Underdog is tempting, but not worthy On the line

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The number on Super Bowl XXXI opened at 13 1/2 and quickly went out to 14, Green Bay favored over New England. A bettor can find 14 1/2 in a few places on the Las Vegas strip this week -- and there are those who believe that 15 is not out of the question by Sunday's kickoff.

New England is 4.25-1 to win straight up, down from 4.5. This point spread represents massive disrespect for the AFC. That disrespect is deserved. AFC teams have covered exactly two of the last 12 Super Bowls and three of the last 15, Pittsburgh being one (getting 13 1/2 ) in losing, 27-17, to Dallas last January.

One of the poorest Super Bowl efforts by an AFC representative was the one turned in by New England in XX, when Chicago embarrassed the Patriots, 46-10. I don't believe this New England squad will suffer the same sort of humiliation. They're too well-coached. Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson are the best in the business when it comes to preparing a team for a really big game.

Parcells comes in with the underdog. This makes him doubly dangerous, even though he faces a formidable coaching rival in Mike Holmgren and defensive coordinator Fritz Shumur, who has been worth points on occasion. But Parcells, for all his big-game brilliance, doesn't appear to have enough on-field talent to pull off an upset.

While most fans remember New England's playoff performances against Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, I can't forget their first-half efforts against New York's Giants and Jets. The Patriots can be dismal. Drew Bledsoe can be a disaster. He often wilts when subjected to heavy pressure from aggressive defenses.

What might enable Bledsoe and the Pats to cover against the Pack is the fact that Green Bay does not tend to rush an opposing passer off his feet.

Brett Favre will out-perform Bledsoe, of that you can be certain. Favre is fire. Bledsoe is ice, frequently ice-cold. I'll go with the heat.

If, as is possible, the Packers' offensive line gives Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens room to run from the start, Super Bowl XXXI could be over in a hurry. But Green Bay-on-the-road rarely plays like Green Bay-in-Green Bay. The Packers are special on a frozen surface, not on a fast surface.

The Pack often starts slowly. No one should be shocked if the Patriots score first. That would make it 21-0 New England, in betting terms. And 21 is much easier to beat in a casino than on a football field.

Super Bowl XXXI is not a serious wagering proposition -- given the 14-point spread -- unless you like New England. I don't. I love Parcells, but I've never trusted Bledsoe. So bank most of the mythical money we made this season. A mythical $100 is all the Packers are worth, giving that many points.

Previous games

Net for week (Jan. 14): minus $10. Net for season: plus $495.

Pub Date: 1/24/97

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