Skip the absurd, and stick with Packers in close call Broncos won't win game, but have chance to cover

On the line

January 23, 1998|By Gerald Strine | Gerald Strine,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Dorsey Levens is a 4-to-1 favorite in Las Vegas to score the first touchdown in Super Bowl XXXII.

He's followed by Antonio Freeman (5-to-1), Terrell Davis (6-to-1), Robert Brooks (7-to-1) and Mark Chmura (8-to-1) in the special propositions section. Everyone else is in double digits, with Brett Favre at 18-to-1 and John Elway 25-to-1.

A bettor can get odds of 150-to-1 if he or she believes there won't be a touchdown scored during the entire game, and that's probably as stupid a wager as accepting odds of merely 15-to-1 that Green Bay will score 37 or more points. Denver's scoring 37 or more gets you 150-to-1.

The above information is brought to you in the name of absurdity, although the special propositions are popular in Vegas at this time of year.

The Super Bowl makes bettors out of people who ordinarily couldn't find their way into the sports book of a big casino. And those people, along with "the people" in general, apparently have a warm spot in their heart or maybe it's a soft spot in their head for Elway in Sunday's NFL spectacular.

Hey, there's nothing terrible about that. I'll be rooting for Elway, too, if the Broncos have a chance to win in the final quarter. He's been a great quarterback for many years. This is the best offense Denver's ever brought to a Super Bowl. I expect him to perform admirably.

But I can't pick the Broncos to win, or to cover the 12-point spread down from 13 1/2 . If Green Bay needs to score 10 points in San Diego in order to beat Denver they'll score 10. If they need 30, they'll score 30. If they need 40 and so on.

That does not mean the Packers will beat the spread. They are a poor cover team in this situation. Once his players take command of a game Mike Holmgren becomes conservative. If the Pack leads by 14 early in the fourth quarter Sunday they will be much more concerned with taking a little time off the clock than with scoring another touchdown.

This was not true of many of the championship teams that have represented the NFC so perfectly over the past 13 years. Several of those Dallas, San Francisco and Washington squads featured high-powered offenses that could put 30 on the board in a hurry. The NFC was 10-1 against the Super Bowl spread from 1985 through 1995.

Then Dallas failed to cover as a 13 1/2 -point favorite over Pittsburgh in '96, winning 27-17, and Green Bay happily settled for a tie as a 14-point favorite against New England last January when it defeated the Patriots, 35-21. I look for Favre & Friends to wind up in the mid-30s again. Levens will run effectively and Favre will have an enjoyable time throwing to any receiver who goes in Darrien Gordon's direction.

Gordon, a Denver cornerback, covers poorly and tackles even worse. The Broncos' secondary will give him as much help as possible, perhaps to the extent of being in too much single coverage elsewhere.

Green Bay's defensive front will do a good job against Davis. That does not mean the Broncos' excellent running back won't break off a large gain or two. That's always possible. For the most part, however, there won't be many holes for Davis to exploit. And if Denver can't get its ground game going, Elway's going to be under extreme pressure.

Too much has been made of Denver's defensive efforts against Kansas City and Pittsburgh in the AFC playoffs. The Chiefs' offense is weak. So is the Steelers', who were forced to go with a young quarterback not ready for prime time. Green Bay's offense, compared to those in Kansas City and Pittsburgh, is from another world or, more specifically, from the elite rank of the NFC. Take the Pack, giving 12, for a mythical $100 and not a penny more.

Elway does not figure to get his first Super Bowl ring. But he could get his first Super Bowl cover.

The numbers

Record for games of Jan. 11: 1-1. Net for week: minus $10.

Season record: 55-48-6. Net for season: plus $1,035.

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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