01/05/2006 12:00AM

Brunell's savvy gives Skins edge


LAS VEGAS - On Saturday, the road to the Super Bowl begins in earnest. Actually, it begins in Tampa, Fla., but that's not important right now.

Everyone is wondering who will be playing in Detroit on Feb. 5. Every sports book in town had odds who will win the AFC and who will win the NFC, but there's usually a rule in place that you can't parlay those types of future wagers.

But that's not a problem at the Aladdin sports book, as director Brad Bryant has Super Bowl matchup props in which you just have to get the two teams to the big game.

The favorite is the Colts vs. the Seahawks at 3-2. If you think the Bears can get past the Seahawks in the NFC and face the Colts, you can get 5-1. A matchup that has gotten a lot of media attention because of the Manning brothers is Colts-Giants, which the Aladdin has at 16-1. Other matchups including the Colts are Colts-Buccaneers at 14-1 and Colts-Panthers at 18-1.

The Broncos-Seahawks is 10-1, with the Broncos-Bears at 16-1, Broncos-Bucs at 48-1, Broncos-Giants at 52-1, and Broncos-Panthers at 60-1.

The two-time defending champion Patriots have juicy odds, with Pats-Seahawks at 12-1, Pats-Bears at 22-1, Pats-Bucs at 65-1, Pats-Giants at 75-1 and Pats-Panthers at 85-1.

Matchups are also available with the Bengals with the Bengals-Seahawks at 40-1, Bengals-Bears at 65-1, Bengals-Bucs at 185-1, Bengals-Giants at 215-1, and Bengals-Panthers at 225-1.

All other matchups, including all combinations using either the Steelers, Jaguars or Redskins, are in a field bet at 4-1.

Now, for a look at Saturday's two wild-card matchups:

Redskins (+2 1/2) at Buccaneers

This game is pretty much a toss-up, as evidenced by the fact the oddsmakers have the line at 2 1/2, not even favoring the home team by a full field goal.

I have to side with the Redskins, with the tiebreaker being the playoff experience of Washington quarterback Mark Brunell over Tampa Bay first-year starter Chris Simms, who has a history of making mistakes in pressure games going back to his days at the University of Texas (unlike Vince Young, who took the program to a new level after Simms' departure).

With Clinton Portis being able to set the tone on the ground, Brunell can spread the ball around to his receivers, led by Santana Moss, and also to his underrated tight end, Chris Cooley. Simms tends to look for Joey Galloway more often than not, and if he telegraphs his passes, that could lead to some interceptions by the Washington secondary.

I like the Redskins' side, but I love the total. It opened at 37 1/2 and has since been bet down to 36 1/2. I think the money has been on the wrong side. For one thing, when these teams met on Nov. 13, the Bucs won 36-35 (I certainly wouldn't mind seeing that score on Saturday) as each team nearly reached the total for this game. It might not be quite that explosive Saturday, but even though the Skins and Bucs have reputations for having strong defenses and conservative offenses, the fact is that down the stretch the Redskins went over the total in their final three games and the Bucs went over in their final two.

PLAY: Redskins for 1 unit and over 36 1/2 points for 2 units.

Jaguars (+8) at Patriots (over 37)

The Patriots got healthy in the second half of the season and showed they're ready to defend their title. The Patriots are not going down without a fight, and the general public will probably be backing them as game time approaches, but I believe this is just too many points to lay to a quality team like Jacksonville.

The Jaguars, who went 12-4 on the season, were 9-5-2 against the spread, including 6-2 on the road and 3-0 as road underdogs. They're going to be in this game the whole way.

Keep in mind that the Patriots have a tendency to squeak out close games, especially in the playoffs and usually with a Adam Vinatieri field goal. This season, they were 5-3 at home but just 2-6 against the spread, meaning they didn't even cover in more than half of their home victories.

Even as improved as the Patriots have been down the stretch, the defense still has some holes and the Jaguars should be able to have some success either running with Fred Taylor or through the air with either Byron Leftwich or David Garrard.

Three Jacksonville defensive starters - linebacker Mike Peterson and defensive ends Reggie Hayward and Paul Spicer - missed practices earlier this week, but now it appears they'll be able to go. The Patriots will get their share of points, too, as Tom Brady certainly excels at this time of year, which is why I also like the game to go over the total of 37 points. I can certainly see this game being 23-20 or 27-24 either way.

PLAY: Jaguars for 2 units and over 37 points for 1 unit.

Last week: 0-5, including a 2-unit loss on the Bills -1 1/2 vs. the Jets, for a net loss of 6.6 units. NFL season record: 33-50-6 for a net loss of 25.1 units.