01/04/2007 12:00AM

Chiefs leading a pack of live dogs


Parity has long been the buzzword in the NFL. "Any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday" was the mantra of the league for a long time. Last year, favorites covered at a 58-percent clip, and a lot of people were saying it was a "new NFL," with a wider gap between the haves and the have-nots.

But this year, upsets were again the norm and underdogs covered at 57 percent. Another sign of parity was that home-field advantage wasn't too much of a factor, as road teams went 129-120-7 against the spread.

Now, with the playoffs looming, I've been hearing TV analysts saying that the top seeds (Chargers, Ravens, Bears, Saints) are way better than the lower seeds, and I'm just not buying it. The race for the Super Bowl is wide open, and no team is truly invincible. I think dogs will keep barking, especially with the point spreads in mind.

Here's a look at this weekend's four wild-card games:

Chiefs (+7) at Colts

Anyone who has been following my plays shouldn't be surprised that this would be my top play, and not just because it's the first game on the schedule. I've gone against the Colts the past five weeks, going 4-1 against the spread and with three outright upsets. In that span, the thing I'm proudest of was that I didn't buy into the conventional wisdom that Indy had shut down Cincinnati's running game in Week 15 when it was clear to me that the Bengals stopped themselves. Indy's run defense is as bad as advertised, allowing a league-worst 173 rushing yards per game, and now it has to face one of the league's top rushers in Larry Johnson. And since LJ set an NFL record with 416 carries this year, you know the Chiefs won't abandon the game plan. The only thing keeping me from making this a 3-unit play is the Chiefs' defense, which is also in the bottom half of the league, and will certainly give up yardage and points to Peyton Manning & Co. The offense will be forced to outscore the Colts, but with the consistency of the ground game and with Manning's tendency to come up short under playoff pressure, that's very likely, making a bet on the Chiefs to win straight up also appealing at +250 (the money-line equivalent of 5-2 odds) or better.

PLAY: Chiefs for 2 units.

Cowboys (+3) at Seahawks

During the start of the Tony Romo era, the Cowboys were being touted as the top team in the NFC, but the bloom has come off the rose, with the Cowboys dropping three of their last four games. You would think that would make the Cowboys a play-against, but the Seahawks were reeling at the end of the season, too, losing three of their last four. It's my opinion that Dallas coach Bill Parcells will right the ship for at least one week, as the Cowboys are the more balanced team on both sides of the ball. This Seahawks team hasn't even been able to capitalize on its formidable home-field advantage, losing three games at home this year. As much of a nutcase as Terrell Owens can be, I expect him to step up on the big stage and be the difference in the game. To be fair, as of Thursday afternoon this line was still 3 but most books were making Cowboys backers pay a vig of -120, so for record-keeping purposes, I'll lay 1.2 units to win 1. I would recommend playing it that way rather than taking the Cowboys +2 1/2 at even money, which is what it'll probably be if books move off the 3 and make Seahawks bettors lay the extra vig at -2 1/2.

PLAY: Cowboys for 1 unit.

NY Jets at Patriots (o/u 38)

The Jets are one of the surprise teams of the year, winning 6 of their last 8 to make the playoffs. In that span, they won and covered all four of their road games, including a 17-14 upset of the Pats on Nov. 12 as 10-point underdogs that really stamped them as a contender. On the other hand, the Patriots have won 6 of their last 7 and have seemed to get their offense back. Plus, it's hard to go against New England coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, as they're 6-0 straight up and 4-1-1 against the spread at home in the playoffs. I have wavered back and forth on this game, and that's usually a good sign I should pass. But I do like the under, as these teams do know each other extremely well and I don't see either team being able to pull out a blowout.

PLAY: Under for 1 unit.

Giants (+7) at Eagles

This is another matchup of divisional rivals, but I clearly prefer the Giants even though the Eagles have been very good to me with three straight winning plays on their games. I took them against these same Giants three weeks ago and vs. the Cowboys on Christmas Day, and then bet against them last week with the Falcons. The Eagles have exceeded expectations since Donovan McNabb's season-ending injury, and I was glad to exploit that, but now they're being given too much credit and shouldn't be a full touchdown favorite over the Giants. The Eagles' run defense was third-to-last in the NFC, allowing 136.4 yards per game, and Tiki Barber should have a big day as the Giants run him into the ground leading into his retirement. Like with the Chiefs, the key to winning outright will fall to the Giants' defense to step up in crunch time.

PLAY: Giants for 1 unit.

Last week: 3-2 for a net profit of 0.8 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 49-37-2, including 1-1 on 2-unit plays, for a profit of 8.2 units.

Tuley's NCAA Selections

Tuley the Tout's NFL Selections

January 6
Kansas City at Indianapolis (-7)KANSAS CITY
Dallas at Seattle (-3)Dallas
January 7
NY Jets at New England (-9)New England
NY Giants at Philadelphia (-7)NY Giants
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