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Wednesday January 19th, 2005 Page updated at 5:45pm

NFL Weekly Feature - Road To The SuperBowl
By: Ray Monohan
NFL Football Betting Columnist\Analyst For

I've got a TON to say so let's get at it

Playoff Wagering Notebook

Sunday will provide a study in head games and emotion.

New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Patriots don't play head games. They don't need to. By this point, the mere sight of New England Coach Bill Belichick on the sideline -- especially if he's wearing a hood and his face is wreathed in steam -- is enough to make the opposition break out in a cold sweat.

The fact that Belichick's defensive mind is matched against a rookie quarterback -- well, it's hard to pick against the Patriots. That New England lost to the Steelers earlier this season -- when Pittsburgh was playing better and the Patriots were without running back Corey Dillon -- might only make the Patriots more formidable. Who wants to give Belichick a second chance?

The Steelers have other mental hurdles to overcome. The team has lost three AFC championship games -- all at home -- in Bill Cowher's tenure (they also won one nine seasons ago, on the road). The last loss was to the Patriots in 2001, back when Belichick's team was considered a product of parity, not a modern dynasty.

The Steelers' best hope is to get an early lead, as they did on Oct. 31 when they snapped the Patriots' record 21-game winning streak. Then rookie Ben Roethlisberger can hand the ball off to Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley. If Roethlisberger is forced to throw against Belichick's confusing defense, it could get ugly.

At this point, I'm not only interested to see the Patriots play Roethlisberger's Steelers, but I'd also like to see them play Terry Bradshaw's Steelers, Joe Montana's 49ers, Troy Aikman's Cowboys and the 1972 Dolphins. They deserve to be mentioned with the all-time greats, because I predict they're headed to their third Super Bowl in four seasons.

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Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles' mental obstacle has nothing to do with the opponent. When they look in the mirror on Sunday morning, they'll see their toughest opponent.

The Eagles have lost three consecutive NFC championship games, the past two at home. They thought they had acquired the tools to get over that hump this year, but their game-changer, former 49ers receiver Terrell Owens, will be watching from a luxury box.

The Eagles, like the Steelers, need to grab an early lead. If they fall behind, the doubts will creep in. We've seen that happen in sports so many times before -- from the Indianapolis Colts' frozen frustration last weekend, to Stanford's second-half tightness in the second-round game of the NCAA tournament last March.

Atlanta and Philadelphia dominated their opponents last week. Then again, their opponents were the only teams with 8-8 records that made the playoffs.

Philadelphia has a better defense. But Atlanta -- led by dynamic quarterback Michael Vick -- is brimming with confidence. The Eagles have the pressure of self-doubt. They also have the joy of knowing that their beloved home crowd will turn on them if they play poorly Sunday. My prediction: The Eagles will be four-time championship losers.

Both games have the makings of classics. The teams whose hearts can overcome their heads will be the winners. Try to come up with a statistical analysis for that.

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More Notes - He said what?

Tony Dungy knows the Indianapolis Colts need to make some personnel changes, especially on defense. His approach to coaching, however, will remain the same.

``I don't know any different ways to do it,'' Dungy said. ``We've got a very good offensive system in place, a very good defensive system and a good special teams system. We've got good players and good coaches, and we've just got to continue to grow on that.''

The Colts lost 20-3 on Sunday at New England -- Indianapolis' perennial nemesis -- and it dropped the AFC South champions to 13-5. It was a disappointing finish for a team that many thought had a good shot at getting to the Super Bowl.

``When you don't win the ballgame, there's a little bit of an empty feeling,'' Dungy said. ``We'll be able to, in another week or so, look at the season in total and realize that we did have a fine year.''

Steelers head coach Bill Cowher on whether his team had a mental edge over the Patriots after beating them back in Week Eight: "I don’t know that you have an edge over New England when you get into the playoffs. They have proven the last few times that they have been there, they have not lost a playoff game. Tom Brady is 7-0 in playoff games. So I don’t know what kind of an edge that would give you.

Cowher on rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger, whose play is a hot-button topic in Pittsburgh: "He has made a lot of plays. We wouldn’t be sitting here today if it weren’t for him doing some of the things that he has done all year and let’s not lose sight of that. You want to just sit there and look at his last game and analyze and over-analyze, I’m not going to over-analyze it. Certainly, there are some choices that he made (vs. the Jets on Saturday) that I’m sure he would like to have back, for all of us. It was what it was, we overcame it, and we are moving on to the week."

New Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, quoted in the Baltimore Sun about whether he's worried that Baltimore's struggling offense could potentially hurt his career: "First of all, I don't look at any challenge in my life as how does it hurt me. All I look at is what's the opportunity and what am I going to make of it. I live my life about what we can do and how good we can be. That's the focus."

Fassel, quoted in the Sun about how quickly he can turn around the NFL's 31st-ranked offense: "I don't think this is going to be a real slow process; it'd better not be. I expect us to make dramatic strides. I think it has to come a lot through the pass game and make some big plays. That's how you put points up on the board."

Colts PK Mike Vanderjagt, a potential salary-cap cut in the offseason, quoted in The Indianapolis Star about his future: "At times I think, 'What have I possibly done in the last seven years to make them say they are better off without me?' Clearly they wouldn't be. (TE) Marcus Pollard is probably in the same situation. There are guys that probably should never get released; they should finish their careers as a Colt, and I'm probably one of them. But, honestly, I have no idea what to expect."

Enjoy This weeks matchups Folks – Now Get Back To Work……….

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Divisional Weekend Stud - NEW England's Defense

I'll say this for New England's Defense: 1 word - AMAZING

Wager On Football Writer Ray Monohan is an NFL analyst with 10+ years of experience covering the NFL. He provides a great perspective on the NFL with player and team insight unmatched in the NFL football betting industry.

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