportsbook clients. Seba thought the number should be Packers -6.

“Even with all the injuries they’ve had, they’ve done a great job,” Seba said of the Giants. “It’s too many points for Green Bay to lay in what looks to be a conservative game in cold weather.”

The Giants have won nine road games in a row. The Giants may run out of gas, though. This is their third straight away contest. It’s also their fourth consecutive big-game in a row counting their Week 17 home matchup against New England, which was bidding to become the first team to go 16-0 during the regular season. The Giants gave everything they had in a 38-35 loss.

The early Sunday night forecast in Green Bay is for a high temperature of 12 degrees with a 40 percent chance of snow. The wind chill factor could dip below zero. The ‘over/under’ has come down from an opening of 43½ to 42 or 41½ depending on the sportsbook.

LVSC’s sent-out number on the San Diego-New England AFC championship game was Patriots -14 and 50 on the total.

The Patriots were as high as -15 on Sunday night, when the championship numbers first came out. By Monday afternoon, though, the Patriots were -14 across the board. The total had dipped from a high of 51 down to 47½.

Snow isn’t in the early forecast for Foxboro, however, cold weather is expected. That’s not good for warm-weather San Diego. Neither are its three key skill position players being all banged-up.

LVSC’s opener of Patriots -14 is based on LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers playing. Both are dealing with knee injuries, while Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates has a dislocated toe. He was in-and-out of the lineup during Sunday’s victory against the Colts.

Seba believes the Chargers, like the Giants, aren’t getting enough respect on the betting line. He made the line Patriots -13.

“San Diego has looked great,” he said. “The Chargers have won eight in a row. They had a very gusty performance against the Colts.

“The Patriots defense is vulnerable. They haven’t looked like the Patriots of Week 8.”

New England only is 2-7 against the spread during its past nine games.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots closed -13½,” Seba said.

Bookmakers traditionally shade the home favorites in championship games. That’s the case again this season.

“You always want to be on the high side of these championship games,” Seba said. “But I just think these lines are inflated. It’s a lot of points to be laying into two hot teams.”

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History favors the Chargers
By Chris David

The New England Patriots have been overwhelming favorites the entire season, with listing the club from Massachusetts at a 5/2 price in early September.

Seventeen wins later, it appears the Patriots will run the table and become the first team to post a perfect 19-0 mark. Especially after watching Indianapolis and Dallas both get eliminated on their home turf this past weekend, it’s hard to make a case for the remaining three teams.

The oddsmakers agree, making New England a 14-point home favorite in the AFC Championship game against San Diego on Sunday.

And currently the Las Vegas Hilton and bookmaker Jay Korenagy have made the AFC a 13½-point favorite over the NFC in Super Bowl XLII, with the total at 55.

After delving through’s documented pro football records, it was hard to find a lot of our experts backing the Chargers against the Colts. However, there were a few experts believing in the West Coast club, including Andy Iskoe.

“I liked San Diego against the Colts for several reasons including recent success against them, especially two years ago when they ended the Colts' 13-0 start to the season and their six picks of Manning in the earlier meeting this season. It was a good situation to illustrate why it is so tough for a Super Bowl champion to repeat,” explained Iskoe.

Turnovers played a huge roll in the Chargers’ triumph, winning the turnover battle (3-1) against the Colts.

Iskoe added, “Turnovers should be key as is usually the case. But it's hard to handicap turnovers in most cases. The Chargers led the league with 48 takeaways in the regular season --11 better than the second best team (Indianapolis). They've added 5 more in the Playoffs. On the other hand the Patriots were best in the league in protecting the football, losing 15 turnovers in the regular season (and none in their Playoff win over Jacksonville).”

“So if the Chargers can cause turnovers they have a chance. Unfortunately they are going up against the best team in the league in NOT turning the ball over.”

New England has been listed as a double-digit favorite in 12 of its 17 games and has gone 6-6 in those situations against the spread. Keep in mind that the Pats have failed to cover their last four spots as a double-digit ‘chalk’, including last week’s 31-20 win against the Jaguars as 13-point favorites.

Will the public back the Patriots again? The line at Pinnacle and CRIS, the two biggest offshore books opened the line at 15 ½ and 15 respectively. As of Monday morning, the number has settled on two scores (14).

According to Iskoe, championship games haven’t been close. “Going back to 1990, when the present 12-team playoff format was adopted, the average margin of victory in all playoff games is 14 points and that is very consistent regardless of the round.”

“In the Conference Championships, the point-spread matters less than in other playoff rounds with the favorite winning and covering, or losing outright, nearly 90 % of the time.”

When it comes to double-digit lines, history favors San Diego in this spot – against the spread that is!

Double-digit underdogs have produced a perfect 5-0 ATS mark in the last five championship games, both AFC and NFC. Pulling off the monumental upset wasn’t out of reach either, connecting at 40 percent (2-3) during this stretch.

The number on this game could move a couple more points, depending on San Diego’s injury report.

Iskoe believes that it’s still a tough game to handicap right now due to some key injuries but the Chargers are an improved team.

“Much of San Diego's chances against New England obviously rely on the availability of quarterback Philip Rivers and running back LaDanian Tomlinson. Even with both starting the Chargers will find it tough going against the Pats. Note that even in defeat the Colts passed for over 400 yards on Sunday.”

