I must admit, I went into the Wild Card Round and screwed the pooch. That pretty much sums up a 1-3 week picking winners and 1-2-1 picking against the spread. As you'll see, the events of the Wild Card Round have me making one serious alteration to which team I see playing for the AFC crown.
The difference is that I anticipated an unworthy Cincinnati Bengals team holding serve at home. I was also basing my selection of the Patriots going to the Super Bowl on them hosting the Bengals. Now that the Colts were able to win, coming all the way back from a 38-10 deficit to squeak out that 45-44 victory against Kansas City Jan. 4, I am not nearly as sure that New England will survive.
PICKING THE WINNERS
New Orleans at Seattle
Indianapolis at New England
San Francisco at Carolina
San Diego at Denver
*winners in bold
PICKING AGAINST THE SPREAD
New Orleans at Seattle -7.5
I heard a conversation between broadcasters Phil Simms and Cris Collinsworth on Showtime's "Inside the NFL" pertaining to this game. Simms laid out his doubts about Saints tight end Jimmy Graham being able to play at the level they need him to play at because of injuries to his leg and elbow. Collinsworth didn't dispute that assessment. Although I love New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, unless Graham plays at the highest possible level, the Seahawks should dominate during this game.
Prediction: Seattle 27, New Orleans 16
Indianapolis at New England -7
I saw the Patriots in person last season, when the Ravens visited Foxborough, Mass., for the AFC Championship Game, and I am not really sold on them having a huge home-field advantage. One of the things about this game is it matches a team in the Colts that needed to win the last few weeks. And that need, in turn, fueled a positive and uplifting momentum. Indianapolis' comeback from a 28-point deficit was something to see. I think the Colts have a huge emotional edge going into this game. If they can figure a way to knock out New England wide receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, the game should turn in their favor. It's up to Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano to give defensive back Darius Butler some help against the middle. Quarterback Andrew Luck doesn't need much luck with his capabilities.
Prediction: Indianapolis 27, New England 24
San Francisco -1 at Carolina
Sometimes the team that loses the Super Bowl one year comes back the next with a cold heart and firm resolve to finish the job. The 49ers, who are currently on a six-game winning streak, have looked more and more like that team of late, which is a far cry from when they were standing at 6-4 after the first 10 games. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is playing steady, unspectacular football. But his late drive with the game tied at freezing Lambeau Field was the stuff of a hard-edged veteran. Make no mistake -- the Panthers have a hugely talented football team. I just think they need the loss here to forge their resolve for a big run during the 2014 season.
Prediction: San Francisco 29, Carolina 15
San Diego at Denver -9.5
This game could end up being the weekend's best from a competitive standpoint. It will be the third matchup of the season for these two teams. Nothing the Broncos try to do should come as any big surprise to Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano. To date, San Diego has lost to Denver by scores of 28-20, at home Nov. 10, and 27-20, in Denver Dec. 12. The Chargers were fortunate in going up against mistake-prone Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton Jan. 5. They just think they have the mojo. Conversely, the Broncos luck out that the climate won't be extremely cold -- probably in the high 30s around game time. It looks as if the Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning will survive and move on to play a home game against the winner of the Jan. 11 matchup between the Colts and Patriots.
Prediction: Denver 30, San Diego 23