JUSTICE WAS SERVED AS SAINTS, 49ERS ADVANCE

I’D RATHER HAVE EJ MANUEL THAN ANDY DALTON

WHY AARON RODGERS ISN’T A BUFFALO BILL

HANDICAPPING BASEBALL’S HALL OF FAME ELECTION

Kicking off with thoughts on the NFL playoffs – now an eight-team tournament:

The New Orleans Saints won in Philadelphia and the San Francisco 49ers won in Green Bay. They went in with better records than their opponents and deserved to play at home. They overcame the injustice by prevailing in difficult road venues.

I won’t be surprised if the Saints and 49ers meet in the NFC championship game. In fact, I’ll be rooting for them (I try to be impartial and rarely root for any team). The Saints play at Seattle Saturday and the 49ers play at Carolina Sunday. I give 8 ½-point underdog New Orleans a 25 percent chance to win and 1 ½-point favored San Francisco a 70 percent chance to win.

Kansas City’s heart-breaking 45-44 loss in Indianapolis proved that “smart money” in Las Vegas doesn’t always win. The host Colts opened as 2 ½-point favorites early last week but late money poured in on the Chiefs Saturday. Kansas City went off as a 2 ½-point favorite. A five-point swing in the NFL is highly unusual (unless a star quarterback is a late scratch).

The “wise guy” bettors were looking good when Kansas City stormed to a 38-10 lead early in the third quarter. 49ers QB Alex Smith was playing like a superstar and the Chiefs weren’t missing star running back Jamaal Charles, who was lost early in the first quarter with a concussion. But Indianapolis had Luck and luck. QB Andrew Luck was terrific in the second half while several key Kansas City defensive players were leaving the field with injuries. The Colts showed no mercy against the inferior Chiefs subs.

I’m sure all Buffalo fans were glad to see the Colts make only the second-best comeback in NFL playoff history. The 32-point comeback by the Bills over the Houston Oilers in January 1993 remains arguably the greatest single-game achievement in team history.

ESPN’s computers said Indianapolis had only a 3.6 chance of winning when it fell behind 38-10. The odds against the 1993 Bills had to be even longer.

The most impressive thing about New Orleans’ win in Philadelphia was the defense. It was another coup for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who has rebounded nicely since being dumped after last season by Dallas owner Jerry Jones, who of course could’ve helped his team much more by hiring a real GM to replace himself.

Saints QB Drew Brees wasn’t sharp in the win over the Eagles. He figures to be better against Seattle. He’ll need to be if New Orleans hopes to upset the Seahawks .

Cincinnati is a better football team than San Diego. The Bengals weren’t 8-0 at home this regular season by accident.  But QB Andy Dalton always is an accident waiting to happen and he resembled Mr. Mayhem in the second half of Sunday’s 27-10 loss to 7-point underdog Chargers: two interceptions, one lost fumble and three sacks. In three career playoff games, Dalton is 0-3, with one TD pass and 10 giveaways. At this stage of their careers, I prefer Buffalo’s EJ Manuel over Dalton. Manuel figures to get better, and I don’t think Dalton will.

EARLY LINE ON DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAMES

Saturday – New Orleans at Seattle (-8 ½)...Indianapolis at New England (-9).

Sunday – San Francisco (- 1 ½) at Carolina...San Diego at Denver (- 10 ½).

Odds courtesy of Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.

REMEMBER HOW THE BILLS MISSED OUT ON AARON RODGERS?

While watching Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers make a series of outstanding plays during Sunday’s 23-20 home playoff loss to San Francisco, I couldn’t help but wonder how much better the Buffalo Bills would’ve been with a healthy Rodgers at quarterback this season. Maybe 11-5 (at least) instead of 6-10.

And I wondered if the Bills had a shot at selecting Rodgers in the draft. So I checked it out and it was rather demoralizing.

Rodgers was touted as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft but famously dropped to No. 24, where the Green Bay Packers finally chose him.

Buffalo had no first-round pick in the 2005 draft. The Bills traded the pick to Dallas during the 2004 draft in order to move up to No. 22 to select – ready for this – Tulane JP Losman, the QB they felt they just had to have.

That pick wound up as the No. 20 pick in the 2005 draft. Would the Bills have used that pick on Rodgers? Probably not. They haven’t been that astute or lucky in a long time. Dallas didn’t use the pick on Rodgers either. The Cowboys selected DE Marcus Spears.

Here were the picks before Rodgers in the 2005 draft (in order): QB Alex Smith by San Francisco...RB Ronnie Brown by Miami...WR Braylon Edwards by Cleveland...RB Cedric Brown by Chicago...RB Cadillac Williams by Tampa Bay...CB PacMan Jones by Tennessee...WR Troy Williamson by Minnesota...CB Antrel Rolle by Arizona...CB Carlos Rogers by Washington...WR Mike Williams by Detroit...LB DeMarcus Ware by Dallas...LB Shawne Merriman by San Diego...OT Jammal Brown by New Orleans...LB Thomas Davis by Carolina...LB Derrick Johnson by Kansas City...DT Travis Johnson by Houston...LB David Pollack by Cincinnati (the Bengals could’ve used him Sunday)...DE Erasmus James by Minnesota...OT Alex Barron by St. Louis...DE Marcus Spears by Dallas...WR Matt Jones by Jacksonville...WR Mark Clayton by Baltimore.

