I need to mail personal, handwritten thank-you notes to every member of the Baltimore Ravens for losing last week – but by less than seven points. This meant I predicted the game correctly against the spread, which stands alone as a hallmark in what thus far has been a very rough postseason for me. I am reminded of the lyric from the 1966 hit song by the Bobby Fuller Four: “I fought the betting line and the betting line won…” (At least I think that was it). Well, only three games left, Sunday’s and then the Super Bowl. Rack ’em! Time to run the table.
PACKERS (13-4, No. 2 seed) at SEAHAWKS (13-4, No. 1)
Line: SEA by 7 ½
Cote’s pick: SEA 24-23
TV: 3:05 p.m. Sunday, FOX
I give the Pack a big upset shot here to reach the Super Bowl not just because of Aaron Rodgers – although it starts with him, especially working on a tender calf – but because there are two really good defenses in this game, not one. Everybody knows Seattle’s Legion of Boom is why the reigning-champ Seahawks are favored to be first team in 10 years to reach the SB back-to-back seasons. Less appreciated is that Green Bay’s D has coalesced nicely and allowed more than 21 points only once in past nine games. That’s the biggest difference now than when these teams met in Week 1, also in Seattle, and the ’Hawks spanked the Gee Bees 36-16. Still, Seattle is 25-2 at home in the Russell Wilson era and on an 8-0 run in the playoffs when favored. By contrast the Packers are on a 1-8 skid overall when underdogs away from Lambeau Field. Those trends make it tough to pick against Seattle outright in these teams’ first playoff meeting since the 2007 season, although I do see this continuing another trend and being an eighth consecutive NFC Championship Game decided by seven points or fewer. Wilson (109.6) and Rodgers (105.3) are 1-2 in career postseason passer rating. Key for Pack’s upset shot may be Rodgers keeping it close and not relying on a late rally, considering Seattle in its current seven-game win streak has outscored opponents 62-7 in the fourth quarter.
COLTS (13-5, No. 4 seed) at PATRIOTS (13-4, No. 1)
Line: NE by 6 ½
Cote’s pick: NE 34-23
TV: 6:40 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Aside to Colts fans who enjoy sending me angry emails and may have further cause with this prediction: I harbor no dislike for Indianapolis; on the contrary that wicked shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo’s is delish! It’s simply that your Colts are (by a lot) the weak link of this NFL Final Four and will show it in the AFC Championship Game. New England is a particularly bad matchup for Indy. In the two most recent meetings the Pats won in last year’s playoffs 43-22, then whomped the Colts again in Week 11 this season 42-20 – with 480 rushing yards in those two games. Andrew Luck is 0-3 vs. the English, with eight interceptions and a 67.7 passer rating. Overall the Nags have dropped five in a row in this series and allowed Tom Brady’s Pats an average of 41.2 points en route. Want more? Darrelle Revis will neutralize Luck’s best target, T.Y. Hilton. Indy’s own best corner, Vontae Davis, is questionable with a knee injury. And the deactivation of Colts linebacker Josh McNary this week after a rape allegation can’t but dishevel the team’s mindset a bit. Quick fact: Brady and Bill Belichick aim to reach their sixth Super Bowl together. The only QB/coach combos in as many as four were Roger Staubach/Tom Landry, Terry Bradshaw/Chuck Noll and Jim Kelly/Marv Levy. One more. Did I mention New England has won 17 of its past 18 home games? But don’t feel too bad, Hoosiers. Y’all still lead the league in shrimp cocktail.