“Statistically the Chargers are not 15 points worse than the Pats. They nearly beat New England in the playoffs last season and did defeat them soundly in New England a year earlier. We know the Pats blew out the Chargers in Week 2 this season but keep in mind that the Chargers had a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator -- all factors that take time to settle in and can't be comfortable based just upon training camp and exhibition game experiences.”

Can the Chargers become the sixth straight underdog to cash tickets in a conference championship?

Gamblers have six days to decide…

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Tomlinson, Rivers questionable for AFC Championship
January 14th, 2008

San Diego, CA (Sports Network) - San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Philip Rivers are listed as questionable for Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots.

Both suffered knee injuries during this past Sunday's AFC Divisional playoff against Indianapolis and underwent tests Monday.

Tomlinson has a hyperextended left knee and Rivers a sprained MCL in his right knee.

"I think I'll definitely be able to play," Tomlinson said Monday. "I think they have me listed as questionable. But I'm pretty sure I'll be able to play."

As for Rivers, Chargers head coach Norv Turner said the quarterback probably won't practice until late in the week.

"I doubt he will practice early in the week," Turner said Monday. "Right now it's probably questionable if he will play in the game, but he's got a chance."

Tomlinson was hurt in the second quarter on a twisting tackle that forced him to fumble. He did not play in the second half of the Chargers' 28-24 victory, finishing with just 28 yards on seven carries.

Michael Turner helped pick up the slack with 17 rushes for 71 yards and Darren Sproles added a 56-yard touchdown catch out of the backfield.

Rivers was hurt on his TD throw to Sproles, although he was not hit on the play that ended the third quarter. The QB landed awkwardly on his right foot, and limped off the field into the locker room.

Before leaving the contest, Rivers completed 14-of-19 passes for 264 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Billy Volek took over for Rivers, completing 3-of-4 passes for 48 yards, and his one-yard touchdown run with 4:50 remaining was the eventual game-winner.

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What bettors need to know: Giants at Packers

Little brother comes up big

Giants quarterback Eli Manning stepped out of his big brother’s shadow on Sunday. While Peyton and the Colts were laboring to a 28-24 defeat to San Diego, younger brother Eli was leading his team to the NFC Championship game.

The Giants’ Manning threw for 163 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-17 win over No.1 seed Dallas. He led a game-changing 71-yard drive at the end of the first half, tying the score at 14-14 before the break.

“That's the man who won this game for us," Antonio Pierce  said. Amani Toomer added: “Eli was just outstanding,"

Brandon Jacobs reserved the most praise, saying: “He's the best quarterback I've ever played with. I love the guy to death. I don't give a damn what anyone says about it. I don't know if he silenced the critics. In this game, you're always going to have critics.”

Youthful pack

The Green Bay Packers were the NFL’s youngest team at the start of the season, with an average age of 26 years and 89 days. Heading into Saturday’s playoff game against Seattle, veteran cornerback Al Harris said he thought Green Bay’s inexperience might count against them. Man, was he wrong.

Greg Jennings, 24, caught two touchdown passes and had a total of six receptions for 71 yards. Strong safety Atari Bigby, 26, had seven tackles and forced an important fumble early on. Defensive end Cullen Jenkins, 26, had one and a half sacks and was within inches of sacking Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on two other occasions.

And probably the most impressive show of character was from 25-year-old tailback Ryan Grant. He had two early fumbles that helped Seattle jump out to a 14-0 lead, but recovered his composure to run for 201 yards.

Of course the team’s veteran leader, Brett Favre, was also impressive. He threw for three touchdowns and 173 yards and his 137.6 passer rating was his best in 21 career postseason games.

Depleted secondary steps up

The Cowboys had about four minutes to rescue their season in the fourth quarter on Sunday, but the Giants’ defense came out on top. The defense’s performance is even more impressive when you consider the secondary was without several starting players because of injury.

Reserve defensive back R.W. McQuarters, along with his fellow reserve cornerbacks Corey Webster and Geoffrey Pope, were pressed into service due to the injury problems. They didn’t disappoint, and McQuarters produced the game-ending interception with nine seconds left on the clock, as Dallas pressed for the victory.

“It was a great win for us,” coach Tom Coughlin told the New York Times. “Our defensive guys were on the field for the majority of the time and had to make some big-time stops. And R. W., two weeks in a row now, played super in the secondary.”

The Giants two main injury concerns in the secondary are starting cornerback Sam Madison and his rookie counterpart Aaron Ross. Madison is struggling with a strained abdominal muscle, while Ross left Sunday’s game in the third quarter with shoulder injury.

Both are listed as doubtful for this week’s contest.

Road warriors

The Giants travel to Lambeau on an NFL-record nine-game road winning streak. With Sunday’s win over Dallas they became only the 10th team in history to win their first two playoff games on the road. Unfortunately for New York, only one of the nine went on to win the Super Bowl.

Green Bay, meanwhile, is an NFC-best 8-1 at home this season. It covered the spread in all but one of those eight wins.

Head to head

These teams have already met once this season, with the Packers coming out 35-12 victors at Giants Stadium on Sept. 16. Overall, Green Bay has won five of its last six against the Giants, covering the spread in three of the last four.

The Packers are 13-3-1 ATS for the season, compared to the Giants 12-6-0 mark.

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Keep the TV remote control nearby when watching the upcoming AFC & NFC title games. It might come in handy, at least if championship football history is any indication. That’s because the annual final of American Idol has provided more drama than most NFL conference title games, especially those in recent years.

