01/03/2008 12:00AM

Taking a closer look at postseason football


The BCS championship game is scheduled for Monday night in New Orleans to crown the mythical national champion.

Before we get to that, we have the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs this Saturday and Sunday. These games start the Super Bowl tournament that lets the top contenders battle it out on the field instead of using a convoluted formula of polls and computer programs that only give two teams a chance to play for the title.

Who wouldn't love to see a college football tournament (especially in this year of parity) with Ohio State, LSU, Missouri, Georgia, USC, West Virginia, Kansas, and Virginia Tech?

Okay, enough of the political debate. We can only handicap the games they put in front of us.

Redskins at Seahawks: The line opened as high as Seahawks -5 here in Vegas but has slowly been bet down to 3 1/2 as bettors have backed the Redskins, who have won four straight while the Seahawks coasted into the playoffs. I'm thinking the difference will be the home-field advantage, as the Seahawks are 7-1 straight up at home and 6-2 against the spread. They also have more playoff experience, having gone to the Super Bowl just two seasons ago and nearly returned last year, losing to the Bears in overtime in the playoffs. The over/under, at 40 1/2, looks solid and you'll note all four games have similar totals.

Jaguars at Steelers: There's less of a home-field advantage in this game because the Jaguars went into Pittsburgh just last month and ran over the Steelers 29-22 (in the snow, no less). Oddsmakers made the adjustment and opened the game at pick-em or Jacksonville -1, and the public has backed the Jaguars to -2o1/2, with the Leroy's books here in town going to 3 on Thursday. The money looks to be on the right side because the Steelers are more banged up than in that prior meeting, with Willie Parker out for the season and injuries along the offensive line. The total is holding steady at 39 1/2.

Giants at Buccaneers: The Bucs have been -3 since the openers were sent out, though money has showed for the Giants, with most books making those wanting the Giants +3 to lay -120 in juice while the Bucs are offered at -3 and even money. Tampa Bay is my dark horse in the NFC, and the main question here is if the Giants will build on their performance versus the Patriots or if they'll have nothing left. This total is also 39 1/2.

Titans at Chargers: This line didn't go up right away last Sunday night after the Titans beat the Colts because of the injury status of Vince Young, but most books put it up at San Diego -9 and now it's up to -10. I have to take the points as the Titans showed just four weeks ago that they can go toe-to-toe with the Chargers and seemingly had them beat before losing in overtime. Besides, the Titans are 12-3-1 against the spread since Young took over as starting QB last season. This total is 40, but looks like it may come down slightly.

As far as the odds to win the Super Bowl, the Patriots are still the prohibitive favorite (or maybe not-so-prohibitive as bettors continue to back them at any price) at the Las Vegas Hilton at 5-11, slightly less than 1-2. Some books have gone as low as 1-8 or 1-9. The Colts are a distant second choice at the Hilton at 9-2, followed by the Cowboys (7-1), Packers and Chargers (both 14-1), Jaguars (18-1), Steelers (40-1), Seahawks (50-1), Giants, Redskins and Buccaneers (all 75-1), and Titans (100-1).

The Hilton also has the Super Bowl line at AFC -11 with a total of 55.

Ohio St.-LSU 'title' game preview

This line opened as low as LSU -3 and as high as -6 1/2 but pretty quickly settled in at 4 1/2 throughout the past four weeks, which is almost half as long ago as the Buckeyes' last game on Nov. 17 at Michigan. (That gap between games is another knock against the current system of determining the best team.) Ohio State was flattered when Michigan beat the SEC's Florida 41-35 on New Year's Day and we've seen the line drift down to 4 since that game. With both teams possessing very strong defenses, the total has come down from the opener of 51 and appears to have settled at 48 1/2.

Sports books are sitting pretty with their future books because both teams were among the favorites and priced accordingly most of the season. Even when they lost games, oddsmakers didn't increase their odds too much. I guess the future-book odds now would be the money line on Monday's game: LSU is around -170 while Ohio State is around +150.

If you're already excited about some of these teams for next season, the Las Vegas Hilton has future-book odds for the BCS title game on Jan. 5, 2009, in Miami, Fla. USC is the 3-1 favorite, followed by Florida (4-1), Oklahoma (7-1), Ohio State (10-1), Georgia and LSU (both at 12-1), West Virginia and Texas (20-1), Virginia Tech (25-1), and Missouri, Auburn, Penn State, and Illinois (all at 40-1).

Leroy's college basketball contest

For Las Vegas locals reading this online Thursday or picking up the print edition early Friday, the deadline for the Leroy's College Basketball Challenge contest is 4 p.m. Friday.

The 10-week contest has nearly an identical format to the football version, with a $250 entry fee and limit of three per person. Each contestant makes seven picks against the spread from a list of as many as 50 Saturday games.

While the football contest drew more than 400 entries in its third year, Leroy's is projecting a more modest 200 entries for this inaugural event. First place will win 30 percent of the entry fees (an estimated $15,000 top prize), with the top 16 finishers cashing.

The contest runs through March 9. In addition to the contest-long prizes, a mini-contest will be held for the best record over the final four weeks for 5 percent of the pool.

Another contest is being planned during March Madness (another tournament that crowns a real champion).