They may bore most football fans, but I love field goals. Especially that one moment where the two referees under the goalposts eye each other, ensuring that they're making the right call as the ball sails over their heads.

Good? No good? Let's make sure we're on the same page, or we'll look like incompetent zebras.

Maybe Home Depot (NYSE:HD) and Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) should go to officiating school. While Lowe's is crossing its hands to make the "no good" signal, Home Depot is reaching for the sky.

A slow and steady year ahead
Lowe's expansion plans for 2009, announced this morning, call for just 75-85 new stores. That's far less than the roughly 120 stores that the company will open this year. I believe this is the right approach, given uncertain demand in the moribund housing industry and the stingy lending practices that will likely delay home makeovers.

Ahead of an annual conference with analysts and investors today, the home-improvement superstore is upbeat about its future. Still, Lowe's prefers to point to long-term goals, like doubling its profitability over five years, or its goal of bouncing back after the current housing cycle runs its course.

No deadlines. No false hope.

Meanwhile, in the orange corner ...
Stack that up against Home Depot CEO Frank Blake's decision to point to the fence while speaking at a Goldman Sachs retail conference this month.

"We don't think we're at the bottom yet, but we think you can see it from here," he said, pointing out that the market will remain "under pressure certainly through the rest of this year and probably into the beginning part of 2009."

See the difference? Home Depot is getting investors pumped with the "light at the end of the tunnel" rhetoric, but Lowe's is being realistic. You see the practicality in Lowe's profit guidance this morning. The company aims to earn between $1.40 a share and $1.65 a share next year, essentially flattening the tighter $1.48-to-$1.56-per-share range it expects for 2008.

Home Depot's comments resembled those of Toll Brothers (NYSE:TOL) CEO Robert Toll, who said that "we may be seeing a floor" during his quarterly conference call, nearly two years ago. We're not even close to that floor today.

Sure, Home Depot and Lowe's will bounce back before real estate developers do. However, the same can be said for premium bedding specialists like Tempur-Pedic (NYSE:TPX) and Select Comfort (NASDAQ:SCSS), or furniture specialists like Hooker Furniture (NASDAQ:HOFT) and Ethan Allen (NYSE:ETH).

Any recovery for these companies hinges on getting the economy on track. In that light, Lowe's made the right call. Home Depot, get your arms down -- when the economy's still kicking with a bum leg, there's no way that call can be good. 

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has nothing against orange aprons, as long as they don't make him feel itchy. Hdoes not own shares in any of the stocks in this story, save for Select Comfort. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.