There have been a variety of explanations (many of those expounded upon in the past on these TGS pages) as to why championship-level football games so often turn into one-sided affairs. Whatever the reason, it seems to keep happening, and not just in the NFL, either. College football also just experienced another drama-free finale when LSU had little trouble taking care of Ohio State in last week’s BCS title game. Last year’s Florida romp over the same Buckeyes was even less competitive. Indeed, in the relatively brief history of Bowl Alliance/BCS since the 1995 season, nine of thirteen “championship” games have been decided by double-digit margins, with seven of those being certifiable romps. Only twice (Ohio State vs. Miami after the 2002 season, and Texas-Southern Cal after the 2005 season) have the proceedings likely kept fans from switching channels on their TVs at home.

Those college results, however, have merely resembled scorelines from countless one-sided pro football title games over the decades. And with few exceptions (which we’ll talk about in a moment), AFC and NFC title games since the merger have been even more apt to turn into romps than the Super Bowl, which itself has proven notorious for runaway results over the years.

That one-sided trend in the penultimate round is hard to ignore. Since the 1970 merger, more than half (38) of the conference title games have been decided by 14 points or more. The last five NFC championships have featured double-digit win margins, with four of those recorded by 17 points or more. Meanwhile, four of the last five AFC title tilts have also been decided by double digits. Indeed, over the past three seasons, only one of the six conference title games (last year’s Colts-Patriots classic) was decided by fewer than 14 points.

And the progenitors of the modern-day conference championship clashes featured much of the same. In the pre-merger ‘60s, six of the last seven AFL title games were decided by double digits, including one-sided 51-10, 23-0, 31-7, & 40-7 romps, and four of the last six NFL championships were decided by double-digit margins as well. The Packers also routed the Giants, 37-0, in the ‘61 title game. And those results in the ‘60s looked a lot like what transpired in the mid ‘50s, when the four NFL championship games between 1954-57 featured scorelines of 56-10, 38-14, 47-7, and 59-14. Indeed, the biggest margin of victory in NFL history occurred in the 1940 title game, when George Halas’ Chicago Bears humiliated the Washington Redskins...73-0!

So what is it about championship-level football that encourages blowouts? Aficionados have offered a lot of theories to us over the years, although there is one common thread that seems to run through almost every rationalization. Trailing teams, when sensing a game, season, and a chance at history slipping away, are more likely to gamble to reverse the tide. Often, they are met with depressing results. And in championship-level games, when presented an opportunity to KO an opponent, teams with the lead usually not only have the desire, but the resources, to achieve the kill.

The trick in handicapping these games, however, is not just identifying which games are likely to become one-sided affairs; rather, it’s which team that will roll up the score. And it’s not always the favorite. Although this round trended toward the home chalk for many years (especially during the ‘80s, when hosts and favorites, usually the same, bossed the action, covering 16 of 20 conference title games), visitors (usually underdogs) have covered 18 of 34 since 1990. Further, six of the last eleven double-digit AFC/NFC title game wins have been recorded by the road underdogs!

There are a few specific conference title trends that merit review. “Intermediate/high” favorites (those laying between 7-9½ points) are 14-3 vs. the number in conference championships since 1970. Home teams have won straight up almost two-thirds of the time since the merger (49 of 74); home chalk is still a noteworthy 35-23-2 since ’70. Conference title “totals” have also trended “over” (4-0) the last two years.

What’s curious is that almost none of the title game romps figured as such beforehand. So, don’t be surprised if at least one of the games this coming weekend ends up with a decisive result.

Despite all of the one-sided beatings, and surprising lack of truly memorable games, we’ve been treated to an occasional classic in conference title battles. Continuing our recent “reminiscing” theme as we look back upon 50 years of publishing THE GOLD SHEET, here are our nominations for the most-memorable AFC & NFC title games since 1970.

1) San Francisco 28, Dallas 27 (1981 NFC title game at Candlestick Park)...The stunning emergence of the 49ers in ‘81 was highlighted by arguably the best title game since the merger. The teams went back-and-forth all afternoon before Joe Montana led San Francisco on a pulsating last-minute 89-yard drive, culminated by Montana’s famous 6-yard TD pass to Dwight Clark with 51 seconds to play. Lost in the aftermath of “The Catch” was the fact that Dallas threatened again thereafter, reaching midfield before QB Danny White fumbled when sacked by Lawrence Pillers, with 49er Jim Stuckey recovering to finally end the last Cowboys threat.

2) Indianapolis 38, New England 34 (2006 AFC title game at RCA Dome)...The most-recent AFC title game qualified for “instant classic” status after Peyton Manning, in the midst of shedding his “can’t win the big one” label once and for all, rallied the Colts from a 21-3 first-half deficit. Manning, who tossed a 2nd-Q pick that was returned for a TD by Asante Samuel, nonetheless outperformed Tom Brady, and led a late 81-yard TD drive that gave the Colts their first lead thanks to Joseph Addai’s 3-yard TD with only 1:00 remaining. Marlin Jackson’s subsequent interception of a Brady pass after the Pats crossed midfield finally locked up the win for Indy, preceding its Super Bowl triumph over the Bears.

