With last week’s slate of playoff games, I went 3-1 both against the spread and straight up. It is so much easier picking playoff games, which probably jinxes me to go 1-3 this week.
This week’s games feature several heavy home favorites, although home-field advantage is relatively minor when two playoff teams square off. Since 2005, home teams are 48-36 in the playoffs, for a winning percentage that is about the same as when two eventual playing teams face off in the regular season, about one game above .500.
As usual, this week’s lines are taken from ESPN.com.
New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
Saturday, January 11 at 4:35 pm ET on FOX
Line: Seahawks (-8.0)
When the Saints travelled to Seattle in Week 13, they got ran off the field by the Seahawks by a score of 34-7. It was both their worst offensive and defensive performance of the year. A team that averaged over 400 yards of total offense in every other game in 2013, the Saints were limited by the Seahawks defense to just 188 total net yards that week. The Seahawks scored points on each of their first four drives in the first half, opening up a 27-7 lead at halftime and coasting for the remainder of the game.
I don’t expect a repeat of that performance, but I think the Seahawks defense matches up too well with the Saints offense. And while the Saints pass rush is solid, it’s not that fearsome group that has been known to give Russell Wilson problems. Also if the Saints can’t score early, the Seahawks will be able to lean on their rushing attack. In order for the Saints to win this one, Drew Brees and Sean Payton need to respectively play and coach the games of their lives. I don’t think they will, but I don’t think the Seahawks are going to blow out the Saints either.
Spread Pick: Saints
Straight Pick: Seahawks
Indianapolis Colts (12-5) at New England Patriots (12-4)
Saturday, January 11 at 8:15 pm ET on CBS
Line: Patriots (-7.5)
There is something about the Patriots that I do not like. But the problem is that they are facing a relatively young and green Colts team in regards to the playoffs. If this was a team with more experience playing in January, then I think this Patriot team is ripe for an upset. They are really beat up on both sides of the ball, and the Colts have a couple of weapons that could be dangerous. But I’m not sure they have enough. T.Y. HIlton is their best option, but I suspect even with a beat-up secondary Bill Belichick will find a way to take him away. That is what he usually does, and between guys like Donald Brown, Coby Fleener, and Da’Rick Rogers, I don’t think the Colts have enough. Really this game may come down to Robert Mathis having a huge game, and/or Donald Brown showing that he can carry this Colts rushing attack. I don’t see either of those things happen, and thus have to take the Patriots to win.
Spread Pick: Patriots
Straight Pick: Patriots
San Francisco 49ers (13-4) at Carolina Panthers (12-4)
Sunday, January 12 at 1:05 pm ET on FOX
Line: Panthers (+1.0)
I don’t like Carolina at all. While they do meet the requirements I stated earlier this week in having a first-time playoff quarterback backed by a top-ranked defense, making it plausible that Newton wins his first game in January ever, I just don’t see it happening. San Francisco is just too seasoned for me to think an upstart team like Carolina with Ron Rivera at coach, Newton at quarterback, and limited weapons on offense to win this game. Steve Smith is expected to play, but won’t be 100 percent. San Francisco just has all the pieces to stop the Panthers offense. Carolina’s only hope is that like they did in Week 10, they can get after Kaepernick (six sacks) and create multiple turnovers to give their offense a few extra possessions. But I don’t see that happening. Unlike that game, Kaepernick will have options to get the ball out quickly this week with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis playing. While Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis could be an effective matchup against Davis, I don’t think Carolina has anybody that can handle Crabtree, who specializes in those shallowing crossing patterns that can help negate Carolina’s pass rush.
Spread Pick: 49ers
Straight Pick: 49ers
San Diego Chargers (10-7) at Denver Broncos (13-3)
Sunday, January 12 at 4:40 pm ET on CBS
Line: Broncos (-9.5)
San Diego has proven they have the formula for beating Denver: run the ball, get off the field on third down, and convert in the red zone. They proved this the last time the two teams faced each other in Week 15 in Denver. They won that game. Of those three things, they only did one (run the ball) well in their previous matchup in Week 10 when San Diego lost to Denver at home.
The one constant is they can run the ball with Ryan Mathews against a weak Broncos defensive line. I think they’ll be able to move the ball and score against the Broncos defense as well. The Chargers offense is clicking right now and the Broncos defense has struggled to get stops against quality offenses all year long. The main concern is can the Chargers defense play well enough to get off the field on third down and prevent the Broncos from getting out to a fast start. In Week 10, the Broncos scored touchdowns on four of their first six drives, giving them a 28-6 lead midway through the third quarter. In their Week 15 matchup, the Broncos scored touchdowns on only one of their first six drives, with the score being 24-10 in the Chargers’ favor at that same point in the game.
Peyton Manning just isn’t very good in January when he’s had a week off before. If you also factor in seasons where he basically sat for the final game of the year, Manning is 1-4 in his last five games coming off a bye going into the playoffs. But because I picked the Broncos to go to the Super Bowl, I have to pick them in a close win.
Spread Pick: Chargers
Straight Pick: Broncos