All year long in the NFL, we're told just how important it is to get home-field advantage in the playoffs, right?
Right. Heck, even if you have to play in the wild-card round, you want that home game. The Packers get one by virtue of winning the NFC North to be a division champion.
So at 8-7-1, the Packers get a home game by winning the second weakest division in the NFL. And the poor 49ers, at 12-4, have to travel to what will be a frigid Lambeau Field to play on the road – because they finished second in the best division in the league to the team that tied for the NFL's best record.
How is this fair, again? Obviously it's not. But those are the rules, and they're rules that the Packers probably can take advantage of Sunday.
The Saints also have the misfortune of having to go on the road against a team with a worse record, but I think they can pull it off, despite never having won on the road in the postseason.
The reality is, the NFL needs to think about changing its playoff format – but tradition almost always will hold sway. This week, I think home-field advantage works out well for the Bengals and Packers, but won't hold up for the Colts and Saints. But when you get down to it, you usually pick the better team to win. So I'm picking three outright upsets and a fourth against the number. Should be an interesting start to the postseason.
Kansas City (11-5) at COLTS (11-5)
3:35 p.m. Saturday, NBC. Colts -1.5 (46.5).
The skinny: There are a few things working in the Colts' favor. First, they went to Kansas City two weeks ago and won on the road in an upset. Secondly, the Chiefs haven't played well down the stretch, going 2-5 to close the season. And third, the Colts' defense has been outstanding the last three weeks. I'm throwing out the good defense part, as two of those three games came against the Jags and Texans. The Chiefs did indeed lay an egg at home against the Colts, but that should have no bearing this week. Defensively, the Chiefs could give Andrew Luck some fits, and this feels like the type of game that K.C. could take charge of early and go on cruise control, surprising plenty of people in Indy.
MattE’s pick: Chiefs 27, Colts 20.
New Orleans (11-5) at Philadelphia (10-6)
7:10 p.m. Saturday, NBC. Eagles -2.5 (54).
The skinny: If the Saints are going to buck the trend of home-field advantage in the playoffs, they'll have to snap out of a road funk to do it. They've dropped five of their last six away from New Orleans, and that's a problem. But working in the Saints' favor is quarterback Drew Brees who has all kinds of big-game experience, and coach Sean Payton. Although Nick Foles has been masterful at QB for the Eagles, this seems like the type of game that Philly will want to run plenty and slow things down. No matter, though – Brees can keep up and catch up if he has to and snap his team's 0-5 career record on the road in the postseason.
MattE’s pick: Saints 29, Eagles 26.
San Diego (9-7) at Cincinnati (11-5)
12:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS. Bengals -7 (47).
The skinny: The Bengals are averaging 42 points per game in their last five games at home. That's just crazy. If QB Andy Dalton can limit his mistakes – he threw four interceptions against Baltimore on Sunday – he should be able to get Cincy into the next round. But it seems a little crazy to me that the Bengals are a touchdown favorite against the Bolts. I think it's closer than that, and I think Philip Rivers will keep the Chargers close in a shootout.
MattE’s pick: Bengals 37, Chargers 34.
San Francisco (12-4) at Green Bay (8-7-1)
3:40 p.m. Sunday, Fox. 49ers -3 (46.5).
The skinny: Pretty amazing rematch to close out the weekend. Remember last year when Colin Kaepernick went wild running all over the Packers? The bad news for Green Bay is that its defense has trouble with the run still. Expect the Niners to run … a lot. But if the Packers can find a way to keep up offensively and get just a few stops on defense, this game should be there for them to win late. The temps are supposed to be in the 50-below range with the wind chill. Think about that for a second. The Packers are made for such weather, and I like them in an upset led by Aaron Rodgers – and a surprisingly stout defense late.
MattE’s pick: Packers 24, 49ers 20.
Last week: 15-1 straight up, 8-8 against the spread. Regular season: 165-90-1 (.647) straight up, 131-115-10 (.533) against the spread.