3) Denver 23, Cleveland 20 in OT (1986 AFC title game at Municipal Stadium)...The signature moment of John Elway’s career was the last-minute, 98-yard TD drive he authored in the noisy din of Cleveland’s Dawg Pound that tied the Browns with 39 seconds to play and preceded Rich Karlis’ 33-yard game-winning FG in overtime. “The Drive” spanned 15 plays and was highlighted by several hair-raising moments, including a nerve-wracking 3rd-and-18 conversion at the Cleveland 47 on a 20-yard Elway pass to Mark Jackson, who shortly thereafter caught Elway’s 5-yard low fastball in the endzone to send the game into OT. It was the first such extra period in conference title game history; there has been only one other since, Atlanta’s 30-27 win over Minnesota in the ‘98 NFC title game.

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10 NFL trends that might matter this weekend

When it comes to handicapping trends and against the spread (ATS) statistics, you either love ‘em or hate ‘em. Here’s a list of compelling tidbits for you number nerds out there. 

San Diego Chargers at New England Patriots

San Diego is 14-3-1 against the number in its last 18 games as an underdog
- San Diego hasn’t been dogged since dropping a 24-17 decision at Jacksonville as a three-point favorite in Week 11. The week before that, the Chargers downed the Colts 23-21 as 3 ½-point favorites.

San Diego is riding an 8-0 streak both straight up and ATS
- Looking back, San Diego’s slow start out of the gate makes a lot more sense. The Chargers were still getting used to Norv Turner and they get a pass for two of those losses (at Green Bay and at New England). Since then they’ve been a lot more like last year’s dominant 14-2 team.

San Diego is 2-6 ATS in its last eight games as an underdog of 10 ½ points or greater
- Unfamiliar territory for San Diego bettors here, so take this one with a grain of salt. The Chargers haven’t been this big of an underdog since the 2000 season.

New England has dropped six of its last seven games ATS
-The public perception police will be banging on my door if I keep this up, but you can’t ignore the impact of the media’s Patriots mania on New England’s pointspreads. This is the best team I’ve ever seen. However, that doesn’t mean the Pats can be two touchdowns better than every other club in the league every single Sunday. Everybody wants to be the team that beats the Pats so they’re getting everyone’s best game right now with some awfully big spreads to cover. 

Six of the last eight meetings between New England and San Diego have played over the total
- San Diego’s injury status might be the difference here. If Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates are all healthy enough to play, the Chargers should be able to put some points on the board. And you know the Pats won’t be held down.

New York Giants at Green Bay Packers

New York is 7-0 ATS in its last seven road games against a team with a winning home record
- I love New York sports fans – as long as their team’s winning. You have to respect their passion and intensity, but the ruthless fans at Giant Stadium are part of the reason why this team is so good away from home.

New York is 5-1 ATS in its last six January games
- The Giants have won January games in sunny Tampa Bay and Dallas this year and beat the Eagles in Philadelphia last year. It was 53 degrees in Philly for that one. They might get a real taste of winter football at Lambeau this week.

Green Bay is 11-3-1 ATS in its last 15 games played on grass
-Ryan Grant is great at making one cut to the weak side and pointing his shoulders straight downhill to take would-be tacklers for a ride. Green Bay’s nasty defense is made for a grass surface too.

Green Bay is 5-0 ATS in its last five home games
- Years ago you won’t even consider betting against the Pack at Lambeau once November hit. You’ll hear that rule of thumb a lot more now that they have a running game again. 

Green Bay has played over in 13 of its last 16 games overall
-  I didn’t think Brett Favre had it in him to protect the ball and take check-downs instead of launching bombs into triple coverage like he did last year and pretty much every year before that. But I love Green Bay’s play-calling now. Favre’s seeing results and that’s enough to keep him happy. 

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The Chargers' Only Chance
January 15th, 2008

(Sports Network) - Even the second king of the United Kingdom of Israel - otherwise known as David - had a better chance heading into his battle than do the battered San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers' four most important players - quarterback Philip Rivers, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, tight end Antonio Gates and nose tackle Jamal Williams - are all dealing with what have been well-documented, and will soon be nauseatingly over-documented, injuries. What's more, the Goliath that San Diego is facing Sunday afternoon is a 17-0 juggernaut that already humiliated the team 38-14 on national television back in the second game of the season.

"Since Week 2 we wanted to go back up there against New England," said left tackle Marcus McNeill. "We are a much different team now. Even though they are rolling, we're going to try and go into this game like we take every game. We are going to be the underdogs and nobody wants us to win. But that's fine; we'll take the role again."

So far, the Chargers have done quite well in that role. Before they played the underdog, they were cast as the goat. A 1-3 start led to a 5-5 record in November, and first-year head coach Norv Turner was the biggest pariah in town.

Of course, the problems stopped there. Turner's team has since won eight consecutive games, including the most unlikely of all last week, when the shorthanded Bolts downed the defending world champion Colts 28-24 in the final game ever played in the RCA Dome.

"The way that we're playing now, nothing can stop us," defensive end Igor Olshansky boasted after that game. "The way that we overcome adversity and everything else. I guarantee you that Belichick and everybody else over there are scratching their heads saying, 'Man, we better get ready.'"

Olshansky's assessment is refreshing, considering the played-out cliche of "nobody is giving us a chance" is ripe for the Chargers' picking. It's early, but so far, the San Diego players are giving the Patriots their due respect and viewing this game from an uncommon lens of confident realism.

