Incentive plays role in finales Must-win teams often give maximum effort; On the line


Look largely at incentive when making selections on the final weekend of the NFL regular season.

Most often, it is best to go with a team desperately needing a victory to make the playoffs. You would also think it best to go with the team needing to win to secure home-field advantage for the postseason.

However, the betting results on these two are often quite different.

The desperate teams often provide maximum effort, and those that merely want home field just as often disappoint.

All bets in mythical dollars:

Chiefs at Bills (-5): The Bills must win to make the AFC playoffs or slide through the back door when the Colts or Jaguars lose. The Bills lost three road games in a row to push themselves to this precarious position. Expect the injury-laden Bills to make one last gallant homestand with a strong defensive effort. The Chiefs have lost three of their past four, and it's no surprise. Marty Schottenheimer's teams often come up empty at the end of the season. Take Buffalo for $250.

Patriots (-9) at Giants: New England has clinched the AFC East. Their incentive should be home-field advantage for the conference semifinals instead of traveling to Denver or Pittsburgh. Risky assumption. Drew Bledsoe was awful in Dallas last Sunday. Yet, no one knows how the Giants will respond, especially in what appears to be Dan Reeves' swan song as coach. Take New England for $100.

Steelers at Panthers (-5 1/2 ): Both teams play defense with a zest rarely seen in the NFL, and neither has a reliable enough passing attack to warrant enthusiasm. This will swing on the ability of Jerome Bettis to run effectively for the Steelers and on the defense that can force turnovers. Take Carolina for $100.

Last week

Record: 6-2. Net for week: plus $665. Net for season: plus $800.

Pub Date: 12/20/96

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