12/26/2002 12:00AM

Bet Eagles, Chiefs in pivotal matchups

Email

LAS VEGAS - After three ugly matches last Saturday between playoff contenders and also-rans (though the Vikings did upset the Dolphins to throw the AFC playoff race into further disarray), we get two marquee matchups this Saturday to start the final weekend of the NFL's regular season.

The Giants will successfully complete their unlikely stretch run and qualify for a wild-card spot if they beat the Eagles in the early game Saturday. The Eagles will be seeking a victory to clinch home-field advantage in the NFC throughout the playoffs.

Emotions are always high when the Chiefs and Raiders renew their rivalry in the later game. The Raiders need a win to clinch home field in the AFC throughout the playoffs. If they lose, they would need help to get even a first-round bye. The Chiefs are a longshot to reach the postseason. They need to win and then to have the Broncos lose Sunday along with either a Patriots' loss; or a Colts' win and Jets' loss; or a Colts' loss and a Jets' win and a Browns' win.

All of the tiebreakers almost make you yearn for a BCS-style ranking system . . . almost. But any way you look at it, we should get two games on Saturday played at playoff intensity.

Eagles (-2) at Giants

A lot of people are waiting for QB A.J. Feeley to fail, but it just goes to show you that if a team has a strong running game and a well-designed passing game, an unheralded quarterback can step in without missing a beat. We saw it a few years ago with Kurt Warner and earlier this year with Marc Bulger with the Rams, and also with Tommy Maddox with the Steelers, Matt Hasselbeck with the Seahawks, and, of course, with Koy Detmer and Feeley with the Eagles. In fact, the Eagles' potential to be a traditional pocket-passing team was on display when Donovan McNabb broke his leg against the Cardinals, had to abandon his scrambling game, and threw for 255 yards and four TDs. As for Saturday's matchup, it is a rematch of the Eagles-Giants game on Monday night Oct. 28, which was won by the Eagles, 17-3. A big part of that victory was 111 rushing yards by McNabb. While Feeley won't match that Saturday, Duce Staley ran for 176 yards that night and could run wild again. The Eagles shut down the Giants' offense in that game, and haven't done anything since to make you think they won't do the same. The Giants are certainly playing better, which should help them keep this game a little closer than the last one, but I'm looking for the Eagles to win by a field goal or more.

PLAY: Eagles for 1 unit.

Chiefs (+7) at Raiders

As mentioned above, the Chiefs are a longshot to make the playoffs, but you know they'll give a maximum effort because they want to at least put themselves into position in case a miracle happens. No playoff bid is possible if they don't win Saturday. Back on the same weekend that the Eagles beat the Giants, the Chiefs beat the Raiders 20-10 in Kansas City. That was the game in which the Chiefs' defense started playing better, so hopefully they can duplicate that performance. The Chiefs' Priest Holmes is out, but that's no reason to get off the underdog. In fact, that's the reason I'm getting a full touchdown.

PLAY: Chiefs for 1 unit.

Season record: 60-67-4 for net loss of 11.2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

College bowl season rolls on

There's a nice mix of pro and college football on Saturday with the Continental Tire Bowl between next-door neighbors Virginia and West Virginia at 8 a.m. PST. That game should be heading to the fourth quarter about the time the Eagles-Giants game begins. The Alamo Bowl, matching Colorado and Wisconsin, is the nightcap at 5 p.m. PST, about the time the Chiefs-Raiders game is ending.

I'm going to forget about playing the Alamo. On the www.drf.com website, I chose Wisconsin +8 but that's because I had to make a pick in every game, and neither team inspires confidence coming off disappointing seasons.

Continental Tire Bowl

Virginia (+5 1/2) vs. West Virginia

This is the second-place team in the ACC versus the second-place team in the Big East, and it comes down to the passing attack of Virginia QB Matt Schaub, the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, and the rushing of West Virginia RB Avon Cobourne. Virginia has had trouble stopping the run, but Schaub should give Virginia a lead against a West Virginia defense that has been lit up often by passing teams this season. West Virginia averages only 128 passing yards a game, so the Mountaineers will be hard-pressed to rally if they fall behind. In this kind of matchup, I'm even confident that if Virginia falls behind it will have the passing attack to rally for the win or at least the backdoor cover.

PLAY: Virginia for 1 unit.

Bowl record: 2-2 for net profit of 0.8 units (based on laying 1.1 to win 1) through Wednesday's game; season record: 30-32 for net loss of 4.4 units.