Washington (11-6) at Seattle (13-3): Easily the biggest mismatch of this round. The Redskins won at Tampa Bay last weekend despite managing only 120 yards of total offense, a record low for a team winning a playoff game. They won't be as lucky this time. Yes, the Redskins play good defense, but Seattle's offense is much better than Tampa Bay's. The Redskins beat Seattle, 20-17, in the regular season when Josh Brown missed a late field goal attempt, but it won't come down to a field goal this time. Shaun Alexander will have another big day. Seattle, 31-10.
New England (11-6) at Denver (13-3): If Washington-Seattle is the worst matchup of the weekend, this is the best. All we keep hearing about is how nobody wants to play the Patriots, and there's some validity to that because Tom Brady is playing great football and the defense is peaking. But the truth remains that New England hasn't faced a potent offense in a long, long time. Because of its balance, Denver has just that. The Broncos beat New England, 28-20, in the regular season in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score might indicate. It's very, very difficult to pick against New England because of its recent track record, but we're thinking that maybe, just maybe, the Patriots are being a tad overrated right now and the Broncos will demonstrate that. Denver, 24-21.
Sunday, January 15
Pittsburgh (12-5) at Indianapolis (13-3): A month ago, few thought the Colts were beatable in the AFC playoffs, but that changed after two consecutive losses and the tragedy involving the death of Tony Dungy's son. Now, there are a lot of questions surrounding the Colts, most notably, can they turn it back on after coasting for a month? The Steelers, meanwhile, come in on a roll after winning their last four in the regular season and then winning at Cincinnati in the wild-card playoffs last weekend. The Steelers have the type of offense -- meaning a physical running game -- that could give the Colts problems and the Pittsburgh defense actually contained Peyton Manning and Co. in that Monday night game after the 80-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Harrison on the first play of the game. Bottom line: This should be a close game, but we've got to go with the home team. Indianapolis, 20-16.
Carolina (12-5) at Chicago (11-5): Great defense gave Chicago the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and they totally smothered the Panthers when the teams met in the regular season. But Carolina is playing very good defense as well these days and the Panthers simply have more weapons on offense to break open a defensive struggle. There won't be many points scored in this one, but we're thinking Carolina will do most of the scoring. Carolina, 17-7.
Last week's record: 3-1
Season record: 180-80