Look for home teams to advance on Divisional weekend

Really, Colts? You pull off one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history to beat the Chiefs but can’t cover that miniscule 1.5-point spread? That one point was the difference in a respectable 2-1-1 record against the spread for my Wild Card weekend picks, as opposed to the 1-2-1 it turned out to be. (I won’t make an excuse that the Colts were actually a 2-point underdog by kickoff just to pad my stats. I’ll take my loss like a man … But you could maybe keep it in mind).

Other than that, we won with the Chargers +7 (won outright, 27-10), lost with the Eagles -2.5 (lost 26-24) and pushed with the Packers +3 (lost 23-20).

It was a wild weekend to say the least. Now just eight teams remain in the hunt, four of them coming off a bye week. Three of those rested squads are heavy home favorites, while one hosts the league’s hottest team as a home underdog. Let’s preview this week’s four games and determine who may be playing for a Super Bowl berth next week.

New Orleans (+8) at Seattle (11:35 a.m., Saturday, FOX) – In a rematch of one of the biggest postseason upsets to date, the Saints head to the unfriendly confines of CenturyLink Field. New Orleans waltzed into Seattle in the first round of 2011 as defending Super Bowl champs and an 11.5-point road favorite. Seattle was dubbed the worst playoff team ever before that game, having won the NFC West with a 7-9 record. But the Seahawks pulled out a 41-36 win that included the now legendary 67-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch – the birth of “Beast Mode.”

The Saints proved they could win a road playoff game last week in Philadelphia, but Seattle is a different animal than Philly. While the Seahawks haven’t been quite as dominant down the stretch as they were at times this season, perhaps the Week 16 loss to the Cardinals made them realize they can’t simply take the field and expect to win at home. But I do expect Seattle to come out ready, willing and able to dominate.

The Pick: Seahawks 30, Saints 16

Indianapolis (+7) at New England (3:15, Saturday, CBS) – It certainly feels like the Colts and Patriots always cross paths in January, but the two haven’t met in the playoffs since 2007. The Pats have won the past three meetings in the regular season, hanging 59 points on the Colts last year. Indy is coming off that 28-point comeback win over Kansas City, so it’s difficult to gauge whether they have momentum, or whether they’re now just the happy-to-be-there team.

Despite a 12-4 record, this is not the dominant Patriots team we’re used to seeing. They did go 8-0 at home, but four of those wins were by three points or fewer. In fact, six of their 12 wins were by a field goal or less. Going against Tom Brady is never comfortable, but the Colts have shown the ability to come back and the Pats haven’t displayed the ability to separate. A close game in prime time could be in store.

The Pick: Patriots 28, Colts 24

San Francisco (-1) at Carolina (8 a.m., Sunday, FOX) – Riding a seven-game win streak, the 49ers are the hottest team in the NFL. That’s evident by their status as a rare road favorite in the Divisional Round. Last week’s win over Green Bay at Lambeau Field kept the Niners rolling along and looking like a legitimate Super Bowl threat.

Despite the momentum they’ve accumulated, I was a little surprised to see San Francisco favored in this matchup. The Panthers won 11 of their final 12 games of the season, which included a 10-9 win over the Niners on Nov. 10 in San Francisco. No, the Niners did not have Michael Crabtree at that point of the season, but they had scored at least 30 points in five straight games. Yet Carolina was able to hold them to a mere 151 total yards of offense, including just 91 passing yards by Colin Kaepernick. That seems almost impossible to duplicate, but I think the Panthers are being somewhat overlooked and could be ready to make a statement.

The Pick: Panthers 19, 49ers 17

San Diego (+8.5) at Denver (11:40 a.m., Sunday, CBS) – The Chargers are like that contestant on a season of “Survivor” who doesn’t really win any challenges, doesn’t create any drama and never seems like a threat, only to be at tribal council five weeks in as everyone wonders “wait, how are they still here?” Well after beating the Bengals on the road last week, San Diego now heads to Mile High Stadium, where they’ve already won this season. The Chargers’ 27-20 win in Week 15 in Denver was the only home game the Broncos lost all year, so should the Broncos and Peyton Manning be concerned about San Diego doing it again?

Yes and no. These are two good division rivals, usually a recipe for a close game. We now know the Chargers were better than their 9-7 regular season. They had some brutal losses and probably more resemble an 11-win team. But the Broncos were without wide receiver Wes Welker for the teams’ previous meeting. Welker is a game changer for Manning’s offense. Despite missing the last three full games, Welker was second on the team in third-down receptions (18) for the season (Demaryius Thomas, 19). He’s Manning’s safety net and allows the guys on the outside – namely Thomas and Eric Decker – to make big plays down the field. A healthy Welker could be the difference this time around.

The Pick: Broncos 34, Chargers 23


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