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NFL INSIDER: Super Bowl dreams begin today

2013-01-04T17:30:00Z 2013-01-11T18:54:08Z NFL INSIDER: Super Bowl dreams begin todayMatt Erickson Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
January 04, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

NEW ORLEANS | You wouldn't know it walking around New Orleans, but the Saints missed the playoffs.

Maybe it has something to do with New Orleans hosting the Super Bowl this year – there's still plenty of football to be had down here, even though the beloved Saints will be watching from home.

It might also have something to do with the prevailing mentality in "The Big Easy," which is, well, taking it easy – low on stress, low on maintenance. It's hard to imagine the Bears missing the playoffs after high expectations and their fans shrugging their shoulders with a "get 'em next year" philosophy.

But here in New Orleans, yeah, the fans are bummed. But there are still Saints hats and jerseys and jackets and sweatshirts all over the place, and no one really has taken their "Who Dat?" signs out of their downtown office windows or the flags from their apartment balconies.

Instead, they're looking forward to getting Sean Payton back, because, as one Bourbon Street bouncer told me Saturday night, "That's who makes Drew Brees go. Brees needs him."

And so the Saints and their fans will wait till next year, just like the Bears. But there are 12 teams who still have dreams alive – and some of them after getting in despite rather long odds several weeks ago.

Here's a look at wild-card weekend and what we might be able to expect.

We're going to see three rookie quarterbacks this weekend, and that's fascinating.

Cincinnati (10-6) at Houston (12-4)

3:30 p.m. today, NBC. Texans -4.5 (43.5).

The skinny: There's such a contrast in this game, given that the Bengals really are one of the hottest hands in the NFL right now, and the Texans definitely faded a little down the stretch. They faded their way right out of a first-round bye by losing their last two games. This is a rematch of last season's opening-round playoff game for them both, though, and the Texans pretty much laid waste to the Bengals in Houston. Houston QB Matt Schaub knows he has to step up and make some big plays, and with the help of J.J. Watt and the Texans' defense, they'll win – not a blowout like last year, but enough to move on.

MattE’s pick: Texans 31, Bengals 27.

Minnesota (10-6) at Green Bay (11-5)

7 p.m. Saturday, NBC. Packers -7.5 (46).

The skinny: The Packers may have lost to the Vikings last week, thereby punting the Bears right out of the playoffs, but at home, Green Bay is in a much better position. The Packers will have to give Aaron Rodgers some time to throw and keep him out of trouble, which they struggled with last week. Adrian Peterson might run all day, appropriately, against the Packers, and try to slow things down. But the Packers will be very up-tempo when they're on offense and will ultimately be too much for Minny.

MattE’s pick: Packers 34, Vikings 24.

COLTS (11-5) at Baltimore (10-6)

Noon Sunday, CBS. Ravens -7 (47).

The skinny: Away from Indy, the Colts were just 4-4 this year, and the Ravens typically play very well in Baltimore. Add the playoffs to the mix with a veteran playoff QB in Joe Flacco against a rookie QB in the Colts' Andrew Luck, and it's easy to understand the Ravens being touchdown favorites. Now, the Ravens have lost four of their past five games – so they're not exactly hitting on all cylinders right now. But they rested their stars most of last week, and Ray Rice should be nice and healthy and ready to carry the load.

MattE’s pick: Ravens 28, Colts 20.

Seattle (11-5) at Washington (10-6)

3:30 p.m. Sunday, Fox. Seahawks -3 (46).

The skinny: This should be an absolute blast to watch – a pair of rookie quarterbacks who will be in the top three in Rookie of the Year balloting in the Seahawks' Russell Wilson and Redskins' Robert Griffin III. RGIII has been monstrous this year, but it's been Wilson lately helping Seattle throw up massive numbers. And Seattle's defense has been equally impressive – and that's going to cause RGIII some trouble. The Seahawks likely will try to get RB Marshawn Lynch going right away and then settle in to try to shut down the 'Skins on defense.

MattE’s pick: Seahawks 33, Redskins 26.

2012 record

Last week: 11-5 straight up, 9-7 against the spread. 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.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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