NFL Wild Card Weekend game picks: Home teams rule Round 1


It's Wild Card Weekend, and while we don't want to step on anyone's toes -- er, ankle -- I am going with all the home teams.

Important to note: I believe I am a first-time offender -- i.e., in the past, I have always picked at least one road team in this round. (Don't appeal or check me on that.) And just so we're clear, I don't see anyone getting stomped this weekend, either.

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Before we get to the picks below, perhaps it's apropos to engage in some regular-season accounting. Your hack writer went 173-82-1 picking games over the last four months ... and I'm still kicking myself for not changing my Cowboys-Redskins selection late last week. I was going to call my editors, but then figured they'd had enough of me in the preceding 17 weeks. Wish I had harassed them one last time in 2014. Had a feeling Jason Garrett wasn't B.S.-ing when he said the 'Boys would play to win. He humors folks about as much as Liam Neeson.

Alright, enough dwelling on the past. It's a new year! Time to look forward. There's playoff football on the horizon, fergodsakes. As always, feel free to share your take on my take: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Now, let's get to it!

Elliot Harrison went 11-5 on his predictions for Week 17, giving him a record of 173-82-1 so far this season. How will he fare on Wild Card Weekend? His picks are below. And listen to the latest edition of the "Dave Dameshek Football Program" for additional analysis on this weekend's football forecast.

What an interesting matchup. The Bengals got blown out in Indy back in October -- hands down their worst performance of the season -- and yet I have heard so many people picking them to win this time around. If they can produce the turnovers they did versus the Broncos and Steelers over the past two weeks, then perhaps so. If this becomes an Andy Dalton v. Andrew Luck deal, I will take the latter.

Oh, sure, Luck can turn the football over, too. In fact, his 16 interceptions during the regular season were just one fewer than Andy Dalton's 17. He also threw the ball 134 more times. The Amish sex symbol -- that's the look Luck's going for, right? -- has not had the benefit of a consistent running game since the team lost Ahmad Bradshaw in Week 11 (one of the more significant injuries this season, if you ask me). Thus, No. 12's had to carry the ship by himself. Ironically, though, it was the defense that truly won the day the last time these two teams met, allowing the Bengals all of 135 total yards. The key this time will be stopping Jeremy Hill, who straight up looks like he might run for 1,400 yards next season. He is the real deal, people, rumbling for 395 yards over his last three games. #CINvsIND

Strength on strength: The league's best offensive line vs. (arguably) the league's best defensive front. As you can see from the score above, I have Dallas winning Sunday -- even with Ndamukong Suh being available. No disrespect to Suh, whether or not you think he disrespected one of the league's best players last Sunday. Yes, the Lions have imposed their will up front all season, which is a big reason they boast the league's second-ranked defense and have allowed a mere 17.6 points per game. That's all fine and good -- this week, that front meets a unit that's ready to go toe-to-toe.

Dallas right guard Zack Martin isn't going to the Pro Bowl on reputation. After all, he's a rookie -- he has no reputation. Plain and simple: Dude can play. He's ready for Suh. Center Travis Frederick will lend a helping hand -- he might be almost as nasty as Suh on the inside. And with Nick Fairley looking unlikely to play, the Cowboys will be able to control Detroit's ferocious front. DeMarco Murray will not be shut down all game. Even if it's tough sledding for a while, the Cowboys have proven time and again they will not go away from the run. They are committed. And on that note, will Matthew Stafford commit costly turnovers, or miss some of the throws he missed last Sunday? The best quarterback on the Jerryworld turf this Sunday wears blue and white, and it's not Honolulu blue. #DETvsDAL


Drew Stanton cannot go, which means we have to go with Carolina. The Panthers' defense -- as stated in this week's Power Rankings -- has been outstanding over the last four games. The Cardinals have displayed incredible character thus far this season, but with Ryan Lindley at quarterback for Arizona and this game taking place in Charlotte, the mountain might be too tall to climb this time. Yes, Arizona is 5-1 in games decided by eight points are less. Unfortunately, points are the problem. This offense can't score -- try 14.8 points per game over the back half of the regular season.

Meanwhile, Carolina seems to be peaking precisely when it needs to -- starting with Jonathan Stewart, who has averaged 97 yards per game (at a healthy 5.3 yards a pop) over the past five weeks of action. And obviously, Stewart's not the only ground weapon on this roster. After watching Cam Newton scamper for a touchdown Sunday in Atlanta, I wondered if the Panthers QB had seen Russell Wilson's brilliant TD run on national TV one week prior and figured, Shoot, I can do that. Newton's been a much more potent rusher over his last four games, averaging 62 yards per contest. Give him 50-plus on Saturday in a win for Carolina. #AZvsCAR

Yet another game where a huge injury looms over everything ...

Dear Le'Veon,
We need you more than Thornton Melon needed that Triple Lindy at crunch time.
Football fans of America (... at least, those who don't live in Baltimore)

OK, so Bell's status is pretty iffy at the time this was posted. And forgive me if I'm not all hot dogs and apple pie about undrafted rookie Josh Harris or the recently signed Ben Tate. That said, it takes courage to make picks, and I am going with Ben Roethlisberger and the league's second-ranked passing game (301.7 yards per game).

(UPDATE: Unfortunately, the above plea wasn't met: On Friday, the Steelers officially ruled Le'Veon Bell out of Saturday night's game.)

Now, Baltimore is no slouch defensively. And defensive coordinator Dean Pees can sit in nickel and dime all day if Bell's not in the Pittsburgh backfield. Too bad Antonio Brown has destroyed bracket coverage all season, especially at home. Brown has logged at least five catches and 50 yards in 32 straight games. That's astounding -- and unprecedented in NFL history. So the key for the Ravens will be to keep him in check (good luck), while controlling the flow of the game with RB Justin Forsett, he of the 1,200-yard season. In fact, Baltimore is 6-0 this season when throwing the ball 30 times or fewer. Pittsburgh's defense has been weaker in coverage than against the run, which means Baltimore's strength doesn't match up with the Steelers' flaw. #BALvsPIT

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.



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