"It'll probably be the toughest game we've ever played," said LaDainian Tomlinson. "I'm pretty sure we'll be huge underdogs, and rightfully so."

Even the usually trenchant Philip Rivers said, "We know it will be a challenge. We are going against a team that might be the best there ever was."

Linebacker Shawne Merriman was equally level-headed, stating "We are going to come in there fired up, but they are undefeated this year and they have been tested several times," he said. "We have to go prove it. We have to go in there and show we can beat these guys."

But can the Chargers beat these guys? Sure, few thought they could down the Colts, but the Colts were a team they had defeated in their two previous matchups. The Patriots are the team that embarrassed them earlier this year and truncated their 14-win season the previous year.

In the interests of playing the devil's advocate, here are five factors that could help the 14-point underdog Chargers shock the mighty Patriots on Sunday:

Note: in all likelihood, all five of these factors, as well as the turnover battle, will have to fall in San Diego's favor if a stunning upset is to occur.

Note II: If either LaDainian Tomlinson or Philip Rivers is unable to play on Sunday, then consider the remainder of this piece a moot point.

Note III: Have you ever seen so many conditions placed on another list of conditions when making an argument for why one team can beat another in a conference Championship game?

1. Antonio Cromartie. Bill Belichick has already dismissed the relevance of his team's Week 2 victory, saying this is a different Chargers football team. He's right. One part of that difference is the cornerback Cromartie. The first-team All-Pro was a mere backup when these clubs met in September. Against the Patriots, Cromartie recorded 0 tackles, 0 passes defensed and 0 interceptions. However, since Week 6, the second-year star out of Florida State has captured a starting job and registered a remarkable 11 interceptions. He is on the cusp of becoming a genuine stopper on the outside - the type of shutdown corner who can make quarterbacks rethink the way they attack downfield.

This alone makes Cromartie's presence significant, though what adds an extra flavor to the formula is the fact that he's 6'2" - which is essentially the equivalent of being a 6'8" point guard - and has a 40-inch-plus vertical leap. There is a certain Patriot receiver who has given opponents fits all season. Jacksonville was able to take him away by double- and triple-teaming him. Of course, they paid dearly for that, as Tom Brady picked them apart underneath. With the high-flying Cromartie, the Chargers have a fighting chance of containing Randy Moss with traditional coverage.

2. Stephen Cooper. Another young defensive standout who has emerged down the stretch for San Diego is inside linebacker Cooper. The fifth-year veteran began the season as a somewhat callow first-year starter but has since blossomed into a highly-active interior run defender (he's solid in pass coverage, as well). Cooper's improvement could help slow down the surging Laurence Maroney, and force the Patriots into a one-dimensional offensive approach. New England has thrived as a pass-happy offense all season, but against San Diego they'd be facing a defensive unit that led the league in interceptions in 2007.

3. Eric Weddle. Rookie safety Weddle has come into his own as of late, replacing the mediocre Clinton Hart in the starting lineup. Weddle's inimitable versatility allows him to line up anywhere on the field. Don't be surprised if Chargers defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell concocts a unique formula that, in some fashion, uses Weddle as a counter to deadly ex-Charger Wes Welker.

4. Chris Chambers. This speedy outside weapon was with the pathetic Dolphins last time these two teams squared off. Chambers has faced Belichick's team twice a year throughout his career and has historically been held in check (he's never had more than 75 yards receiving against New England and has, on several occasions, been held to under 40 yards). However, the Patriots could be playing right into San Diego's hands if they elect to take away Chambers. Against the Colts on Sunday, Rivers often eschewed Chambers and was able to find No. 2 wideout Vincent Jackson (seven receptions for 93 yards). The ber- athletic Jackson has flourished in recent weeks; at 6'5", 241 pounds, the Patriots simply don't have a cornerback who can match up with him.

5. Momentum. Sure, the Patriots have won 17 straight, but such an extended streak is almost counterproductive to the intangible X-factor known as momentum. The Chargers, winners of eight straight, have been riding a wave since hitting their low point back in November. The Patriots, at this stage, aren't riding anything; they're just proving to be damn good swimmers. Ultimately, gravitational pull can halt any wave, but fatigue or a cramp can stunt any swimmer.

Are we reaching here, with factor Number 5? Certainly. But remember, David downed Goliath because he had a sling that, thanks to the laws of momentum, was able to launch a stone into the forehead of the presumably unbeatable Goliath.

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What bettors need to know: Chargers at Patriots STAFF

Terrific Tom

It’s hard to imagine that there are many more records left for Tom Brady to break, but in Saturday’s 31-20 win over the Jaguars he struck another off the list. Brady completed 26 of 28 passes – an NFL postseason record with a completion percentage of 92.9.

After the game coach Bill Belichick smiled and made his best attempt at a joke when asked about Brady. "It was a little disappointing, the two he missed," he said.

In truth, Brady could have been perfect. He made his first 16 passes, before tight end Ben Watson missed a catchable one at Jacksonville’s 26-yard line in the third quarter. He then converted his next nine, before Wes Welker dropped what should have been an easy catch in the fourth.

Brady, as usual, gave all the credit for his remarkable performance to his teammates. "It's easy," he told USA Today, "when you have receivers who are open all the time and an offensive line that never lets anyone touch you. It makes it fun to play."

Big guns questionable

The Chargers’ 29-24 win over Indianapolis on Sunday could have come at a heavy price. Running back LaDanian Tomlinson and quarterback Philip Rivers both picked up injuries and sat out the end of the game.

