In a realistic sense, the Super Bowl participants — or at least one of them — will be determined today in a pair of games. Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is on the line at the Meadowlands and in Nashville, Tenn.
Since 1990, a top-seeded team has made it to the Super Bowl 50 percent of the time. The NFC’s No. 1 seed has appeared in 11 of the past 18 Super Bowls (61 percent), and the AFC’s top dog has played in seven (39 percent).
When the New York Giants host the Carolina Panthers tonight, the winner secures home-field advantage and the opportunity to rest players and heal injuries next week in the regular-season finale.
New York, which appeared to be home free as far as NFC supremacy, is on a two-game skid.
The hot topic around the NFL is how opposing defenses can plug the middle and totally focus on stopping Brandon Jacobs and the Giants’ power running attack. Their offense has become one-dimensional since star wide receiver Plaxico Burress played target practice with himself.
The irony is the Panthers might be playing New York’s brand of football better than the Giants are capable of at the moment. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have been running through opposing defenses on a regular basis in recent weeks.
The duo’s prowess has opened things up for quarterback Jake Delhomme in play-action mode, with wideout Steve Smith a lethal weapon on the outside.
The Giants are 3-point favorites over the Panthers, and the total is 371/2.
“The Giants have taken a breather the past few weeks and now are highly motivated to defend their home turf to set up for a Super Bowl run,” Las Vegas Sports Consultants oddsmaker Mike Seba said. “The sports books will certainly be rooting against the Panthers, who opened up at 60-1 to win the Super Bowl.”
The Tennessee Titans can lock up home field with a win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are 2-point road favorites. The total is 34.
A Pittsburgh win would take the home-field battle to the final week of the season. It’s rarely pretty, but the Steelers have found ways to win against a gauntlet of top-shelf foes. There’s no reason to expect anything other than a low-scoring, physical game.
Last week, Titans coach Jeff Fisher opted not to attempt a 49-yard field goal in the final two minutes that could have given Tennessee the lead at Houston. A deep fourth-down pass by Kerry Collins fell incomplete.
Rarely second-guessed, Fisher’s decision led to the Texans trying to run out the clock, and stud defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth went down with a knee injury.
Haynesworth’s value to the Titans’ overall prospects can’t be overlooked, but the line movement making Pittsburgh the road favorite is a major surprise to LVSC oddsmaker Jason Been. The Titans opened as 1-point favorites.
“The bettors are acting like Haynesworth is as important as a good quarterback,” Been said.
The timing of this game also works against the Steelers, according to Been.
“I just can’t see how the Steelers can be favored in this game,” he said. “They have faced daunting physical tests the past two weeks against Dallas and Baltimore.”
Odds are we’ll be focusing plenty on these four teams deep into the postseason. Looking down the road, it’s hard to separate this bunch.
That fact is reflected in the current AFC-NFC Super Bowl number, which sits as a pick’em game, with a total of 45.
Brian Blessing, project manager for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to the LVSC oddsmakers on “Sportsbook Radio” at 4 p.m. weekdays on Fox Sports Radio (920 AM). Visit vegassportsconnect.com for more odds information.