Here goes nothing (again):
Last week's record: I went 2-2, losing two teams that I expected to reach their respective conference championship -- the Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals. Fortunately, my two Super Bowl teams remain alive -- the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos. I'm anticipating a big bounce-back weekend.
Yeah, I know Russell Wilson and the Seahawks finished in a mini-slump (2-2 over the final month), but I think they have enough answers on defense to slow Drew Brees' favorite target, tight end Jimmy Graham, and the emerging New Orleans ground game. The Seahawks are 15-1 at home over the last two seasons, with an average point differential of +16.9. It ends here for the revenge-seeking Saints.
Suddenly, Andrew Luck is the new Unitas -- at least that's how people are talking about him after last week's miracle comeback. Make no mistake, Luck is a terrific young quarterback, but this will be a challenge. The hallmark of Bill Belichick's defensive philosophy is taking away the opponents' most dangerous player. In this case, that's wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, whom Luck targeted 33 times (!!!) in the last two games. Let's see how Luck-to-Hilton fares against additional coverage.
San Francisco 49ers 23, Carolina Panthers 16
Obviously, I have to ride the Niners, considering I picked them to go all the way. This will be a rock-'em, sock-'em defensive game featuring the two teams with the best records in the NFL since Week 6 -- the Panthers 11-1, the Niners 10-2. As the great football savant Santonio Holmes once said of the Panthers, their secondary is the weakest link on defense and I think there will be too much Colin Kaepernick-to-Michael Crabtree for the Munnerlyns to handle.
Denver Broncos 45, San Diego Chargers 42
This is a bad matchup for Peyton Manning and the Broncos because, quite frankly, Philip Rivers & Co. aren't intimidated by the Manning mystique. You can look up the recent numbers. However, my money is on Manning, who enjoyed one of the great regular seasons in history. I see this turning into a track meet, with Manning delivering some late heroics to beat the bolo ties.