L.T picked up a knock in the second quarter and was replaced by Michael Turner, who went on to rush for 71 yards. Tomlinson was seen rubbing the inside of his left knee on the sideline, but later said he felt like he could have returned to the game.

Rivers’ injury came on a seemingly innocuous play. He fell back awkwardly after throwing a 56-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, aggravating a previous injury to his left knee. Rivers was replaced by Bill Volek, who orchestrasted the winning touchdown drive.

Coach Norv Turner said both players will be listed as questionable for next week's game in New England.

Belichick wary

Some would say that the Patriots have dodged a bullet. Instead of facing Peyton Manning and the Colts in a rematch of last season’s AFC championship game, they will instead play San Diego.

But Bill Belichick, who is not renowned for being positive, believes this could be tougher matchup for his team.

"They're physical," Belichick told the Nashua Telegraph shortly after the Chargers upset the Colts. "Going out on the road and winning in Indianapolis, I think shows what kind of mental toughness they have.

"We know we're going to have to play our best game of the year, so we're on that."

In their only other meeting this season, the traveling Pats hammered San Diego. They recorded a 38-14 win on Sept. 16, but Belichick insists that this is a much improved Chargers outfit.

"Well, a lot's happened since then," he said. "We'll definitely start all over on the preparation, just almost like it's a new team, then look back at some of the things we had from back in September.

"But, that was such a long time ago, and I think the most important thing for us to focus on is what the Chargers have done in the last couple of months."

Bad blood

Sunday’s contest is a rematch of last season’s AFC playoff game, and that did not end well for the Chargers. They blew a fourth quarter lead, allowing the Pats to kick the winning field goals with four minutes left.

At the end of the game, a few New England players decided to celebrate by doing Shawn Merriman’s ‘lights out’ dance on the Chargers logo at the 50-yard line.

San Diego took major offense to the celebration, with Tomlinson calling the Pats classless, while Philip Rivers branded cornerback Ellis Hobbs as the “the sorriest corner in the league.”

The Chargers vowed revenge ahead of their embarrasing loss to the Pats in September, but now they get a second chance on the biggest possible stage.

Head to head

The Patriots have won and covered in two straight and six of their last eight meetings with San Diego. They easily covered a 3 ½-point spread in the only meeting between the teams this season, winning by a remarkable 24-point margin on Sept. 16.

New England comes into this game with a perfect 17-0 straight up record, as well as a 10-7 ATS mark. The Chargers are on an eight-game unbeaten streak during which they’ve covered on every occasion.

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Re: Championship Week News and Notes

NFL mismatches: Where to find the edge in Sunday's games

San Diego Chargers at New England Patriots

Chargers’ receiving corps vs. Patriots’ linebackers

If the Patriots have one weakness it’s their aging linebacker corps. It has had problems covering quick receivers as the season wore on, with the Eagles’ Brian Westbrook and the Giants’ Plaxico Burress enjoying successful games.

Tedy Bruschi, Junior Seau and strong safety Rodney Harrison are especially vulnerable in coverage situations, and they are not comfortable chasing people. The average age of that trio is 35.6 years, and it’s been a bruising 17-game season for them.

The Chargers have several options to take advantage of that weakness. LaDanian Tomlinson, who is struggling with a knee injury, will certainly wear down Seau and Bruschi if he is fit enough to play.

If not, they still have Michael Turner and Darren Sproles, who are capable of causing the Pats problems.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady vs. Chargers’ pass defense

This mismatch isn’t because of any major weakness in San Diego’s pass defense, it’s just because Tom Brady is that good. The Pats quarterback keeps getting better and his record in the postseason makes for impressive reading.

Brady has won 15 of 13 career playoff games, completing 62.5 percent of his passes for 3,479 yards and 23 touchdowns. In last week’s win over Jacksonville, he was close to perfect. He set an NFL postseason record with his 92.9 completion percentage, throwing for 262 yards and three TDs.

San Diego’s pass defense was 13th overall in the regular season, allowing 212.7 yards per game. Last week against the Colts, it gave up 402 passing yards and three touchdowns to quarterback Peyton Manning.

New York Giants at Green Bay Packers

Giants’ pass rush vs. Packers’ offensive line

In the second half of last Sunday’s game against Dallas, the Giants had Tony Romo on the ground after almost every play he made. They’ll be looking to do the same to veteran quarterback Brett Favre this week, and it’s hard to see the Packers stopping defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan.

That duo has combined for 83 tackles and 23 sacks this season, as part of a Giants’ defense that led the league in sacks (52). They had two sacks against Tony Romo last week, and were consistently getting close enough to tackle him after the pass.

During the regular season, Favre got sacked 15 times in his 16 games. He was sacked just once in Green Bay’s previous meeting with New York this season (Sept. 16), but Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin still called it a “shoddy” performance from his offensive line.

Packers quarterback Brett Favre vs. Giants’ pass defense

Even if the Giants pass rush gets after Favre, he’s still going to have a major impact on this game. The veteran has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career, and produced 173 yards and three touchdowns against Seattle last week.

Favre joined Joe Montana as the only NFL passer with 5,000 postseason yards and he continued his streak of 17 consecutive playoff games with a touchdown pass. He also recorded his highest passer rating in 21 postseason games last week (137.6).

