01/21/2010 12:00AM

Take the points in title tilts


LAS VEGAS - The NFL is down to its version of the Final Four, with the conference championship games set for Sunday.

The Colts remain the favorite to win the Super Bowl. The Las Vegas Hilton has them at odds of 6-5 to win it all, with the Saints at 2-1, the Vikings at 9-2, and the Jets at 7-1.

The Lucky's race and sports books already have posted bettable lines on the four potential Super Bowl matchups. They opened the Colts -3 vs. the Saints (and it was subsequently bet to -2), Colts -4 vs. the Vikings, Saints -6 vs. the Jets, and Vikings -4 1/2 vs. the Jets.

People always ask me if they should bet a team in the futures or parlay from game to game. My answer is that the parlay is the way to go 90 percent of the time. The exceptions usually result from unforeseen upsets along the way. For instance, if you like the Vikings, the 9-2 price stated above is cheap based on the current +165 money line in their game against the Saints with a potential +160 in the Super Bowl if they face the Colts. (A favorite of -4 1/2, like Lucky's projects for a Colts-Vikings Super Bowl, would usually have a higher money line, but oddsmakers historically depress the money line in the Super Bowl because the public tends to lay the points with the favorite and bet the dog to win outright.) That parlay would yield +589, better than the +450 that odds of 9-2 represent. However, if they face the Jets, the Vikings would be about -170, so a parlay would then yield only about +320, making the current 9-2 odds look like a bargain.

The Saints are the same way: Wins over the Vikings and then the Colts should pay around +220, exceeding the 2-1 future line, but beating the Vikings and then the Jets (as a -200 favorite) would be closer to +130.

The Colts are around 6-5 regardless of who they face in the Super Bowl, so that's a wash, while the Jets should be played as a parlay from game to game because that returns closer to 9-1.

Back to the betting board

I went 2-2 last weekend in the divisional playoff round, losing with the Cardinals and Ravens on Saturday but bouncing back with the under in both games Sunday. I ended with a losing weekend as the Ravens were a 2-unit play vs. the Colts. Call me stubborn, but I'm fading the Colts again by taking the Jets as my top play this weekend:

Jets +7 1/2 at Colts

First things first: I need to admit I jumped the gun two weeks ago. In my analysis of the Jets-Bengals wild-card game in which I correctly predicted the upset, I wrote: "I'm hoping the Jets win so they get to play the Colts next week. Everyone will be saying the only reason the Colts beat the Jets was because Indy rested its starters, but I think those two factors (rushing offense against the Colts' porous run defense and a defense to contain the Colts' offense) will lead to another upset next week. You read it here first."

Well, the matchup didn't occur the following week because I had anticipated that the Patriots would beat the Ravens in the wild-card round and travel to face the Chargers in the divisional round, while the Jets would face the Colts. But that's not what happened. I probably should have passed or looked to the total after not getting the Jets-Colts matchup I was seeking, but instead I tried to make the case for the Ravens.

However, now I do get the matchup I was hoping for, so I'm hoping my bold prediction holds true, even if a week later. The Jets are vowing to pressure Peyton Manning, but even if they don't get sacks, they should force him into making throws before he wants to and that should lead to an interception or two (let's predict two!). And don't forget that in every year when Manning and the Colts have lost in the playoffs, it was against a 3-4 defense like the Jets use.

The Jets' league-leading running game should be able to run on the Colts, especially the way rookie Shonn Greene has stepped up. Quarterback Mark Sanchez isn't asked to do a lot, but he has made the plays when he's needed to, and he should have success off play-action fakes with the running game's success.

PLAY: Jets for 2 units.

Vikings +3 1/2 at Saints

I had the Cardinals last week but was really impressed by how the Saints came out hitting on all cylinders in their 45-14 rout, which came after their first-round bye and after closing the regular season with three straight losses.

Having said that, I was just as impressed with the Vikings' 34-3 win over the Cowboys, who were entering the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league (along with the Chargers . . . another team that hit the brick wall last week).

Both these teams certainly can put points on the board, so there should be fireworks in the controlled environment of the Louisiana Superdome. It really should come down to which defense can make more stops, and I give the edge there to the Vikings. The pass rush will be the key. If the Vikings don't get to Drew Brees or at least pressure him constantly, then this play is in trouble. But I think they will be able to get to him.

Adrian Peterson was contained by the Cowboys last week, which makes the Vikings' 34-point outburst even more noteworthy, but I don't see the Saints doing the same - and if they do, that should leave Brett Favre calling audibles to pass plays to take care of a defense stacked to stop the run.

PLAY: Vikings for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-2, including 0-1 on 2-unit play on Ravens, for a net loss of 1.3 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). Season record: 34-27, including 2-3 on 2-unit plays, for a net profit of 3 units.