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Super Bowl matchup

It’s a Super Bowl matchup worthy of three weeks hype or more than the unsavory seven hours of pregame buildup ESPN and FOX are planning for Sunday.

Two clubs carrying 16-2 records into the final week of the NFL season should keep the Super Bowl parties jumping right up until the start of 60 Minutes.

Of course, some sports fans probably thought the only way the metropolitan burgs of Atlanta and Denver could meet in a championship would be in the National League Championship Series. But lo and behold, the Broncos, one of the most active Super Bowl participants (six) and the rookie Falcons are capable of providing one of pro football’s best title games ever. In fact, we just might see the first Super Bowl overtime.



Predicting a tight championship isn’t outrageous since these teams have the two best running backs in the league and their defenses are of the bend-but-don’t-break variety.

However, the difference will come on defense as the Falcons possess the league’s second-best rushing defense. Terrell Davis, who has rushed for a NFL record 2,374 yards in 18 games, including two playoff victories, won’t find the cutback running room the Jets and Dolphins provided him. The Falcons will force five-time Super Bowl participant John Elway to beat them through the air, and considering the 37-year-old’s eroding skills, that’s the Falcons’ best chance. Moreover, with the improvement Atlanta’s secondary has shown in recent weeks, even the elite quarterbacks and receivers have been unable to go off on them.




Meanwhile, the Broncos will be hard pressed to contain both Jamal Anderson (2,026 rushing yards) and the underrated receiving duo of Terance Mathis and Tony Martin. It’s important to remember in Atlanta coach Dan Reeves’ three lopsided defeats with Denver, he didn’t have a running game. This time, he has the whole package.

Hence, it’s confusing that the Falcons aren’t at least a pick ’em at Stateline betting windows.

As an 11-point underdog against Minnesota in the NFC Championship game, the Falcons upset the “unbeatable” combination of Randall Cunningham and Randy Moss. Overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit on the road to win 30-27 in overtime suggests the Falcons realistic potential to dethrone the defending champion Broncos.

“A lot of smart people thought it was too high when it opened at 8 and it got bet down to seven in 10 minutes,” said Steve Schorr, Harrah’s Tahoe race and sports book manager. “I’m putting all of my money on the Falcons because everybody else is betting the Broncos, and I always like to go with the minority. And our Harrah’s network will need the Broncos to not cover the spread.”

Not that a skier should know much about football, but reigning Winter Olympics gold medalist Jonny Moseley believes the Broncos will repeat. And the 23-year-old Moseley does know what it takes to win it all.

“Champions have been there and done that and it makes it easier to win it again,” he said.

Interestingly, the early Super Bowl line prior to the NFC and AFC championship games listed the NFC representative as a 2-point favorite. Of course, that was assuming that the heavily favored Vikings and Broncos each won.

Consequently, the Falcons didn’t gain any respect by downing the unstoppable Vikings. The “Dirty Birds” can’t be happy about the 7-point snub and it can only serve as added incentive to win come Sunday.

A couple of trendy stats also support the Falcons’ cause: Denver is 0-1 in Miami this season … the Falcons were 3-1 against the AFC in 1998 and in the midst of an 11-game winning streak haven’t lost since a 28-3 drubbing from the Jets in their eighth game … Denver’s average margin of victory on the road this year was a measly 9.37 points, including both of its losses. From the not-that-it-matters category, Elway has beaten Atlanta QB Chris Chandler in two of the past three Celebrity Golf Championships at Edgewood Tahoe.

So do your shoveling, skiing and shopping in the morning. Leave the late afternoon and early hours open for the second successive titillating title game.

For the record, the Falcons will win 20-17 in overtime.

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