You could say the Denver Broncos were destined to the win the Super Bowl, and it would be hard to argue.
Right now, it seems pretty hard to imagine them not cruising through the next two weeks to get to the big game in February. Yes, they'll probably have to beat the Patriots to get there, but when you're a team of destiny, you don't worry about such things.
Peyton Manning missed all of last season after multiple neck surgeries. He was rather unceremoniously let go by the franchise he built into somewhat of a dynasty, the Colts, including two Super Bowl appearances and a title.
For him to even be playing this year borders on miraculous. The fact he very well could win a fifth MVP award is insane.
And guess what? If Manning can guide the Broncos to two playoff wins, guess where he'll play in the Super Bowl? Yeah – his home city of New Orleans.
I picked the Packers to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl before the season. But right now, all signs are pointing toward the hottest hand going, and that's Manning and the Broncos.
Baltimore (11-6) at Denver (13-3)
3:30 p.m. today, CBS. Broncos -9.5 (46.5).
The skinny: Remember when the Broncos were 2-3? It's OK if you don't. Eleven consecutive wins will do that. At this point, it's impossible to pick against Denver. Manning has won nine consecutive games against Baltimore. He hasn't played well against them, necessarily, but he has found ways to win. I think this time will be different, and he'll be prepared to be off-the-charts good the way he has been this season. The Ravens being 4-4 on the road and having to travel won't help their cause.
MattE’s pick: Broncos 31, Ravens 20.
Green Bay (12-5) at San Francisco (11-4-1)
7 p.m. today, Fox. 49ers -3 (45).
The skinny: It's a rematch of the regular-season opener for these two teams, but things are much different now than then. The Packers haven't traveled well – it's been their one weakness this year, going just 4-4 away from Lambeau Field. But if you ask me to pick between Aaron Rodgers and Colin Kaepernick, you know where I'm going. The Packers will get after Kaepernick, and though the Niners will do the same with Rodgers, he's got the playoff savvy to persevere.
MattE’s pick: Packers 27, 49ers 20.
Seattle (12-5) at Atlanta (13-3)
Noon Sunday, Fox. Falcons -2.5 (46).
The skinny: Maybe the most competitive game of the weekend will find out whether or not the Seahawks can travel all the way across the country in one of the longest commutes in the NFL – and upset one of the league's best home teams. All five of Seattle's losses have come on the road, so they know a thing or two about home dominance. The Falcons' one home loss came in Week 17 when nothing else mattered for them. But Atlanta has struggled in the postseason, despite regular-season success in the past. Seattle seems to have stumbled on a fantastic formula down the home stretch. The Seahawks will neutralize any run game the Falcons might bring to the table and will focus on Matt Ryan, who has never won a playoff game and who had to throw the ball 38 times a game this season. Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch will guide Seattle offensively, and I think this is a rather easy upset pick.
MattE’s pick: Seahawks 26, Falcons 17.
Houston (13-4) at New England (12-4)
3:30 p.m. Sunday, CBS. Patriots -9.5 (47.5).
The skinny: The Texans' late stumbles all started when the Patriots destroyed them in December. That, of course, helps lead to such a large line in favor of New England. These two teams are about even on defense, but it's the Pats' offense that really has the edge here. If the Texans want a shot at moving on, they'll have to get Arian Foster going on the ground. I think they'll establish him early, and then work like crazy to get after Tom Brady and try to force him into some mistakes through the air – and he's prone to making them. The Patriots will move on, but it's not going to be as easy as last time.
MattE’s pick: Patriots 31, Texans 27.
Last week: 4-0 straight up, 3-1 against the spread.
Regular season: 163-92-1 (.639) straight up, 134-119-3 (.530) against the spread.
Matt Erickson is an award-winning journalist whose NFL picks have appeared in The Times for 10 seasons. He also covers mixed martial arts for The Times, USA Today and is the assistant editor of MMAjunkie.com.