After a looooooong bye week, the San Francisco 49ers return to action in the Divisional Round of the 2013 NFL playoffs. The 49ers will host the Green Bay Packers, and the line has stuck pretty close all week. The 49ers opened as three point favorites, and we've seen only some slight changes late in the week as the 49ers are now sitting at 2 1/2 points in a few locations.
I suppose I could pick based on the three points, but I'll take the 2 1/2 like any smart gambler would. While this game does present plenty of concerns, if the 49ers can play their kind of game, it is a very winnable game. They need to win the turnover battle, and they need to put together a strong rushing effort. Do those two things, and I think they have a very good chance of winning this game. Turnovers and the ground game do not account for everything, but those are two things the 49ers do very well.
I do think the 49ers can cover, but I also expect this to be a very close game. Past playoff games have no real bearing on this game, but it's still worth noting that the 49ers last four home playoff games have been decided by a total of 11 points. That covers last year's NFC Championship Game against the Giants and Division Round matchup against the Saints, the 2002 one point win over the Giants, and The Catch II in 1998.
These two teams are very evenly matched, which is why the line was set at three, and why the line has not changed much this week. A blowout certainly could happen because nothing can account for all the unexpected aspects of the game. But, if the two teams play as expected, we could be in for a highly entertaining game. You know my pick:
San Francisco 49ers (-2.5) vs. Green Bay Packers - 49ers cover
The rest of the weekend provides compelling matchups, although I have highest hopes for 49ers-Packers, and not just because of my rooting interest.
The Ravens will be playing with some inspiration behind Ray Lewis, so I suppose they could spring the upset in Denver. Count me among the folks who is not holding their breath for that. I just don't see that happening. The Broncos went into Baltimore in Week 15 and had their way with the Ravens. Baltimore will likely be better prepared this week, but I don't think it will do them a whole lot of good. The Broncos are playing some great football. They could start slow coming off the bye, but even in that case I think they still pull away strong. I hope I'm wrong about this because Denver would be an incredibly tough Super Bowl opponent, but I don't see Baltimore even covering in this one.
I know plenty of people look at the Seahawks performance in Washington and think they're a bit overrated. They cannot afford to come out slow against the Falcons, but I remain unsold on the Falcons. They did win 13 games, and that is a solid achievement no matter who is on the schedule. However, now that we are at the big-boy part of the season, I am not so sold on them. The Seahawks bring a solid offense and a better defense to the table. I think they jump out early and cruise to a win.
I am completely sold on the top two seeds in the AFC. Houston went from No. 1 to No. 3 quickly, and even still I don't think home field would have mattered. Had the Texans held on to the top seed, they and the Falcons would have struck me as the weakest pair of top seeds in some time. They're good football teams, but there is something that is just missing when I look at them in the playoffs. The Texans can spring an upset with a huge day from Arian Foster, but I just don't see it happening. I don't think the Texans defense will do enough to contain New England, and I don't think the Texans offense will be able to keep pace with the Patriots. Maybe I'm over-valuing the Patriots right now, but I'm just not feeling Houston.