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NFL divisional playoff round picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff  January 10, 2014 01:40 PM

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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will have to do much better in his second bout with the Carolina Panthers. (Mike Roemer / AP photo)

By Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff

Without the chilling cold to consider in cities like Seattle and Carolina this weekend, as well more frosty climates like New England and Denver, the weather will be much less of a factor in this weekend’s NFL divisional playoff games than it was last week in the wild card round.

The San Francisco 49ers marched into the tundra of Green Bay, with Colin Kaepernick sleeveless and gloveless, and took down the Packers. New Orleans, on the road and outside of a dome, whipped the Philadelphia Eagles. And San Diego, far from their hometown climate, beat the favored Cincinnati Bengals.

The results led us to believe that each team, particular those that advanced, are impervious to the conditions.

What hasn’t changed is the predominantly strong favor home teams have this weekend and how that has affected the point spreads. It makes for a tough week in which those teams that we expect to win, we do not necessarily expect to cover.

Here are this week’s picks with that in mind:

Saints (+8) at Seahawks (-8) — The Seahawks simply dominated the Saints the last time they played, a 34-7 win on “Monday Night Football” in Week 13. The Seahawks are 15-1 at home the past two seasons and have won their past five playoff games at home. That doesn’t bode well for a Saints team that won its first postseason road game under Sean Payton last week. The oppressive noise of CenturyLink field will be more than advantageous for Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and the league’s No. 1 ranked defense.
My pick: Seahawks

Colts (+7.5) at Patriots (-7.5) —The Patriots are remarkably stout at home, providing an enormous challenge for the Colts when traveling to Foxborough. New England is 10-3 at Gillette Stadium in the postseason and 27-12 at home in the playoffs overall. That plays a huge role when you add in the fact the Patriots are 10-6 in the AFC divisional round and 7-2 when playing that game at home. Bill Belichick’s Patriots and the Colts, led by head coach Chuck Pagano, have only faced each other once, last season in a 59-24 drubbing at Gillette Stadium. It was Andrew Luck’s 10th start. We expect Luck to be much improved from then, when he tossed three interceptions. We also expect him to be much improved from last week’s playoff win over the Kansas City Chiefs, another three-interception performance. The Colts, with a league-low 14 giveaways in the regular season, have played 7 games in which the outcome was determined by the final possession. They went 6-1 in those game and are a league best 15-2 over the past two seasons under Pagano. But I don’t think they’ll win this one. There’s too much experience and determination on the Patriots’ front to allow someone like T.Y. Hilton, as talented as he is, to get behind them in the secondary down the stretch. But I do think Indy will cover.
My pick: Colts

49ers (-3) at Panthers (+3) —Last time these teams faced each other, a 10-9 win for the Carolina Panthers in Week 10, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for only 91 yards on 11 of 22 passing, including an interception. He was sacked six times. The hard fought defensive game, which could be considered one of the Panthers’ marquee wins, still came without the Carolina defense having to deal with tight end Vernon Davis, who left the encounter with a concussion. Rookie safety Eric Reid, a big part of the 49ers’ secondary, also had to leave the game after being concussed. Which makes this new matchup intriguing, especially considering how Kaepernick has shown more growth as the season has progressed, all the way through last week’s 23-20 win over the Green Bay Packers. He was 3 of 6 passing on the team’s game-winning drive, running for 11 yards as well to help get San Francisco into field goal range for Phil Dawson. This is Panthers head coach Ron Rivera’s first playoff game, as it is for Cam Newton. The Panthers won 11 of their last 12 games and were 7-1 at home, winning the last seven. But Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers are 2-0 on the road in the postseason. This could swing either way. But my gut is set on the 49ers having a marginally better performance than they did in Week 10.
My pick: 49ers

Chargers (+9) at Broncos (-9) —It’s really tough to think that the San Diego Chargers, after splitting their season series with Denver Broncos, will still upset the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. But given the spread, at 9 points in favor of Denver on Friday, you have to consider that both of their regular season matchups were settled by eight points or less. And, more specifically, that despite playing Peyton Manning (5,477 yards, 55 touchdowns, 10 INTs), the veteran quarterback is 9-11 in the postseason and 3-5 in divisional playoff matchups. The Chargers took the Week 15 matchup with Denver, 27-20, and the Broncos took the Week 10 matchup, 28-20. Manning will have back Wes Welker, who did not play in the Broncos’ loss to San Diego on Dec. 12 after suffering from a concussion. He’s been a full participant in practice this week. All of which points to a Denver victory. But I doubt they can cover a playoff spread this large, even at full strength.
My pick: Chargers

Postseason: 2-2
Final regular Season: 123-133

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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