NFL Divisional Round game picks: Road-cozy Cowboys top Pack


Playoff football. Divisional playoff football. Health ball.

Well, that's how I think of it.

Yes, it's late in the season, but this is a time of renewed health. Think about it: No one gets a regular-season bye after Thanksgiving, yet half of this weekend's playoff participants just enjoyed a week off. Not to mention, many of the teams that prevailed on Wild Card Weekend won going away in Week 17, which provided some additional rest on the last day of the regular season. (In fact, the Colts and Cowboys both took guys out in the second half of Week 16, with Dallas blowing out Indianapolis.) Carolina ran away with its NFC South-clinching win in Atlanta so easily that Cam Newton barely had to drop back.

OK, so Cam's not fully healthy, but the larger point remains valid. And speaking of Carolina ...

Julie, about as much as "taking it one game at a time."

I'm less shocked this is a Raider fan than I would be if Carolina won.

Judging from your avatar, I have no idea why. Well, Hannah, if it makes you feel better, no one I've spoken with thinks the Panthers will be an easy out for Seattle. Not with the way that defense is playing right now. How will that game play out? How will each of these four games play out? I have the answers below! Feel free to share your thoughts on the games (... or question my sanity, per usual): @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Now, let's get to it!

Elliot Harrison went 3-1 on his predictions for Wild Card Weekend, giving him a record of 176-83-1 so far this season. How will he fare in the divisional round? 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.

How much push is that Dallas offensive line going to get on Green Bay? Any way you look at it, the Packers' front seven will be overmatched in this game. And, while we're at it, so will their secondary. Of course, Dallas' defensive backs aren't exactly punching a collective ticket to Canton, either. There isn't a player in that secondary that I like vs. Jordy Nelson -- not with Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball. Now, Brandon Carr did a fine job on Calvin Johnson last Sunday, though it felt like Matthew Stafford left some plays on the field. And this just in: Rodgers > Stafford. So the story of this game might be time of possession. Sure, it can be an overrated stat. In a matchup this tight, though, limiting Green Bay's possessions with a steady running game not only makes sense, but quite possibly could end up being the deciding factor. The difference between Dallas and so many other teams is that the Cowboys pay off long drives with points, not just clock burn. ( Clock burn -- it's a dry shave for opposing defenses. You're welcome.) #DALvsGB

Many people like the Colts as a cute upset pick over Denver. My perception is that this game could turn on some key turnovers in the second half. Andrew Luck was outstanding last week, avoiding the costly giveaways that have bedeviled him at times. Not that those are always entirely his fault. As my colleague @ChrisWesseling points out, much of the turnover problem is the result of a quarterback having to carry the team (and consequently logging a high number of pass attempts). If Indy can consistently stop the run, this contest figures to feature lower scoring, despite the presence of two high-wattage QBs on the marquee. Remember, Denver's defense has become the strength of the team -- and the Broncos are at home. So nobody should be surprised if this turns into a bit of a punt-off. However, if the Colts tackle poorly and don't limit C.J. Anderson, play action will be there for Peyton Manning, and the bubble screens will prove highly effective. Manning's arm might not be country strong, but it's good enough to make Indy pay on short/intermediate routes. As you can glean from my predicted score, I think this is going to be another one of those games where the Indy D comes up short. #INDvsDEN


Do you remember the show "Eight Is Enough"? Dick Van Patten always thought his kids were the best, even when he had to reprimand Nicholas for talking back, or Tommy (yes, the same dude from "Charles in Charge") for being too hard on his little brother. John Harbaugh is like that, managing the ship amidst adversity throughout the season while telling the world that Joe Flacco is the best quarterback anywhere. Distractions? What distractions? I feel like Harbaugh is such a solid, uncomplicated, meat-and-potatoes coach. Assuming the combination to his luggage is 1-2-3-4-5 -- just like Van Patten's combo in "Spaceballs."

Eight will be enough if the Ravens' pressure can get to Brady at least that many times. Not necessarily sacks, but full-on knockdowns. New England will run the ball 25 times this game, so making Brady pay on second- and third-and-long is key. If the Ravens don't get after the passer, Rob Gronkowski can light them up. Remember, the last time these two teams met in the playoffs -- with the Ravens upending the Pats in Foxborough -- Gronk was on the shelf. Even Brandon LaFell can cause trouble for Baltimore. In fact, I see him scoring at least once. So for the Ravens to steal this one on the road, they must routinely knock Brady off his spot. On offense, Justin Forsett has to play better than he did last Saturday night. Otherwise, Harbaugh's theorem about Flacco might get waxed in the face of the Brady axiom. (Especially, again, if the latter has time.) #BALvsNE

I like the Panthers to make this a heckuva game. Shoot, it might be 7-3 for the majority of three quarters. Ultimately, give Seattle's home crowd the nod -- the 12's truly give their team a leg up. Russell Wilson's legs would scare me if I were a Panthers fan. Carolina's front seven has to be disciplined about not losing contain when rushing the quarterback, or else someone has to spy Wilson. The Panthers' defensive front has a clear advantage over the Seahawks' offensive line -- although that edge was reduced by the news that Star Lotulelei is out. Still, it won't be an easy day for Marshawn Lynch and Co. The Panthers haven't allowed more than 17 points in a game since November. That said, Seattle boasts the No. 1 defense in the league, and the "Legion of Boom" won't be the least bit threatened by the Panthers' aerial attack. Cam Newton will have to run wild at some point for Carolina to take home the "W." #CARvsSEA

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.



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