The Giants ranked 12th in the league against the pass this season, giving up 212.7 yards per game in the air. They allowed Favre to throw for 286 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-13 Green Bay win on Sept. 16.

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Re: Championship Week News and Notes

Oddsmakers favor home teams 

Oddsmaker Ken White, chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, predicts Super Bowl XLII will be a rerun of the NFL's 1997 Green Bay-New England mid-winter extravaganza, while Sin City bookmakers report the bulk of early wagering for this weekend's conference championships is split between a favorite and a dog.

Green Bay, a 60/1 long shot to win the Super Bowl when the 2007 regular season kicked off, is a touchdown pick over the surging wild card New York Giants in the NFC title game.

The Giants, winners of nine straight on the road, stunned Dallas 21-17 in one divisional matchup last weekend, while the Packers rallied from an early 14-0 deficit to crush Seattle 42-20 at snowy Lambeau Field in the other.

Unbeaten New England (17-0), a two touchdown pick, hosts San Diego in an affair between what White calls the two hottest teams in pro football in the AFC Championship.

The Pats ousted Jacksonville from the postseason 31-20 and the Chargers stunned 2007 Super Bowl champion Indianapolis 28-24.

Conference championships will be played in Green Bay and Foxboro on Sunday.

"We've already received a ton of money on the Packers," Hilton SuperBook supervisor Jeff Sherman said.

"The money's all been on the dog in the other game.

"We opened at 15 and we're now at 14."

Wynn and Harrah's both had the number at 14 1/2 Tuesday morning; Wynn also had Green Bay laying 7 1/2.

The Patriots are a huge 1/3 Hilton choice to win the Feb. 3 Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.

The Packers are a 4/1 second pick, with the Chargers 10/1 and the Giants assuming the long shot's mantle at 12/1.

"Straight up I think the two favorites will win," White said, cautioning, however, that "anything's possible" in light of Sunday's upsets of the Cowboys and Colts.

The oddsmaker says New York's best chance is "just to keep doing what the Giants have been doing."

"They're playing well, playing good D, showing depth and winning on the road," White declared.

"They totally outplayed Dallas Sunday.

"They made adjustments and the Cowboys didn't."

White pronounced Eli Manning "a big-time quarterback" and says the fact Peyton's little brother has the Giants in the conference championship speaks for itself.

"He had a good, not great, year," White said.

"He's playing with confidence.

"He completed 56 percent of his passes playing in a home stadium where it's difficult to complete passes if it's windy.

"Eli has what it takes.

"It's generally thought that it takes four years for a player to develop into a solid NFL quarterback and he's there.

"It's going to be a tough game, but I'd lean to the Giants with the points."

Straight up is another matter, especially with well-seasoned veteran Brett Favre calling the shots for Green Bay.

"The Packers are home and they've got Favre," White said.

"Last weekend we saw (Ryan) Grant has also given them a running game."

He expects weather could be a factor in Green Bay.

"It's going to be extremely cold, something like 10 degrees, which will be tough on both teams," White said.

"I think 7 may be a little high."

LVSC sent the total out at 44 and it continues to drop.

Stores on Tuesday morning had the over/under at between 41 1/2 and 42 1/2.

"If it's not windy I think the total is going the wrong way," said White, who correctly took the OVER in Green Bay's victory over Seattle.

A straight up Chargers triumph over the Brady Bunch isn't out of the question either, White believes, despite the double-digit point-spread.

The Pats have struggled at times lately while failing to cover, including against the Jaguars last weekend.

"The Pats need to step it up a notch this weekend," he said.

White notes the pressure is on New England, which is seeking to go 18-0 en route to a Super Bowl title and unblemished 19-0 slate.

"This is going to be a pressure-packed game," he observed.

"The longer the Pats go without losing, the more the pressure builds. I think San Diego will keep it close."

If they are to beat New England, the oddsmaker points to several things the Chargers must do.

"First they need to run the football," he said.

"They need to control the line of scrimmage and they need to convert on third down."

White expects to see both running back LaDanian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers on the field Sunday, though both left the game versus Indy with injuries.

"They're listed as probable and I expect them to be fine," he said.

"I think (Coach) Norv Turner made the right decision in taking them both out last weekend rather than risk further injury.

"I can't imagine either player not being ready to play in this one."

New England nipped San Diego last season for the right to face Indianapolis in the AFC Championship.

The Pats-Chargers total was shipped at 50, but also steadily was dropping. Books had it between 47 1/2 and 48 1/2 on Tuesday.

"The pros say go UNDER," White said.

White doesn't expect weather to be as much of a factor in Foxboro as in Green Bay.

"The storms are due Friday and Saturday," he said. "It should be fine by Sunday.

"It'll be cold, in the 20s. but I don't think it will affect the scoring."

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Giants' Ross practices, says he'll play Sunday
January 16, 2008

Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- New York Giants cornerback Aaron Ross returned to practice on Wednesday and said he would be ready to play in the NFC title game against the Green Bay Packers.

Ross had to leave the NFC semifinal in Dallas on Sunday after his right shoulder twice popped out of its socket. The first-round pick from Texas plans to wear a harness on Sunday.

"If I have to make a tackle with my right shoulder I will," Ross said after practice.

Cornerbacks Sam Madison (stomach) and Kevin Dockery (hip) did not practice, although Madison took part in some individual drills. The starter was sidelined for playoff wins over Tampa Bay and the Cowboys.

