New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks (-7.5)
Straight up, this is an easy pick. The Saints have played the Seahawks on the road just twice in Pete Carroll's tenure, and both times the Saints lost. Once in a close, hard-fought playoff game featuring one of the best runs to ever occur in a playoff game. Once in a blowout this past year. The Seahawks are almost certainly winning.
Making matters worse for the Saints is the fact that they're missing Kenny Vaccaro and possibly Keenan Lewis, too, leaving their secondary ripe for the picking. Of course, Russell Wilson has been a bit up-and-down this season and it remains to be seen whether he's ready to do any of that picking. Still, given the earlier blowout loss the Saints suffered in Seattle, I'm pretty comfortable picking the Seahawks to beat the spread.
Colts at Patriots and we don't have Peyton Manning. I feel a little robbed. The Colts are a weird team this year, though. They've alternated blowout losses with great games, and managed one of the biggest postseason comebacks in NFL history last week. But to get the opportunity to do that, they first had to play some horrid football for one half against the Kansas City Chiefs.
But then, the Patriots aren't exactly dominant themselves. They've had to come back from large deficits multiple times, and suffered a few odd losses. Not to mention that without any weapons, Tom Brady looks a little like Matt Cassel.
Did the Colts just get hot at the right time? I don't think so. You can't consistently win games if you need 30-point comebacks, and I could easily see a blowout loss for them in this game.
San Francisco 49ers (-1) at Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers have probably the best defense in the country, an explosive if inconsistent offense and a healthy Steve Smith. Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers have all that, except their offense is a little more consistent, and their defense is significantly less good.
With Steve Smith back, Cam Newton has the one receiving weapon he can't do without. And that could make all the differences. The 49ers' offense has been good, but it hasn't been able to dominate and there's a very good chance the Panthers' stifling defense will simply shut them down.
I hate picking for a division rival, but I can't help it.
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos (-9)
Like the Indianapolis Colts, the Chargers have had a weird season. An explosive offense coupled with a horrible defense has won a lot of games the past few weeks, and they'll look to continue doing so against an injury-wracked Broncos side. The Broncos defense has been especially hard-hit in that regard.
That Denver defense also hasn't been very effective recently. I can see the Broncos winning, easily. Peyton Manning will put up a lot of points on this defense. But Philip Rivers will have his way with the Denver defense, too, and I just can't see a nine-point win for the Broncos.