Can Wild Cards Continue Winning? Maybe So, Maybe No
by Greg Melikov - 01/14/2009
All eyes are glued on the surprising wild card winners as they proceed to the NFL conference championships. Can this amazing season continue to astonish?
The oddsmakers say maybe so, maybe no.
Sunday's NFC title game features West champ Arizona, the biggest surprise of the playoffs. The Cardinals are 7-2 at home, which includes eliminating the wild card Falcons.
Arizona had a dismal 0-5 record journeying east this season. Then the visitors destroyed Carolina in a NFC divisional decider, 33-13, gaining revenge for a 27-23 loss during an '08 visit.
It's the first time in NFL history that two teams that failed to post 10 victories during the regular season are playing for a conference championship.
Arizona is a three-point underdog, according to BetUS, while SBG Global and Sportsbook.com makes it 3 ½ points. Bodog puts the margin at four points.
Philadelphia has proved surprising, too, denying Dallas a wild card berth at home in Week 17. Then the Eagles took to the road, sending the Vikings and Giants packing. That included an impressive win over New York for the second time at the Meadowlands.
The Eagles hold a distinct advantage in several categories in addition to giving up 8 ½ fewer points a game.
Philadelphia also rushed for more than 106 yards each contest compared to Arizona's 73-plus yards. The visitors are far bettter on defense, allowing less than 274 ½ yards passing and rushing each outing, about 57 few yards than Arizona.
The Eagles are 12-4 against the spread in their last 16 games on the road. The Cardinals are 7-3 against the spread in its past 10 games at home.
Philadelphia should prevail by at least the same margin that it vanquished East champ New York, 23-11.
Between 1990, when teams were first seeded in each NFL confereence, and 2007, only one No. 6 whipped a No. 1 in 11 attempts and won the Super Bowl.
The '05 Steelers knocked off Indianpolis for the AFC conference championship for their third victory on the road en route to defeating Seattle, 21-10, at Ford Field in Detroit.
Ironically, No. 1 seeds overall were 10-1, including an amazing 9-0 in the NFC. But top seeds in both conferences made the Super Bowl in the same season only twice. Both times, the NFC East prevailed: Washington beat AFC East winner Buffalo in '91 and Dallas defeated the Bills two years later.
Then came last weekend when underdog No. 6 seeds in both conferences surprised the No. 1 seeds. In addition, only one home team triumphed - Pittsburgh.
The Ravens are hoping to avenge regular season losses of 23-20 and 13-9. Since the NFL-AFL merger in '70, teams that attempted three-game sweeps are 11-7. The Steelers did it twice, both times against Cleveland -- in '94 and '02.
The Ravens last weekend avenged a 13-10 loss at home against AFC South champ Tennessee with a 13-10 victory on the road.
The Ravens are 7-1 against the spread in their past eight games on the road. The Steelers are 4-1 against the spread in their last five games at home.
Both teams are tough on defense. Pittsburgh gives up an average of 80.3 rushing yards a contest, just a yard less than Baltimore. The Steelers are stingier on pass defense, allowing an average 179.8 yards compared to 157 yards.
All things point to a defensive battle since Pittsburgh has allowed opponents an average 13.9 points, but the Ravens gave up just 15.3 yards. Taking six points looks good.