Jazz: The (post) season of .500 continues, I’m afraid. The Packers game went as expected (sorry, Green Bay) but my fears about the zombie that is New England came to pass. Kansas City should have won that game but the Pats just dominated them. That adds up to a 3-3 record for me thus far in the post season and inspires some real questions about one of the games today. Still, it is what it is and we have a couple more playoff contests to deal with.
Ed: It’s a brisk -10 out here in Minnesota, with a wind chill of -34. The NFL should be very, very grateful that the Vikings blew a chip-shot field goal last week to avoid coming to the Great Frozen North. I went 1-1 yesterday to run my playoff record to 4-2, which isn’t exactly hot but isn’t -10 either. I was actually rooting for the Packers yesterday (even though I had picked the Cardinals) and thought they had to win after that Hail Mary TD at the end of regulation. Larry Fitzgerald had other ideas. Great game. Let’s hope we have a couple more of those today.
Jazz: The Seahawks visit the Panthers (1:05 pm, FOX) and Vegas is sticking with Carolina as a slim, 2.5 point favorite, which could basically just come down to home field advantage. There’s something to be said for that argument since Seattle was one of the fifteen teams that the Panthers beat in their remarkable season. But Seattle has been to this rodeo before and they’ve been awesome on the road. Their defense has only given up a single touchdown during the last six away games. Carolina looks stronger on offense and Seattle will have to find a way to contain tight end Greg Olsen, but it seems to come down to offense vs. defense here for a pick and I usually side with the defensive side. I’ll go with the upset and take the Seahawks in a close, 20-17 victory, possibly even in overtime.
Ed: Seattle has a great defense, #2 in the league, but so does Carolina, 6th-ranked. Seattle’s offense is ranked 4th and Carolina’s 11th, but the Panthers average about five more points a game over the Seahawks. Seattle gets Marshawn Lynch back today in a warmer-weather site, and that might make the Seattle offense a little more capable than they looked last week in Minnesota against the 13th-ranked defense of the Vikings. Sometimes having a week off dulls a team, but I doubt that will be the case with Cam Newton, who has been ebullient all season. I’ll take the same score as Jazz but the other way around, 20-17 Panthers.
Jazz: Now for the biggie, at least as far as I’m concerned, and obviously for Ed. The Steelers are on the road in Denver to face the Broncos. (4:40 pm, CBS) I’m mostly invested in this game because the winner will be the team with the last chance to stop the gods forsaken Patriots before they get to the Superbowl yet again. Pittsburgh is the sentimental favorite since I’d rather see them win it all if the Jets can’t go to the show. But the betting line has Denver up by more than a touchdown for several reasons. Big Ben is playing hurt, as is DeAngelo Williams, with Antonio Brown riding the bench. Denver is well rested and healthy with all of their starters back on the line. While it pains me to do it, I’m going to have to go with the Broncos 28-17.
Ed: Let’s face it — I can rationalize my choice all I want, but in the end I’m picking the Steelers because I never pick against them. Today is one of those days where it’s more on loyalty than anything else. However, Peyton Manning doesn’t do well in cold playoff environments; as ESPN points out this morning, the future Hall of Famer is 0-5 in postseason starts when the temperature drops below 40 degrees. This will be Manning’s first start in two months, and he’s only played part of a half since then. It’s a thin reed, but I’ll grasp it and predict a 28-23 win for the Steelers today. Martavis Bryant has to step it up big time, but expect to see a lot of Heath Miller with Big Ben’s sore shoulder.