While we focus our energies on the Falcons' search for a new coach and inevitable roster turnover for Atlanta, there's still playoff football going. Chances are this week will offer some terrific games, as well.
With that in mind, I return to the predictions game after going 50% last week. Surely your hit rate will be better than mine.
Ravens @ Patriots
The Ravens are a team capable of going on massive hot streaks, as Joe Flacco's otherworldly 2012 playoff run attests. They're a good football team with a talented defense and enough firepower on offense to get the job done, so long as they're playing well. Betting against them at this point is tough.
In the Patriots, they find an opponent who can easily outgun them, and a team that has an underrated defense, to boot. The Pats are all too familiar with the Ravens, who have given them fits in the playoffs in years past, but that familiarity also means they have the experience necessary to gameplan well for that team. I expect this one to be tough and potentially high-scoring, but the Patriots are at home, have a healthy Rob Gronkowski and the better quarterback, so long as Flacco hasn't caught fire once more.
Prediction: Patriots 28, Ravens 21
Panthers @ Seahawks
A fair number of pundits are giving the Panthers a legitimate shot in this one. I understand the temptation, because this team has been playing improved football, and the secondary has increasingly looked competent after its early season follies.
That said, let's not get it twisted. They blew a hot-and-cold Falcons team off the field and beat the hapless, Ryan Lindley-led Cardinals in Carolina to get here. This is an offense with one terrific rookie receiver and a quality tight end, plus Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart. Their defense is still a massive question mark.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have no glaring weaknesses outside of the offensive line. Russell Wilson takes care of the football, Marshawn Lynch is a beast, the receiving corps is quietly solid and their defense is the stuff of nightmares. You never know, I suppose, but I'm willing to bet the Seahawks will destroy the Panthers in CenturyLink Field.
Prediction: Seahawks 31, Panthers 17
Cowboys @ Packers
This is my pick for game of the weekend. Both of these teams have better-than-expected defenses, but they're not powerhouses on that side of the ball. When you're matching Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy and that receiving corps against Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray, there are going to be offensive fireworks, and my expectation is that this will be a true shootout.
The Packers have the obvious advantage because Rodgers is the best quarterback in football by a mile, and it's virtually impossible to take all of their receivers out of the game at the same time. If they can force a costly Tony Romo turnover or two, it's likely they win.
Dallas, meanwhile, will hope they can limit the damage with their surprising D and work the Packers' defense over with Murray. Throw in a few deep strikes to the unstoppable Bryant and you've got the makings of a game plan. All things considered, though, the edge goes to Green Bay, even with Aaron Rodgers' leg injury.
Prediction: Packers 35, Cowboys 31
Colts @ Broncos
My upset pick for the weekend, one week after I thought the Colts would lose to the Bengals. I know that doesn't make any sense, but bear with me.
The Broncos should be easily the best team in the AFC, but they've shown real signs of weakness. Peyton Manning's performance has slipped a bit, Julius Thomas is banged up and they were surprisingly shaky against the Bengals, Dolphins and Bills over the last couple of months of the season. They're the easy favorite here, but they're not invulnerable.
That brings us to the Colts, who just beat the crap out of the Bengals a week ago. They have Andrew Luck, so they're capable of coming back in games, and they've finally turned away from Trent Richardson, who was killing their ground game. Again, this could be a shootout, but I expect it to be close.
Prediction: Colts 27, Broncos 24
What are your predictions?