By Stan "The Fan" Charles
Picking The Winners
Cincinnati at Houston
Minnesota at Green Bay
Indianapolis at Baltimore
Seattle at Washington
Picking Against The Spread
Cincinnati at Houston -4/1/2
On most boards throughout the week, I saw this game as a 6.5-point spread. The move of two points one way or the other usually means the smart money is going with the trend -- in this case, toward the Bengals. Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis has not been an embarrassment as a head coach, but a couple of guys who followed him out of Baltimore have been. Yet, when push comes to shove, he is not a good enough motivator or Xs-and-Os guy to make up for the overriding shortcomings of the Bengals organization. The Texans, for their part, let home-field advantage throughout the entire playoffs slip away. In fact, they messed up a chance to have Wild Card Weekend off altogether. That's either a sign of a team in trouble or a team ready to rally around its anger at itself. In this case, I'm going with the latter -- at least during this game versus the Bengals. This one could get pretty ugly.
Prediction: Houston 27, Cincinnati 16
Minnesota at Green Bay -7 ½
Here, too, the spread was a good two points higher when I looked earlier during the week. At that number, it was still a stretch to see the Vikings coming away with either a cover or a win. At this number, it's going to be hard for them to even cover. The only real danger for the Packers is they have to play a team they could have kept out of the playoffs with a win last Sunday. In this day and age, it's hard to quantify how much that meant to a team already in the tournament versus a team that was fighting tooth and claw to qualify. The Vikings did get in by beating Green Bay, but they won't be able to beat the Packers in Lambeau Field's frozen tundra, where temperatures are expected to drop lower than 20 degrees. The cold weather may help Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, but the Packers have enough resources to keep him to a manageable number of yards. They'll make Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder win the game, which sure seems out of his grasp in this spot.
Prediction: Green Bay 31, Minnesota 17
Indianapolis at Baltimore -6 ½
The spread number didn't change one iota the entire week for this game. The Colts' Andrew Luck is going to be an awesome quarterback. But as good as he is, he hasn't met the intensity level he'll face on Sunday from the Baltimore defense and the noise Ray Lewis' dogs will be making. The Colts' defensive line will not be able to slow down Ravens running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. That means Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco will also have some inviting opportunities that offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell will allow him to exploit. Lewis' announcement that he'll retire at the end of the season is the motivational edge the Ravens needed during this one, but the game is in Flacco's hands. Though the Colts have had a great story of their own as coach Chuck Pagano has battled cancer during the team's turnaround season, they will not be able to deal with Flacco. His salary push starts in earnest here.
Prediction: Baltimore 34, Indianapolis 16
Seattle -3 at Washington
The Seahawks come into this one on a roll, as do the home-standing Redskins. The 'Hawks have won five in a row, but for the season, have been a different team on the road, where they went 3-5, versus a perfect 8-0 at home. The 'Skins, at one time 3-6 this season, have now won seven consecutive games to win their division at 10-6. If this game were in Washington state, the spread would be about 8.5 or nine points and the 'Skins would not have a chance to win. The fact that Seattle will be 3,000 miles from home, playing against a rapidly improving Redskins team, makes this a game. The spread of Seahawks -3 says so. Wise guys see this as a six-point game on a neutral field. Washington finished just 5-3 at home, and during home losses to St. Louis (31), Cincinnati (38) and Carolina (21), they gave up an average of less than 28 points per game. That was then, and this is now. If the Seahawks can get ahead and their defense can slow down Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris, this will be a blow-out Seattle victory. The opposite equation would be at play if the Redskins' defense can slow down Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch. My winner is the Pete Carroll-coached team, because it can steamroll an adequate defense … which is what Redskins are. The Seahawks' defense can really get after people.
Prediction: Seattle 30, Washington 23
174-81-1 picking winners (11-5 last week)
57-60-4 picking against the spread (4-2)
Posted Jan. 4, 2013