There's no place like home field for playoffs

January 15, 1991|By Vito Stellino

If you like upsets, you won't like this season's Nationa Football League playoffs.

The playoffs have been a chalk player's dream this season. Seven of the eight home favorites have won, and six of them have covered the spread.

The only upset pulled off so far was the Washington Redskins' 20-6 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, and that wasn't as big an upset as most people thought because the Redskins had won eight of the previous 11 games against the Eagles.

The Miami Dolphins failed to cover the 2 1/2 -point spread over the Kansas City Chiefs when they won, 17-16.

Except for that, the form has been followed by the other six home favorites, and now the season is down to the two conference title games Sunday matching the four division champions with the best records.

It will be the 15-2 San Francisco 49ers playing host to the 14-3 New York Giants in the National Football Conference title game and the 14-3 Buffalo Bills playing host to the 13-4 Los Angeles Raiders in the American Football Conference title game.

If the home favorites continue to dominate, it will be the 49ers and the Bills advancing to the silver anniversary Super Bowl on Jan. 27 in Tampa, Fla.

Since the 49ers beat the Giants, 7-3, and the Raiders beat the Bills, 38-24, during the regular season, they will be favored to win again.

The 49ers would be favored over the Bills in the Super Bowl. San Francisco has the best record in pro football and would be making its fifth trip, compared with Buffalo's first.

Even though the league added two wild-card teams to the playoffs this season to get more television money, it is not surprising that the wild-card teams have had no impact, and the last two, Washington and Miami, bowed out Saturday.

The last time a wild-card team made it to the Super Bowl was the 1985 season, when the New England Patriots were blown out by the Chicago Bears, 46-10.

In four of the past six seasons, the Super Bowl winner has been the team with the best regular-season record.

The 18-1 49ers in 1984, the 18-1 Bears in 1985, the 17-2 Giants in 1986 and the 17-2 49ers last year did it.

The exceptions were the 11-4 Washington Redskins in the 1987 strike year (the 49ers were 13-2 in the regular season) and the 10-6 49ers in 1988 (three teams, including the team they beat in the Super Bowl, the Cincinnati Bengals, were 12-4).

The Raiders have the toughest task this week of beating the odds. They have to win in Buffalo, which always is tough for a warm-weather team in January.

Going to San Francisco won't be easy for the Giants, either, even though the weather won't be a factor. The Giants are not willing to concede the 49ers are better than they are despite the loss on Dec. 3 in the most heralded regular-season game of the past five years.

If the Giants had scored a late touchdown -- they had a first down on the 9 in the fourth quarter -- they would have the best record and would be host of the game.

This is the fifth time in the past 10 years the Giants have played the 49ers in the playoffs. The first four games were won by the home team -- two by each team.

The Giants are doing their best to get fired up for the game.

They jumped on a comment by NBC's Merlin Olsen on Saturday that the 49ers were more worried about the Redskins than about any other team.

Olsen didn't attribute it to any 49ers, but it was enough to get the Giants talking.

"That made me want to run out of the house and go to San Francisco right then. That is a slap in the face," said fullback Maurice Carthon. "I hope the guys hear about that. If they didn't, they'll hear about it this week."

Safety Myron Guyton said: "Even if a team doesn't have respect for you, you don't expect them to say something like that. It kind of surprised me. I think the guys are going to be a little upset about it."

If the first eight games of the playoffs are any indication, it might not make any difference.

This seems to be the season of the home favorites.

NFL playoff schedule

SUNDAY Championships

AFC: Raiders at Bills, 12:30 p.m. TV: Channels 2, 4

NFC: Giants at 49ers, 4 p.m.

TV: Channels 11, 9

JAN. 27 Super Bowl: 6:18 p.m., chs. 13, 7

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