A few of those guys still are playing in the NFL. But not many of them.

For the record, the 2005 draft by the Buffalo Bills helps explain why the team hasn’t made the playoffs in 14 years: WR Roscoe Parrish (No. 55 overall)...TE Kevin Everett (86th), center Duke Preston (122nd)...CB Eric King (156t5h)...OL Justin Geisinger (197th), RB Lionel Gates (236th).

MY PICK: FLORIDA STATE BY 15 OVER AUBURN

Florida State (13-0 record) is favored by 10 points (up from 8 1/2 the past few weeks) over Auburn (12-1) in Monday night’s BCS Championship game and I’m picking the Seminoles to win by more. I respect Auburn as a hard-nosed team with a dynamite rushing attack but I believe Florida State has significantly more talent and is deeper.

Among the 123 FBS Division I-A teams this season, Florida State ranked 5th in total offense (529.4 yards per game), 1st in scoring (53.0 points per game), 3rd in total defense (allowed 268.5 yards per game), 1st in scoring defense (10.7 points allowed per game) and 13th in rush defense (allowed 116.3 yards per game)...Auburn ranked 11th in total offense (505.3 yards per game), t8th in scoring (40.2 per game), 87th in total defense (allowed 423.5 yards per game) and 38th in scoring defense.

Auburn (lost 35-21 at LSU and had miraculous back-to-back wins over Georgia and Alabama) had the nation’s No. 1 rushing offense (335.7 yards per game), but the Tigers aren’t likely to roll over Florida’s talented and deep defensive front. If Florida State takes an early lead – and that’s likely – Auburn isn’t built to rally through the air.

Auburn has been very good and very lucky this season. They play in a better conference (SEC) than Florida State (ACC). But I believe Seminoles QB Jameis Winston can handle the pressure and the Tigers have run out of pixie dust. My pick: Florida State 35, Auburn 20.

HANDICAPPING BASEBALL’S HALL OF FAME ELECTION

Baseball’s Hall of Fame voting results will be announced Wednesday. Here’s my forecast on the 36-player ballot:

Around 600 veteran baseball writers will vote...a voter can list a maximum of 10 players...a candidate must appear on 75 per4cent of the ballots to be elected...new candidates who fail to appear on 5 percent of the ballots are dropped from future consideration...a candidate appearing on the ballot for a 15th time will be dropped from future consideration by the writers if he fails to be elected.

17 holdovers – Craig Biggio to be elected (68.2 percent last year)...Jack Morris will not be elected in his 15th and final year on the ballot (67.7 percent)...Jeff Bagwell ( 59.6 percent) and Mike Piazza (57.8 percent) will come closer but fail to be elected...Rafael Palmeiro (8.8 percent last year) will appear on less than 5 percent of the ballots and be dropped)...Roger Clemens (37.6 percent), Barry Bonds (36.2 percent), Mark McGwire (16.9 percent)  and Sammy Sosa (12.5 percent) will receive more support but not nearly enough to be elected – unfortunately, in my opinion...Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Fred McGriff and Don Mattingly will not be elected but will receive enough support to remain on the ballot for next year.

19 new candidates – Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and Tom Glavine will be elected. Maddux will appear on at least 95 percent of the ballots, Thomas at least 85 percent and Glavine at least 80 percent...Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina will not be elected but will receive enough support to remain on future ballots...The others will appear on less than 5 percent of the ballots and will no longer be eligible for election by the writers: Moises Alou, Armando Benitez, Sean Casey, Ray Durham, Eric Gagne, Luis Gonzalez, Jacque Jones, Todd Jones, Paul LoDuca, Hideo Nomo., Kenny Rogers, Richie Sexson, J.T. Snow and Mike Timlin.

NLL’S “TOP 50 PLAYERS” INCLUDES SEVEN KNIGHTHAWKS

The Rochester Knighthawks are two-time defending champions so it was no surprise that they were well-represented on Inside Lacrosse magazine’s new list of the National Lacrosse League’s “Top 50 Players”: No. 2 Cody Jamieson...No. 9 Matt Vinc...No. 19 Dan Dawson...No. 34 Cory Vitarelli...No. 42 Sid Smith...No. 44 Johnny Powless...No. 49 Brad Self.

Former Knighthawks on the list include Shawn Evans (No. 1), John Grant Jr. (No. 5), Casey Powell (No. 28), Shawn Williams (No. 31) and Aaron Bold (No. 50).

Last weekend’s two NLL games drew crowds of 11,120 in Toronto (Rock beat Calgary 16-11) and 15,101 in Denver (Colorado beat Vancouver 13-12).