My predictions for the Super Bowl and four Wild Card match-ups this weekend:
Cincinnati at Houston (-4.5) 1/5/2013 4:30p ET NBC
My Pick: Texans 23-17
A month ago the Texans were 11-1 and the Super Bowl favorite. But after a drubbing to the Patriots and losses to the Vikings and Colts to finish the season, many are picking the Bengals for an upset.
Winners of 7 of their last 8, Cincinnati will be a good young team for many years to come but their lack of depth at receiver behind AJ Green means they will need to establish the run on a stout Texans D and JJ Watt, my vote for NFL defensive player of the year. Look for Schaub to get another big day out of Andre Johnson, and the consistent Arian Foster to find pay dirt twice.
Minnesota at Green Bay (-7.5) 1/5/2013 8:00p ET NBC
My Pick: Packers 34-20
As incredible as Adrian Peterson has been in carrying the Vikings on his back, I can’t see Green Bay not learning from last week’s loss to Minnesota, and this week they’re at home. The focus all week must have been on team tackling, so expect the Packers to limit AP to 150 yards (is that limiting?) and forcing Ponder to beat them through the air, which he won’t. Rodgers to Jordy Nelson and NFL touchdown leader James Jones all day.
Indianapolis at Baltimore (-7) – 1/6/2013 1:00p ET CBS
My Pick: Ravens 20-17
Despite their recent struggles, Baltimore has playoff experience and will welcome back Ray Lewis from a 10 week absence, in what will be his final year. Remember, the Ravens were one dropped Lee Evan TD away from the Super Bowl last year. Look for Ray Rice to get 30+ touches and Flacco and Boldin stepping up to put an end to the Colts cinderella season.
Seattle (-3) at Washington 1/6/2013 4:30p ET CBS
My Pick: Seahawks 31-23
The only road favorite in the Wild Card round, the Seahawks 4th ranked defense (YPG) will be put to the test against the Redskins 5th ranked offense in a battle of two of the league’s top rookie QB’s.
The Redskins led the league in running with the superb rookie Alfred Morris and RGIII’s legs, but I can’t see the Seahawks getting run over. And as accurate as RGIII has been, the Seahawks secondary is one of the league’s best, led by Richard Sherman and the return of Brandon Browner.
Look for the Seattle D to force multiple turnovers, and Russell Wilson will burn the Redskins for several deep balls to the strong handed Golden Tate & Sidney Rice. Then they’ll rely on their successful formula of Marshawn Lynch grinding it out to close the game. The winning QB will be the rookie of the year.
Who Will Take Super Bowl XLVII?
My Super Bowl 47 pick? Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos over the Atlanta Falcons. Taking both number one seeds is not exactly a stretch, but only twice in the past 18 years have the two top seeds met in the Super Bowl.
Matt Ryan is a beast at home (yes, they lost in Week 17 loss to the Bucs), and I can’t see anyone in the NFC threatening them, though the Seahawks could provide a scare. But with the Broncos’ offense and defense rolling to win their last 11 straight by an incredible average margin of 12.5 points, this could be the cap to Manning’s amazing comeback.