The 49ers clinched the NFC West two weeks ago and probably will gain the home-field advantage in the playoffs even though their schedule finally gets tough over the final month: at Kansas City, home to Minnesota and Denver, at Seattle. A 13-3 mark at season's end is quite possible.
The Broncos face an even tougher situation. They're currently in first place in the AFC West but could lose that lead and the home-field advantage for the conference's championship game if and it's a big if -- Kansas City defeats San Francisco on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
The 49ers are a slight favorite over the Chiefs in what shapes up as one of the most important games of the year. Kansas City figures to win its last three outings: at home to Oakland, at San Diego, at home to New Orleans. If Denver and Kansas City wind up tied at 13-3, the Chiefs would have the better record in the division and would enjoy the home-field edge for the playoffs.
The Broncos are at San Diego, at Pittsburgh and at San Francisco before returning home against San Diego. They will have a tough time beating both the Steelers and 49ers. So, if Kansas City can get past San Francisco on Sunday, the Chiefs will be sitting pretty in terms of postseason play.
This week's picks
(All bets in mythical dollars)
49ers (-3 1/2 ) at Chiefs: Kansas City is 7-3-2 against the spread, 3-1-1 at home. Its offense has suffered a bit since Rich Gannon replaced the injured Elvis Grbac at quarterback, but the defense is aggressive and particularly effective at Arrowhead, where the K.C. fans make so much noise that visiting teams often have a difficult time hearing adjustments.
San Francisco is not going to put many points on the board and might be looking a little bit ahead to home games against Minnesota and Denver. So I'll take the points in what promises to be a dandy defensive struggle.
Take Kansas City for $250.
Jets (-2 1/2 ) at Bills: I've picked against the Jets repeatedly, with mixed results. Heaven only knows how Bill Parcells' club got to be 8-4 and atop the AFC East. The coach can't be the complete answer. His squad lost to the Bills, 28-22, as a five-point favorite at the Meadowlands in Week 2. New York has improved while Buffalo has faltered with a lack of experience and ability at quarterback. But the Bills' defense should come up big here.
Take Buffalo for $100.
Falcons at Seahawks (-7): Time to take another 'dog. Atlanta is 4-8 after an 0-5 start, a tribute to Dan Reeves' ability to prepare a team properly. Chris Chandler is an underrated passer when healthy, which, unfortunately, isn't the case much of the time. Seattle is still in the AFC playoff picture at 6-6, but the losses to New Orleans and Kansas City had to be tough to take. The Falcons should score enough to stay close.
Take Atlanta for $100.
Steelers (-5 1/2 ) at Cardinals: Kordell Stewart is erratic. Terribly erratic. Until he settles down and throws three good passes in a row, I'm not going to trust the Steelers' offense, particularly when playing away from Three Rivers Stadium. Jerome Bettis isn't likely to overpower the Cardinals' defensive front. Arizona probably will have trouble scoring, too, but getting 5 1/2 points in the desert sun is an attractive proposition.
Take Arizona for $100.
Bucs at Giants (-1 1/2 ): Jim Fassel is Coach of the Year even if New York loses its last four games, and that's not likely. The Giants put their trust in their defense and running game -- and hope Danny Kanell doesn't mess things up too badly. So far he hasn't. Tampa plays much the same way. Cold statistics say the Bucs should win. But the Giants are hot.
Take New York $100.
Packers (-3) at Vikings: Half the world knows Mike Holmgren is 0-5 with the Packers at Minnesota. So who cares? Holmgren's record with Green Bay against Dallas wasn't too thrilling either until last Sunday. I thinks the defending champions will be in a serious mode the rest of the way.
Take Green Bay for $100.
Last week's record: 2-4. Net for week: minus $90.
Season record: 39-34-4. Net for season: plus $1,030.
Pub Date: 11/28/97