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January-07-2003,
The end for AFC wildcard winners...By Simon Milham, www.tradesports.com columnist

The Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders should be the teams to meet in the AFC Conference championship next week . providing there are no more upsets in the playoffs this week.

The Titans host the Pittsburgh Steelers, while the Raiders host the New York Jets and both home teams are heavily favoured.

Pittsburgh came back from the dead to beat the Cleveland Browns for the third time this season in the wild card game on Sunday . the third time they have beaten their division rivals by three points. This time it was a 36-33 verdict as they rallied to score 22 fourth-quarter points.

The Jets crushed Indianapolis 41-0 on Saturday and are the hottest team in the NFL right now. The Steelers are likely 3.5-point dogs on the TradeSports Handicap line where you bet person to person. This means you pit your wits against other players before and during every NFL game. Players post all bets on the exchange. If you don.t see the bet you are looking for post what you want for others to take. Its fun and once you familiarize yourself with the system it will become a big part of your betting.

These two match up well with each other and the Steelers should not be underestimated, despite a few injury problems, most notably to linebacker Kendrell Bell who hurt his left ankle against Cleveland. Cornerback Chad Scott is also likely to miss out again with a broken hand and both running back Jerome Bettis (knee) and linebacker James Farrior (shoulder) are expected to play despite knocks, as they did on Sunday.

The Titans won the weakest division in the AFC with a 12-4 record in the South, and thus had a week off to heal their bumps and bruises.

Starting defensive end, the imposing and influential Jevon Kearse, hurt his left foot against Houston, but looks poised to play, though the status of guard Zach Piller (calf) and offensive tackle Brad Hopkins (sprained knee) is unknown.

Tennessee will go as far as quarterback Steve McNair will take them. The Titans are the hottest team in the AFC, having won 10 of their past 11 games, including five in a row, and face a Pittsburgh team on Saturday that they beat 31-23 during the regular season.

As in Sunday.s success, the Steelers rallied from a 31-7 deficit to score twice late on and make the score respectable.

At that stage of the season, the Titans missed vital players . but now they are healthy. That said, memories of the 2000 season, when they lost their first game in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl winners Baltimore still haunt them.

The Steelers pride themselves on their ability to stop the run and if Eddie George manages a two-score, 79-yard day as he did in their first meeting, he will consider it a successful one.

The onus will be on McNair, who has been struggling with a rib injury recently, but who threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns in the first clash.

Since that defeat, the Steelers have won five of six to close the season, their only loss coming at home to the expansion Houston Texans. They have momentum on their side after their comeback win, and although they were unfancied three weeks ago when going to Tampa, they did beat a playoff opponent on the road and are hopeful of doing so again. It isn.t going to happen, however. Tennessee are too dominant and once McNair.s timing is back, he should be able to shred a weakened Steelers. secondary, which was exposed and torched by Cleveland.

Should the Steelers cause a shock, the way could be open for the New York Jets to reach the Super Bowl.

They travel to Oakland on Sunday for the right to play in the Conference Championship. The Oakland Coliseum is a place where they simply do not win with any regularity.

Herman Edwards is to be applauded for dragging his team from a 2-5 start to win the AFC East, arguably the best division in football. The best team didn.t even win the division and the Miami Dolphins (who, like the New England Patriots, failed to make the playoffs despite an identical 9-7 record), were left wondering what hit them as they gift-wrapped the division to the inferior Jets. Coaching was everything and the Jets had great leadership throughout. It wasn.t just Edwards who showed it this season. Top assistants Paul Hackett on offense and Ted Cottrell on defense have done an amazing job with the talent at their disposal. A quarterback change from Vinny Testaverde to Chad Pennington has helped, but where Oakland will beat the Jets is by stuffing the run and forcing Pennington to throw the deep ball. He can.t. Not with enough accuracy.

The Jets must try and contain the Raiders. potent offense and they will have a chance if they can get to Rich Gannon with regularity.

Their pass rush does not look capable enough and their improving defense will be up against it, though to make them likely 5.5-point dogs on the TradeSports Handicap line looks a little disrespectful.

Wayne Chrebet.s hand injury is of major concern to the Jets. He is Pennington.s go-to guy and unless Curtis Martin can find running room . which he should do against Oakland.s suspect run defense . the New Yorkers may find trouble moving the ball.

They will know what is required, having played four of their last 20 games and two of their last three playoff games in Oakland.

They also face them again next term . which is not particularly a good thing, because until last season, the Jets were 0-8-1 in Oakland.

Last season, they won the last game of the regular season 24-22 in Raiderland to get into the playoffs, then lost a playoff game at the Coliseum six days later, 38-24. This season, on December 2, they lost 26-20 to the Raiders.

The Jets have won 8 of their last 10 games and the Raiders have won seven of their last eight . their only loss coming in Miami.

In their last three games, the Jets have outscored their opponents . New England, Green Bay and Indianapolis . 113-34 and have the top-ranked offense with the top-ranked passing game in the league.

Many are saying the Jets are the team of destiny. Although that should stick in the throat come Sunday, it should be closer than the line and the sensible call is to take the Jets with the points.

Simon Milham is a columnist with www.tradesports.com. TradeSports is a person-to-person sports trading exchange where members wager together without a bookie and ZERO VIG everyday. TradeSports offers all new members a choice of sign up bonuses. E.g open an account with $250 or more and we will give you a $50 bonus (mention .SM2.) Normal T&C.s apply.



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