Receiver Plaxico Burress (ankle) and tackle Kareem McKenzie (ankle) practiced on a limited basis.

The Giants practiced in Giants Stadium, where the temperature was about 40 degrees.

The forecast for the title game in Green Bay calls for a game-time temperature of about 4 degrees.

"You don't worry about the weather," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "There is no point in being concerned about it. You wear some warm clothes and you wear a hand warmer. It is still all going to come down to how your team performs on the field."

Manning does not intend to wear gloves in the game.

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Re: Championship Week News and Notes

The Pack is the one to back
By Judd Hall

There are just some places in sports that you don’t want to play at if you’re the visiting team: The Montreal Forum in April, Yankees Stadium in October and Lambeau Field in January.

Well one of those venues isn’t used any longer and another hasn’t instilled fear in the opposition’s hearts since 2002.

Lambeau Field, on the other hand, has always carried an aura about itself, no matter when teams played on its grass surface. When you add the snow and chill of playing in Wisconsin in January, the situation is almost unbeatable.

So now the Giants get the chance to come into Green Bay as seven-point road ‘dogs with the hope of claiming a berth in Super Bowl XLII. Lucky them, right?

I’ll be the first to admit that it is really hard to argue against New York right now. The G-men have gone 8-0 SU and ATS in their last eight road games this season, and that includes two straight victories away from home in the playoffs. So there is no reason to think they can’t pull off the hat trick just like the Steelers did two years ago in advancing to the Super Bowl, right?

Well…not so fast.

People are enamored with New York right now, no question about that being true. However, most have developed man-crushes of Brokeback Mountain proportions on Brett Favre (John Madden…I’m looking at you).

I will say that it’s hard not to argue with Favre’s career: seven division championships, two NFC titles and a Super Bowl Championship.

Adding more luster to that legend is Favre’s record is his play at Lambeau Field. Green Bay is 104-30 SU and 69-58-7 since Southern Miss grad took over under center during the 1992 season.

His dominance doesn’t just end with regular season play, the Pack is 7-2 SU and 4-3-2 ATS when playing at home during the postseason.

It also helps the Packers’ cause to know they were one of the better home teams in 2007, going 8-1 SU and 6-1-2 this year.

There is also a small matter of the weather.

The current forecast for Green Bay on Sunday is a game-time high of six degrees. Yeah, you heard me right…SIX! And of course, you can forget about the 30 percent chance of snow that accompanies the ambient temperature.

Some bettors might not buy into this being a big deal, but they’re just fooling themselves. And I blame Eli Manning for me thinking this way.

Sure, Manning has had three impressive outings in a row…no denying that point with anyone. It’s just that he doesn’t have the experience to handle adverse weather.

The Ole Miss product has played in a grand total of two contests in his career where the temperature dipped below freezing. He went 1-1 SU and 2-0 ATS in those matches. Respectable numbers, but his last game in sub-freezing temps was back in 2005.

Compare Manning to Favre, who has made a name for himself as one of the best cold weather players in NFL history, and it’s not even close.

It also doesn’t hurt to have a defense that allowed just Seattle to convert just three of 11 third downs in the divisional round.

Besides, recent history is on Green Bay’s side. The home favorite has won by double digits in the last three NFC Championship Games. And the Packers have gone 3-0 SU and ATS in their last three home contests over the Giants.

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Re: Championship Week News and Notes

Rivers listed as doubtful for Sunday

Philip Rivers' knee injury is more severe than what has been described by the Chargers, and the quarterback has been listed as doubtful for Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

Sources told The San Diego Union-Tribune today the quarterback also has a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in addition to the sprained medial collateral ligament the team has made known.

Rivers practiced today and is still expected to test the knee Sunday morning to determine whether he can play against the New England Patriots.

“It'll be day-to-day,” General Manager A.J. Smith said. “We're going down the same road as (Antonio) Gates.” Gates played Sunday at Indianapolis after a pre-game workout to test his dislocated big toe, but was largely ineffective. He also has been listed as doubtful for this Sunday's game.

Rivers was on the practice field this morning for the first time this week, wearing a brace on his right knee. There was no brace on his left knee, on which he has played the past 5½ games with a sprained MCL. During the portion of practice open to the media, he threw passes with the first team.

“It always falls on the player,” Smith said. “The doctors and medical people do so much. The coach and general manager are on the outside. The ultimate decisions is the player's – unless he physically can't go or it will do harm for your future.”

Smith, as he always does, declined to discuss the specific injury. But he said, “We would never jeopardize any player.”

A sports medicine expert said yesterday it was possible for Rivers to play with a partial tear of his ACL.

“When you get into the category of partial tears, no one really knows,” said Dr. James Gladstone, an orthopedic surgeon and chief of sports medicine at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. “There have been studies out there that suggest if (the ACL) is 50 percent intact, you may be OK. The only way of knowing is you play.”

Even if Rivers does play, the fact his knee is further damaged could affect how long he plays or how much trauma he can handle during the game.

It will also affect how he moves.

The ACL, which along with the PCL forms a cross at the center of the knee, works to stabilize the knee. Its health affects quick starting and stopping and change of direction.

What is not known is the severity of Rivers' tear in either his MCL or ACL. Sprains are classified in three degrees – as a stretching (first degree), partial tear (second degree) and total tear (third degree).

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