01/20/2011 3:49PM

Bears an underdog worth support; points will be scarce in Jet-Steelers game


LAS VEGAS – This Sunday is the NFL’s equivalent of the Final Four, and of course the No. 1-seeded New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons are rolling along . . . oops, not so fast.

While it was surprising that the Patriots and Falcons lost last weekend to the Jets and Packers, respectively, no one should have been shocked with the way this season has gone. We have had a steady processions of teams that at one time were considered the best in football and have fallen by the wayside, starting with the Cowboys and continuing with the Colts, Giants, Ravens, Eagles, Chargers (though they never had the record to match their hype and No. 1 rankings in offensive and defensive yardage stats), and then the Falcons and Patriots.

The only teams to consistently stay near the top have been the Steelers (who started 3-0 while Ben Roethlisberger was suspended) and the Jets (who started out as reality TV stars due to HBO’s “Hard Knocks” and justified that love with an early win over the Patriots). Now, those two meet for the AFC title after the Steelers rallied to beat their biggest recent rival, the Ravens, 31-24, and the Jets upset their biggest recent rival, the Patriots, 28-21.

DRF SPORTS: Latest betting lines, StatFox matchups, and handicapping news for every game

The NFC title game is set as the Packers upset the Falcons 48-21 and the Bears knocked off the upstart Seahawks 35-24 after jumping out to a 28-0 lead.

Point-spread results were split with favorites/underdogs going 2-2. Overall in the postseason, dogs are 5-3 with the points not coming into play in any of the games as all five dogs won outright and the three winning favorites all covered.

The “over” cashed in all four games last weekend as they all exceeded their betting totals. The first three games flew over, with the Jets-Patriots game only going over with 24 points in the fourth quarter after looking like a stone-cold under. Overs have a 5-3 edge on the postseason.

Back to the betting board

I went 1-1 last week in this space in the NFL divisional playoff round as the Ravens-Steelers flew over the total of 37, but I lost with the Seahawks +10 as they lost by 11 (though admittedly it wasn’t as close as the score indicates). For the postseason, I’m 3-1 (75 percent) with my picks here. It’s been a great run, but obviously the biggest games are the ones people remember the most, so here’s hoping for a strong finish leading up to the Super Bowl.

Bears +3 1/2 vs. Packers

No, I’m not just jumping on the bandwagon of my favorite team (remember, I picked against them last week when I didn’t think they should have been laying 10 points). This is all about line value. These teams split their regular-season meetings, with each winning at home. I was actually more impressed with the Bears’ performance in their Week 17 loss at Green Bay when they were basically just playing for pride (the Packers were in a must-win situation to even get in the playoffs), yet the Bears almost shut them out before falling late, 10-3. The Bears have the better running game, and that could be a big factor as the Packers have allowed more than four yards per rush this season. It also should help slow down the Packers’ pass rush. The Bears also are better on special teams, with Devin Hester being a danger to break a big play anytime he gets the ball or setting up good field position if the Packers choose to kick it away from him. According to the database of Marc Lawrence of playbook.com, postseason home underdogs are 20-9 against the spread since 1980 and 9-2 when they have the better record.

PLAY: Bears for 1 unit.

Jets-Steelers under 38.5 points

These teams are very similar, and most people think of the defenses first. So, I was actually pleasantly surprised to see this over/under come out above the key betting numbers of 37 and 38 for totals, especially when you consider that these two teams met five weeks ago on this same field and the over/under was a solid 36 all week long. That game ended with the Jets winning 22-17 and going over the total, but I expect this game to be even harder fought (plus the Steelers were without stud safety Troy Polamalu in that meeting). Even with Polamalu back and wrecking havoc, I was tempted to take the Jets plus the points as I do like teams that have beaten an opponent in the rematch, especially when getting points, but the Steelers scare me as they tend to go for the jugular just like last week, when they were laying 3 1/2 points versus the Ravens and a late field goal would have sufficed in getting the win, yet they punched in the touchdown, so I was glad I stuck with the over in that game. Polamalu and the defense also have a knack for turning late turnovers into spread-covering scores as well. That’s why I think the under is the more solid play (though I wouldn’t talk anyone out of a Jets/under parlay).

PLAY: Under 38.5 points.

Last week: 1-1 for a net loss of 0.1 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). Playoff record: 3-1 for a profit of 1.9 units. Overall NFL record: 30-20 (60 percent) for a net profit of 8 units.