The last great football weekend of the season brings a sad reality that the Winter Doldrums are lurking just a few weeks away. Until then, home teams in CAPS.
New Orleans (-3.5) over SAN FRANCISCO
I don't care that this game is outdoors. I don't care that this game is on grass. I don't care that the playing surface at Candlestick Park is often less than optimal. I don't care that the 49ers had a bye week. I don't care how good San Fran's defense is. I don't care how susceptible to the run the Saints' defense can be. The Saints are the better team in this game. If they were the typical dome team who can't run the ball or play in elements (although, for the record, 62 degrees and sunny in the Bay Area for game time), that would be one thing. But New Orleans can run the ball almost as well as they throw it, and you can't tell me the Saints are being held under 24 points in this game. You could line the '76 Steelers up against this Saints offense and they'd still manage to get into the mid-twenties. They'd probably even get 21 off of the '85 Bears. The 49ers have had a great year, but if they ask Alex Smith to match touchdowns with Drew Brees, that's just asking too much. Saints, 24-16.
Denver (+13.5) over NEW ENGLAND
It's Christ against the anti-Christ in Tim Tebow vs. Bill Belichick and the evil-machine Patriots. These teams met in Week 15 in Denver, a game that the Broncos controlled before turning the ball over to the Patriots and their automatic-30-point offense like it was a bodily function. The weather will be cold but clear in Foxborough, which should allow the Pats' passing game to operate cleanly, albeit against a sturdy Broncos defense that may keep New England from reaching their usual totals of points and yardage. No one in the world will expect the Denver offense to watch wits with that of New England, but the Patriots defense is beyond soft and will allow Tebow to do enough of the Lord's Work up and down the field the keep this game competitive. Patriots, 28-17.
BALTIMORE (-7.5) over Houston
The Texans have made their mark and won their opening playoff game, which is all anyone could have asked of them. Meanwhile, the Ravens, who are 8-0 at home this year, have been sitting back and licking their chops in preparation for this game. More than a touchdown is a lot of points to give up with a Baltimore team that doesn't score like the Saints, Patriots, or Packers do. However, Ray Rice should be able to find enough holes in the Houston defense, and as long as the Ravens merely play their game they should minimize any threat presented by the Texans. If the Ravens are meant to go anywhere at all this year, they win this game handily. Ravens, 20-10.
GREEN BAY (-7.5) over NY Giants
This was the toughest game of the week to make a selection on. The Giants have all the momentum you could possibly want, while the Packers have been the league's world-beaters all season. Much has been made of the Green Bay defense and its susceptibility to a pounding running game and big plays over the top. However, that only occurs when the Packers have a big lead or if the opponent has a lead that they are trying to grind out. I don't put too much stock into the layoff that Aaron Rodgers and his offense have had since clinching the NFC's top seed. What I do put stock into is the return of Greg Jennings to the Pack's already-lethal passing game. Eli Manning will get the ball down the field plenty to his deep WR corps, leaving it up to the Green Bay defense to force a mistake or two (paging Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson) in order to make the difference. Can the Giants come up with enough big plays on defense to keep themselves in the game? If their front four can get to Rodgers enough, then they certainly can. However, I think that the Packers will be ready for the challenge presented by the Giants' pass rush and will adjust their attack accordingly. Packers, 38-28.
Last Week: 2-2-0