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COLUMN: If at first you don't succeed — NFL divisional round picks, part 1

If last weekend was any indicator, I am not great at predicting the outcomes at football games.

But rather than succumb to the findings of the small sample that was Wild Card weekend, I will give it another go, giving the people who don’t know who I am what they certainly didn’t ask for.

The NFL divisional playoff round looks similar to the Wild Card matchups. Three home teams appear to be clear favorites while the San Francisco 49ers are angering another fan base (and making me unbearably nervous) by making their team a home underdog. Seems like a fairly easy slate to pick, but a closer look at each contest (and the handful of Powellites who joyfully pointed out my 1-3 record in passing) gives me plenty of pause.

While it would be nice to be right (I assume), I'd rather see another four games as exciting and unpredictable as last week's insanity.

Here is my preview of Saturday’s games:

New Orleans Saints (12-5) @ Seattle Seahawks (13-3), Saturday, 2:35 p.m., FOX

The weekend starts off with the first of three rematches from the 2013 regular season. The Saints traveled to Seattle in Week 13 and, well, things did not go well for them.

Russell Wilson threw for three touchdowns and 310 yards while New Orleans’ attempt to run a balanced offense failed miserably as the Seahawks won 34-7.

Brees threw for just 147 yards, and while he didn’t throw a pick he did lose a fumble and averaged a season-low 3.9 yards per pass attempt — a full 2.5 yards less than his second-worst performance of 2013.

Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham had one of his worst days of 2013 against the Seahawks as well. Graham caught just three balls, although one of them went for a score, and was held to just 42 yards.

Graham will be in position to have a better game this time around with Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright out with a foot injury. The 6-foot-4 Wright was on the 6-7 Graham for much of that Week 13 matchup, but will be unable to slow down Brees’ favorite target from the sideline Saturday morning.

New Orleans managed only 44 rushing yards on 17 attempts back in that blowout in Seattle, and while it makes sense for them to try to run the ball more this time around, I see the Seattle forcing them to give up on the ground game midway through the third quarter.

As for the Seahawks, there’s not much they don’t do exceptionally well, and with wide receiver Percy Harvin returning to the lineup their pass game should be even more potent.

Running back Marshawn Lynch was the league’s sixth-leading rusher this season, though he was held in check (45 yards on 16 carries) against New Orleans in the regular season.

WIlson actually led the team that day with 47 rushing yards on just eight carries, reminding the Saints that he adds another dimension they have to prepare for.

It’s not that this Seattle team is great everywhere (though they’re pretty darn close), it’s that they’re not vulnerable anywhere.

The Saints proved last week that their road struggles were a bit overblown, but I still think there’s something to them and CenturyLink Field provides by far the biggest home-field advantage of any stadium in the league (not even Chiefs fans can argue that now).

I hate when announcers say things like this, but for the Saints to win they’ll need to make more plays. Specifically on defense. It’s not hard to imagine an all-time great like Brees playing out of his mind and keeping the Saints in the game, even against Seattle’s league-best pass defense. It’s a little harder to imagine the Saints’ D coming up with many answers for Seattle’s offense. If the Saints are going to steal this game I think they will have to take a couple of gambles in the secondary to force turnovers and a 10- or even 14-point swing.

A better game plan and a more exploitable matchup for Jimmy Graham should give Saints fans some hope, but how can someone, especially a 49er fan who knows better, pick against the Seahawks at home?

Seahawks 31, Saints 17


Indianapolis Colts (12-5) @ New England Patriots (12-4), Saturday, 6:15 p.m., CBS

The AFC matchups, beginning with this Colts-Pats game, appear on paper to be the most one-sided, but each possesses the potential for what would be considered a major upset.

New England, equipped with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at home, ia viewed as the presumptive winner. The Patriots, and especially Brady, were good throughout the season, but got better as the year went along.

Brady didn’t quite look like himself through the first half of the season, throwing for just 5.95 yards per pass attempt. Grumblings about one of the league’s best-ever quarterbacks being over-the-hill got a little louder, and some people (me) gave up on him way too soon in their fantasy leagues. Then Brady picked it up after week 9 and averaged 7.85 ypa in the regular season’s final two months.

That's not a particularly outstanding number, but remember, he played only three weeks with Rob Gronkowski, his go-to guy, and just 12 with Danny Amendola (who suffered a groin injury in Week 1 and a concussion in Week 6 and could never be considered truly healthy).

Gronk is gone again, out for good with a torn ACL, but a healthy (for now) Amendola and Edelman coupled with New England’s surprisingly good ground game should provide the Pats with plenty of scoring against the Colts.

Speaking of Indianapolis, how great is Andrew Luck? I was 11 when Peyton Manning came into the league. Old enough to be aware of him, but not wise enough to realize I was seeing the beginning of a Hall-of-Fame career.

Anyone who hadn’t already recognized Luck’s greatness should have little doubt after he led the Colts on a shocking 28-point comeback over the Chiefs last Saturday.

Luck, just in his second year, may already be better than Brady, though he lacks the playoff experience (which, counts for something) and the complement of a run game.

The Trent Richardson trade is a bonafide disaster. Everyone who said “What the hell are the Browns thinking?!” when the deal was announced just a day before Week 3 started, are now saying, “Wow, the Browns are geniuses!”

(One of the golden rules of the NFL is that you don't want to be the team to make the Browns look like geniuses.)

New England, known for more than a decade for its unrelenting aerial attack, was a top-10 rushing team during the regular season for the second straight year. The Patriots averaged a ninth-ranked 129.1 yards per game, and did it with the one-two punch of Stevan Ridley (773 yards) and LaGarrette Blount (772). Compare that to the Colts’ duo of Richardson (563) and Donald Brown (553) and it’s pretty clear Luck will have to carry the offense for Indy to have a chance.

One thing in Luck’s favor is he will get to throw to the best receiver on the field. Second-year wideout T.Y. Hilton has more than aptly filled in for the injured Reggie Wayne, finishing the 2013 regular season with 82 receptions for 1083 yards and five TDs. Then, he absolutely went off on the Chiefs in round one, catching 13 balls for 224 yards and two scores.

For the Colts to pull off the upset they’re going to need another big game from their No. 1 target.

But I suspect their lack of a run game will finally do Indy in. The Patriots will do all they can to shut Hilton down, forcing Luck to throw to elsewhere or challenging the Colts to run the ball.

I used the same logic when I predicted the Colts to lose last week and it came back to bite me. But unless New England loses multiple key players to injury and Belichick asks Andy Reid for advice on clock management, the Patriots should move another step closer to bookending their run as a dynasty.

It looks like it's going to be wet and windy in Foxboro, and I may have trouble remembering this isn't the Pats of old, but I see Brady taking over this game and telling Luck to wait another year.

Patriots 35, Colts 21

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