Saints (11-5) at Seahawks (7-9)
Yes, Qwest Field is an intimidating place to play, we have all heard the cliché. The crowd is about as vociferous as it gets, although I don’t know how intimidating it can be for NFL players to be booed by someone holding a double espresso skimmed milk frothy mocha latte. Yes, the Saints are making that hideous cross country trip, and yes, they are doing it on a relatively short week. However, that’s where the hurdles stop. Last time these two met (November) the Saints ripped Seattle to shreds, 34-19. Pierre Thomas, Marques Colston and young tight end Jimmy Graham represents about 300% more ‘skill’ player than Seattle has. Reggie Bush also looks like he is almost at full throttle again. The ‘Hawks, firmly in rebuilding mode, made their season intentions clear when they allowed Deoin Branch to walk to New England earlier this year. If all else fails to convince you, bear in mind there’s a 60% chance the immortal Charlie Whitehurst starts this game for Seattle.
The Pick: Saints 28-16
Jets (11-5) at Colts (10-6):
A number of factors have to be in place for a traditional under-dog to pull off an upset win on a favourites home turf. One of the most important of those is for the under-dog to sneak in and take an unexpecting favourite by surprise. The Colts (a 3 to 4 point favourite as we speak) are fairly well aware that the Jets are coming. Rex Ryan ensured this by announcing this week to all and sundry that his team would consider anything but a Superbowl win a complete disaster. This is the same idiotic walking, wobbling mouth-piece on legs that last season announced Superbowl victory parade plans to his team before the first playoff game. That worked out well. The Colts have faced adversity all season long and somehow come out smiling. There are signs they are getting healthy again. Their running game, boosted by the return of Joseph Addai, has shown real signs of life the last couple of weeks, taking the pressure off Peyton Manning and the passing game. Of course the Colts are a passing team first, and if you are considering backing the Jets this weekend, ask yourself how the Jets did recently against two other passing teams of the Colts quality, the Bears and Patriots. This looks like the kind of game where the Colts could turn home field advantage into a big win, where half way through, with the Colts up by 10 and driving with the ball, we all exclaim; ‘Wow. The Colts are really that good’.
The Pick: Colts 27-17
Ravens (12-4) at Chiefs (10-6):
Doesn’t it feel like there is just something slightly awry with this Ravens season? Something slightly off. Be it the surprisingly loose play of QB Joe Flacco or the relative inability of Ray Rice to build on last seasons success, the Ravens just look one shade off this year. Meanwhile, Kansas is quietly building a contender. Arrowhead Stadium will be rocking, the Chiefs were 7-1 there this year and their fans can make this a very uncomfortable visit for Baltimore. The Chiefs running game can make things more uncomfortable yet. Slight gut feeling on this one, the Chiefs are on the rise, the Ravens have several important players past their peak. The shock of the Wildcard weekend.
The Pick: Chiefs 28-24
Packers (10-6) at Eagles (10-6):
Green Bay at Philadelphia, or, the battle of the time challenged coaches. We should be afforded many chances to marvel at two of the ‘looser’ time managing coaches in NFL football. In fairness to both Mike McCarthy and Andy Reid, they have done well to push their squads to identical 10-6 records. McCarthy, it could be argued, has faced down the greater levels of adversity, in the form of injured players. Reid had two NFL caliber QBs at his disposal, and for my money anyway, Green Bay’s results against over .500 teams are more impressive. Green Bay’s recent ‘nearly-win’ in New England, against all the odds and with Matt Flynn at the helm, was very note worthy. They showed real team spirit, and then backed that up with a stunning dismemberment of New York a week later. A mild shock on the cards.