Lower seeds face uphill struggle

TREVOR BUNKE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

To the Redskins, Jaguars, Panthers and Steelers: Welcome to the playoffs. To those teams from the record books: Enjoy your stay, boys, it's going to be short.

Since the NFL adopted a 12-team playoff format in 1990, 180 teams have made the post-season. And of those 180 teams, 60 have been a No. 5 or No. 6 seed. Guess what? Not one of those teams has made it to the Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, only the 1995 Colts and 1996 Jaguars have even made it to a conference final.

Things aren't much better for No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, either, as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed has claimed 25 of the 30 berths in the past 15 Super Bowls.

For those No. 5 and No. 6 seeds, winning three straight road games to reach the Super Bowl has proved to be impossible.

And looking at the 2005 entries, only Pittsburgh -- which posted a 6-2 record on the road (where it was also 6-2 against the spread) and begins the playoffs as one of the hotter teams out there -- seems capable of pulling off three underdog victories and reaching the Super Bowl.

As for my road to the Super Bowl, I'm still making picks despite finishing two games under .500 on the season (123-125-8). I did, however, get the winner right in the eight pushes. So if I give myself a quarter-point for each push, can my record be 125-125 on the season? No, I didn't think so.

On to the playoffs, where the slate is clean ... until I mess it up. Heck, I'll even try to guess, er, predict the final scores:

Washington (+2.5) at Tampa Bay: When these teams hooked up on Nov. 13 in Tampa, Bucs coach Jon Gruden saw his team score a last minute TD to draw within a point, 35-34. Instead of tying the game and taking his chances in overtime, Gruden elected to hand the ball off to Mike Alstott, who scored the two-pointer to give Tampa a 36-35 victory. In that game, Bucs RB Carnell Williams was hurting and only ran 10 times for 20 yards. Williams is back at full strength, dashing for 231 yards in the past two games. That should be enough to offset Redskins RB Clinton Portis, who ran for 144 yards in the loss in Tampa. BUCCANEERS 30, REDSKINS 27

Jacksonville (+7.5) at New England: The Pats are 9-0 in the playoffs with QB Tom Brady. They don't lose at home in the cold (game-time forecast is -2C tomorrow night) when they have to win -- last week vs. Miami doesn't count. Actually, other than last week's loss to the Dolphins, New England hasn't lost a game after Christmas Day since 1999. As for the Jaguars, they aren't playoff tested. They're going to start No. 1 QB Byron Leftwich (out the past six weeks with a broken ankle) over backup David Garrard, who guided the Jags to a 5-1 record in Leftwich's absence. The two-time defending Super Bowl-champion Patriots (only 3-5 ATS at home this season) aren't going to relinquish their crown on home turf. But it will be a dogfight (catfight?). PATRIOTS 24, JAGUARS 17

Carolina (+2.5) at NY Giants: Tiki! Tiki! When it's go time, the Giants turn to RB Tiki Barber and, simply put, he doesn't let them down. Barber rushed for 1,024 of his 1,860 yards at home this season. The Panthers are certainly not devoid of talent, but going on the road to face an opponent that was 7-1 on its turf is going to be awfully difficult for Carolina. GIANTS 30, PANTHERS 24

Pittsburgh (-3) at Cincinnati: These teams traded road wins in 2005: The Steelers won 27-13 in Cincinnati and the Bengals won 38-31 in Pittsburgh. That doesn't bode well for the Bengals. The Steelers have a two-headed monster at running back, with Willie Parker slashing and dashing for yardage and Jerome Bettis banging straight ahead. The Bengals' run defence gave up 201 yards last week to the Chiefs' Larry Johnson. The Bengals will put up some stats, but in the end, I'll take Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger over Carson Palmer. STEELERS 28, BENGALS 24

Last Week: 8-7-1.

Season: 123-125-8.

Best Bet: NY Giants.

Best Bets: 7-9-1 after 10.5-point favourite San Diego lost 23-7 to Denver.

Suicide Pick: New England.

Suicide Picks: 16-1 after Pittsburgh beat Detroit 35-21.


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