NFL INSIDER: Favorites looking good for trips to New Orleans

2013-01-18T19:15:00Z 2013-02-06T05:10:04Z NFL INSIDER: Favorites looking good for trips to New OrleansMatt Erickson Times Correspondent
January 18, 2013 7:15 pm  • 

As I sat in Oklahoma City for my day job watching people punch and kick and twist each others' limbs inside a cage, I kept an eye on last Saturday's games.

And despite my years and years of not training, I would have loved to have been in there getting pounded on instead of watching the Broncos and Packers crushing me.

Peyton Manning's ill-timed interception in overtime – and an early one that was not really on him, but cost Denver a TD – and some outrageously bad defense toward the end of regulation completely changed the course of the AFC playoffs.

The Patriots now get to play the Ravens at home instead of going on the road to Denver – and the Ravens are an extra 15 minutes' worth of banged up. That bodes well – very well – for New England to get back to the Super Bowl, where it would no doubt be favored, again, over either NFC team.

The Niners made the Packers look absolutely silly last week thanks to Colin Kaepernick. And if there was ever any doubt that Jim Harbaugh knew what he was doing when he went to Kaepernick instead of Alex Smith, well – question answered.

The Falcons struggle at times defensively, and that could create big problems against San Francisco. They're already dealing with someone who now holds the record for the most rushing yards by a QB in a game – and in the playoffs, no less. If they can't tackle him, look out.

San Francisco (12-4-1) at Atlanta (14-3)

2 p.m. Sunday, Fox. 49ers -4 (48.5).

The skinny: There's no doubt the 49ers will try to get behind Colin Kaepernick and let him run them right to New Orleans. The Falcons are outstanding at home, and had that amazing miracle win over Seattle after tanking late to give them momentum. But what the Niners did to the Packers was so convincing that they can go on the road against one of the best home teams in the league – and be 4-point favorites.

MattE’s pick: 49ers 31, Falcons 23.

Baltimore (12-6) at New England (13-4)

5:30 p.m. Sunday, CBS. Patriots -7.5 (51.5).

The skinny: It's a rematch from last season's AFC Championship game, which the Patriots survived in a close one. It won't be so close this year. The Pats put up 41 points against a tough Houston defense last week, and should be able to ride Tom Brady and Steven Ridley to another rout into the Super Bowl. Ravens QB Joe Flacco outplayed Brady in the playoffs last season, but things feel different this time around.

MattE’s pick: Patriots 37, Ravens 24.

2012 record

Last week: 1-3 straight up, 1-3 against the spread.

Playoffs: 5-3 straight up, 4-4 against the spread.

Regular season: 163-92-1 (.639) straight up, 134-119-3 (.530) against the spread.

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