At the very least, this weekend's pro football menu offers a bevy of delicious matchups. And if recent history's any indication, we could be in for at least one stunning upset. Think: The Ravens' Mile High Miracle last January, or the Giants taking out the 15-1 Packers in the 2011 playoffs. (Yup, both those spoiler teams did indeed go on to win the Super Bowl.)
As for the rest of the games, below are some predictions around which you can wrap your arms tightly. We did take one road team, although it's hard to call it an upset. Feel free to share your thoughts ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Now, let's get to it.
**Road Warriors:** Why is San Francisco as good on the road as it is at home?
1) Jim Harbaugh stays committed to the run, yielding fewer turnovers and silencing the crowd.
2) The front seven is as strong as any in football, keeping opposing offenses from making the kinds of big plays that get the home folks fired up.
3) Solid kicking game.
4) The confidence that comes with winning important road games time and again, like last week in (well below) freezing conditions at Lambeau Field.
5) Perhaps most importantly, the 49ers don't ask Kaepernick to change plays at the line very much. Teams that do that with their quarterbacks -- like the Chargers and Saints this weekend -- are susceptible to mixing up their signals in loud road environments, where not everyone can hear the QB. #SFvsCAR
On that last note, though: Peyton's clearly a different animal than Andy Dalton, who was inaccurate, pressed too much and had to deal with a wet ball in the late going last Sunday. The Bolts should try to mix coverages, but not just play straight coverage -- i.e., as much as you hear about how Manning destroys the blitz, he truly devours the non-blitz ...
*Blitzing situations:* 60.1 completion percentage, 13 touchdowns, five interceptions.
*Non-blitzing situations:* 70.8 completion percentage, 42 touchdowns, five interceptions.
**Agents Orange:** Two guys I will be watching a lot in this game are
Knowshon Moreno and Orange Julius, er,
Julius Thomas. I expect Moreno to have a big day, particularly in pass protection and when catching the ball out of the backfield. Former
Titans defensive back Jordan Babineaux told me the other day he's looking for Thomas to be a factor. (
You can see that here.) Man, does Manning have toys.
While Luck was nothing short of spectacular down the stretch vs. Kansas City last Saturday, let's keep in mind that part of the reason he had to be was because of his own mistakes early on. He simply can't afford to turn the ball over three times in New England. The Pats have forced 170 turnovers over the past five years, the most in the NFL. The last thing the Colts want to do is give Tom Brady short fields -- or get behind 38-10.
**Steve Perry ... or the other guy?** While
Journey sorts through front men, we're still trying to figure out which
Colts front seven is going to show up. Over
the last three games of the regular season, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's unit allowed 3, 7 and 10 points. Last week, it coughed up 44. What if the
lost two running backs and a wideout? Indy's defense must stop the ground attack, as the Pats have run the football 77 times over their past two games. Unfortunately, this isn't a
Colts strength, as evidenced by their
No. 26 ranking in run defense during the regular season.
This season, everyone has fancied the Seahawks as contenders for the Lombardi Trophy. A big part of that is how well they play at home, where they've dropped one game this season after a perfect 8-0 run in 2012. The 'Hawks have allowed 13.75 points per game at CenturyLink Field during the 2013 campaign, the best mark in the NFL. That includes just seven points from the Saints in Week 13. Can New Orleans do better this time around?
**Sackless in Seattle:**
Sean Payton is not going to put
Drew Brees in as tough a spot this weekend. Thus, don't expect another
strip-sack touchdown. Instead, count on New Orleans pounding the rock at least 30 times. When these two teams met in December, Payton called just 17 running plays, which totaled 44 yards.
Last week in Philadelphia: 36 for 185. Still thinking the
Saints will lose this football game ... but it's going to be close.