For the NFL’s wild card weekend, home field advantage and blistering cold will make a huge mark as the playoffs begin.
In Green Bay, record cold could be on tap for the visiting San Francisco 49ers. In Indianapolis, the Chiefs will have to find a way to shake Andrew Luck’s confidence at Lucas Oil Stadium. And in Philadelphia, the New Orleans Saints will have to deal with the cold as well against an Eagles team that has dominated down the stretch.
Here are this week’s NFL picks against the spread.
Chiefs (+1) at Colts (-1) — Looking back at the Colts’ 23-7 win over the Chiefs in Week 16, there was little that went right for Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium. Alex Smith was abnormally dull, getting intercepted once and sacked five times. He also had six passes broken up. It was a game worth forgetting. Take note that Andrew Luck is 2-0 against the Chiefs (1-0 against the Andy Reid coached Chiefs) and has won 13 of 16 games at home in his first two seasons. Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali (11.0 sacks) is questionable for Saturday’s game while first-round draft pick and starting tackle Eric Fisher has been ruled out.
My pick: Colts
Saints (+2.5) at Eagles (-2.5) — With all the record-breaking Peyton Manning was doing for the Denver Broncos, folks seemed to gloss over Drew Brees’ third straight 5,000-yard passing season, his conference leading 39 touchdowns and, after losing the NFC South to the Panthers, his 11-5 New Orleans Saints. This is the third time these two teams have met in the postseason, the last of which came in 2006. Sean Payton is 4-2 in the playoffs and he’s bolstered this season with the addition of a pretty good defense, ranked second overall against the pass (194.1 yards allowed per game). That’ll come in handy against the Eagles (10-6), who are ninth throwing the ball and sport the top ranked rushing attack, none of which bodes well for New Orleans on the road. Philadelphia has won seven of their last eight games, including last four at home.
My pick: Eagles
Chargers (+7) at Bengals (-7) — The last time these two teams met each other in the postseason was 1982. Thankfully, there’s much newer film to review. The Bengals beat the Chargers 17-10 in Week 13 with running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushing for 92 yards and a touchdown as Cincinnati tallied 164 yards on the ground. The Bengals defense didn’t allow San Diego into the red zone while the Chargers also hurt themselves with two lost fumbles. What’s more, this Chargers pass defense is woeful, allowing 258.7 yards per game. The Bengals will surely eye A.J. Green (98 receptions, 1,426 yards, 10 TDs) more this time around after he only got seven targets in their last encounter. And Marvin Jones (51 receptions, 712 yards, 10 TDs), who saw increased opportunities as the season bore out, will keep the Chargers honest.
My pick: Bengals
49ers (-3) at Packers (+3) — Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers (12-4) are 3-0 against the Green Bay Packers (8-7-1), which may not mean much given Sunday’s expected temperatures that will reach far below 0 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind chill. The Packers are 3-4 since 2002 when the temperatures reach 6 degrees or lower at Lambeau Field, according to Packers.com, possibly producing an epic run-oriented matchup with these two NFC powers. The 49ers, led by Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore (1,128 yards, 9 TDs), leads the third ranking rushing offense in the NFL. The 49ers also have the fourth ranked run defense, allowing just 95.9 yards per game. That’ll help against a Packers team that runs it pretty good (133.5 yards per game, 7th overall) and has a dynamic running back of its own in rookie Eddie Lacy (1,178 yards, 11 TDs). It’s the Packers’ rushing defense that worries me, allowing 125.0 yards per game.
My pick: 49ers
Week 17: 7-9
Final regular Season: 123-133