This is arguably the greatest weekend in professional football. We get four games of the highest quality, with the best coming off bye weeks. In this case, we have three of the four teams that reached last year's conference championship games still alive, including both top seeds.
Most pundits are picking the home favorites to advance, setting up two conference title games featuring the top two seeds in the AFC an NFC, respectively. It is hard to argue with that logic, but therein lies the beauty of the NFL playoffs. On any given Sunday (or Saturday), magic can happen.
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-7)
This is a great game. Baltimore is likely the one team New England really did not want to face. The Ravens are the only team in the Bill Belichick era to beat the Patriots twice in the postseason at Gillette Stadium. Joe Flacco is not great during the regular season, but the man shines under the bright lights. The Patriots are the better team with a host of signature wins this year. Tom Brady will put up yardage and score some points, unless Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs can get to him. It should be a lot of fun to watch.
Pick: Patriots 24, Ravens 23
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks (-10.5)
Everybody expects this to be a blowout; but it won't be. Carolina is far from a terrific team after winning the NFC South at 7-8-1, but it has won five consecutive games. Most importantly, the defense is rolling over that span, allowing the second-fewest points in December. The only team better? The Seahawks. Seattle should win this game because of a talent edge and massive home-field advantage, but the Panthers will cover.
Pick: Seahawks 17, Panthers 12
Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers (-5.5)
Without question, this is the most compelling matchup. Green Bay is a better team than Dallas and is a complete juggernaut at home. The Packers are the only team with an undefeated home record, averaging 39.8 points per game at venerable Lambeau Field. However, Aaron Rodgers is dealing with a significant calf injury and could be limited. Can Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and the rest of the boys outscore Green Bay?
Pick: Packers 38, Cowboys 31
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos (-7)
Denver is winning this game. The Broncos have two excellent pas-rushers against a Colts team that struggles to block. Additionally, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware can pin their ears back and rush all game because Indianapolis refuses to put a decent running back on the field. Peyton Manning is no longer the player he once was, but he will do more than enough to advance to a second straight AFC Championship game.
Pick: Broncos 34, Colts 23
Last Week: 3-1