Eagles, Bengals eye reversals

Expect few dull moments in the NFL playoffs, which should be filled with intrigue for bettors and oddsmakers. The dominant teams throughout this season — Indianapolis, New Orleans and Minnesota — stumbled down the home stretch.

Meanwhile, teams such as San Diego, Dallas and Green Bay are charging their way into the playoffs with authority.

Don’t think for a second that the eventual Super Bowl champion might not be playing today or Sunday. There is absolutely something to be said for maintaining a routine and getting hot at the right time.

Each of the past four Super Bowls featured a team that played in the wild-card round. In fact, three of the past four champions played in the first round of the playoffs. Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and the New York Giants went on to win titles, with Arizona coming up just short in last year’s thrilling loss to the Steelers.

In a bizarre twist, three of this weekend’s playoff games are rematches from Week 17. All three feature unique circumstances, but there has been an obvious impact on the wagering lines based on last week’s results. Here’s a preview of today’s games:

Philadelphia at Dallas (-4): The Cowboys were sent off as 3-point favorites over the Eagles last week, with the total closing at 47. Dallas dominated Philadelphia in the regular-season finale 24-0 and doubled the Eagles in total yards and time of possession in the process.

The shocking aspect of the game was that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo had time to bake a cake in the pocket and subsequently proceeded to cook the Eagles’ secondary. Look for Philadelphia to unleash the hounds today with countless blitz packages.

Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb either lights it up or coughs it up. Last week he had that lost look on his face, laughing after every confounding miscue. It was reminiscent of his legendary pitiful performance at Cincinnati last season, when he didn’t realize overtime could end in a tie. More often than not, however, he bounces back with a decent effort.

Dallas coach Wade Phillips has his team playing exceptional football, utilizing a balanced attack on offense and a defense that has posted back-to-back shutouts after containing the Saints three weeks ago.

The Cowboys face the challenge of beating the same talented team three times in a season. The pressure clearly is on Dallas and Phillips, who is 0-4 in the playoffs. Jerry Jones could cut the cord on Phillips in a Texas second if the Cowboys come up short.

In the two meetings with Philadelphia, Dallas did a remarkable job denying the big play. I think wideouts DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant will turn the tables and come up with a few quick strikes down the field, opening the underneath routes to tight end Brent Celek.

Last year, Philadelphia won road playoff games over the Vikings and Giants before falling to the Cardinals in the NFC title game. When push comes to shove, I have to side with Andy Reid over Phillips and take the Eagles plus the points.

N.Y. Jets at Cincinnati (-21/2): The Jets pasted the Bengals 37-0 to get into the playoffs. Shoot holes through the Jets if you must for having the good fortune of facing two teams that basically rolled over while looking ahead to the postseason. But the bottom line is they’re in, so deal with it.

Is the betting public overreacting to what they saw most recently? Money has supported the Jets throughout the week, as the game dropped below the key number of three.

We have to go between the lines to get a grip on what transpired. There’s no way to prove it, but I’m certain the Bengals preferred the matchup with rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez this week as opposed to dealing with Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and the Houston Texans. The troubling aspect of the beatdown was the Jets’ dominance in the trenches.

The key to this game is simple. If Cincinnati can force Sanchez into third-and-long situations with regularity, the Bengals will advance.

Cincinnati running back Cedric Benson is fresh and should be a workhorse in this game. Running and stopping the run will get it done. Cincy has been solid all season, and you have to toss out last week’s game at the Meadowlands. I’ll go with the Bengals at home.

Brian Blessing, project manager for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, can be reached at bblessing@lvsc.com. Listen to the LVSC oddsmakers on “Sportsbook Radio” weekdays at 3 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM) and Sirius 98.

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