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I was 2-3 last week with a point-spread tie in the



Kansas State

game. My season record now stands at 46 wins and 39 losses.

The regular college football season is over now, so I can begin to focus on bowl games. In trying to analyze the bowl games, I use my own power ratings to set up a theoretical point spread, and then compare it with the actual point spread set by the oddsmaker.

In this week's column, I will list my point spreads for bowl games between Dec. 20 and Dec. 29. In next week's column, I will handicap the remaining bowl games.

The comparative power ratings, however, are only the beginning when it comes to analyzing the bowl games. History is very important. In the last two years, only one team favored by more than a touchdown has covered the point spread.

Thus, if my power ratings favor a large underdog (






), I will probably bet on that underdog. But if my power ratings favor a large favorite, I will probably not bet on the game (

Georgia Tech

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). In 1998, underdogs won 10 of 22 games straight up, while in 1999, the underdog won the game straight up in 10 of the 23 games.

The evidence is clear that underdogs are the more motivated teams in bowl games, and I have a strong bias toward playing the underdog. That bias is tempered when a team is playing on its home field or a home-neutral field, where the home team is 9-3 against the spread in that situation. This year,

Boise State

and Georgia Tech fall into that category.

In the NFL, meanwhile, the


just fired their coach, the


have stumbled, the


have stopped here and there and the


have been a drag. Which leads me to wonder whom you think has been the most unpleasant surprise among those teams. Or do you believe it is someone else?

Which NFL Team Has Been the Worst Surprise This Season?

Washington Redskins

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jacksonville Jaguars

St. Louis Rams

Someone Else

This Week's NFL Picks

Minnesota Vikings-St. Louis Rams (over 55 1/2 points)

This is one of the selections that worries me because it seems so obvious. You have two great offenses and two mediocre defenses. Minnesota's coach

Dennis Green

has played conservatively this year, relying on the running ability of Robert Smith to keep the pressure off quarterback Daunte Culpepper. But I don't believe Minnesota will have that luxury in this game.

The game is being played indoors in St. Louis, and last week's poor effort in cold weather by Rams' quarterback Kurt Warner can be excused because it was his first game back after an injury. In last year's playoff game at this site, the teams combined for 86 points. Both are gifted, with exceptional wide receivers, and will be able to score at will. I hope the Rams put in a hurry-up offense this week, because it will keep Warner in rhythm and put pressure on the already suspect Viking defense.

If the Rams score as much as I think they will, Minnesota will have to answer, and I believe Culpepper is more than capable of finding Randy Moss and Cris Carter to keep the game close (and high-scoring) until the end.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (plus 2) over Miami Dolphins

I am taking the better team plus the points in this game. While Miami's defense is greatly improved, I still believe the Bucs' defense is superior. On offense, Tampa Bay has more game-breakers than the Dolphins.

Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler is better than Shaun King, but the Bucs' receivers are better than Miami's. This is truly a must-win game for Tampa Bay, while the Dolphins have essentially clinched a playoff spot. The Dolphins are also 0-8-1 in their last nine games in the week before they play the


(whom they play next week). I will go with the more desperate team.

Kansas City Chiefs (minus 2) over Carolina Panthers

This Kansas City team continues to confound me. It has one of the best offenses in the league, but continues to lose, sometimes because of bonehead plays like the final one on Monday night, when Elvis Grbac threw a short pass to Tony Gonzalez with five seconds left and no timeouts remaining instead of throwing into the end zone. The Chiefs have one of the strongest home-field advantages in the league, and the Panthers have been overachieving when one considers all of the injuries they have suffered this year. I look for a letdown by Carolina after its victory over the Rams last week, and believe that the Chiefs will take out some of their frustrations on the Panthers' defense.

Denver Broncos-Seattle Seahawks (Under 48 1/2)

This is my blizzard special. The weather forecast for Denver on Sunday afternoon is for snow and blustery winds. Although Denver has a very potent offense and a poor defense, I think the conditions will dictate a low-scoring game. Seattle's season is essentially over, and I can't see the offensive players on the Seahawks making any extra effort to catch the ball in frigid conditions. If the forecast is accurate, the sports books will reduce the over-under number on Saturday, so the earlier the bet is made the better.

Oakland Raiders (minus 3) over the New York Jets

It pains me to go against a team that I root for, but I think this is a bad spot for the Jets. It is a Sunday night game on the West Coast against

Todd Harrison's

beloved Raiders, who are coming off an agonizing loss against Pittsburgh.

I believe the Raiders will be angry and will come out flying. New York played flawlessly in the first half last week against Indianapolis, but could have lost if the Colts' center had not botched a crucial snap late in the game. The Jets have played above their heads this season, and I believe they will have their hands full trying to stop the Raiders' potent offense.

Vinny Testaverde has regressed from his stellar 1998 performance, and I am afraid the Raider defense will cause Testaverde to make bad decisions. The key to the game for the Jets is how well Curtis Martin can perform against the Raiders' defense. I suspect Oakland will take away the run and force Vinny to beat them in the air.

Barry Lieberman was a litigator with the U.S. Department of Justice for nine years and is currently the general counsel for a company that operates four hotel/casinos in Las Vegas. He has been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years and successfully concluded last football season by winning on 55% of his college and pro selections posted on He welcomes your feedback at