Lik­ing the home teams

Af­ter four road wins, Pro Picks sides with the host squads in NFL’s divi­sional play­offs

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS Seat­tle (plus 3 1/2) at Carolina, Sun­day Kansas City (plus 5) at New Eng­land, Satur­day Green Bay (plus 7) at Ari­zona, Satur­day Pitts­burgh (plus 6 1/2) at Den­ver, Sun­day 2015 RECORD

Pro Picks was all over the road teams in the wild-card round, get­ting three of the four win­ners cor­rect. Un­for­tu­nately, we weren’t so clair­voy­ant against the spread.

Ah, the spread. The bet­ting lines are a whole lot more com­pli­cated this week­end, and not just be­cause the NFL’s top four teams are join­ing the fray.

The price of vic­tory for two of the four wild-card teams last week has made Pitts­burgh and Kansas City dif­fi­cult reads. Well, maybe not so dif­fi­cult for the Steel­ers if Ben Roeth­lis­berger (shoul­der) and An­to­nio Brown (con­cus­sion) are se­ri­ously ham­pered by in­juries when they face the Bron­cos.

The Chiefs would seem a good choice com­ing off 11 straight vic­to­ries and fac­ing a New Eng­land team that strug­gled might­ily down the stretch. But while the Pa­tri­ots are get­ting health­ier, Kansas City’s top down­field threat, re­ceiver Jeremy Ma­clin (high an­kle sprain), is a long shot to suit up. Top lineback­ers Justin Hous­ton and Tamba Hali are hob­bled, too.

In the NFC, the sick list isn’t quite so crit­i­cal. In­deed, the Sea­hawks could get back a key weapon in run­ning back Mar­shawn Lynch (ab­dom­i­nal surgery), and so might Carolina in run­ning back Jonathan Ste­wart.

Green Bay could be with­out wide­out Da­vante Adams and Ari­zona will miss de­fen­sive starters in out­side linebacker Alex Okafor and tackle Cory Red­ding. Im­por­tant play­ers, but not game break­ers.

No team has made three con­sec­u­tive Su­per Bowls since the un­for­tu­nate Bills of 1990 to 1993 got there (and lost) four in a row. It’s been fash­ion­able for many to point to the Sea­hawks as ca­pa­ble of re­turn­ing to the big game, and it’s not at all far­fetched.

But Pro Picks likes Carolina’s re­silience, the way it matches up with Seat­tle and the fact the Pan­thers have been some­what over­looked or un­der­es­ti­mated de­spite a 15-1 record.

A strange BEST BET be­cause we ex­pect the Pan­thers to win, but the Sea­hawks to cover.

PAN­THERS, 24-23

De­spite the Pa­tri­ots’ re­cent slump, trig­gered by in­juries and an in­abil­ity to give Tom Brady time to pick apart op­po­nents, they are rested and should have top tar­get Ju­lian Edel­man back. Gil­lette Sta­dium is a very dif­fi­cult place to win any­time, es­pe­cially in the post-sea­son, but KC isn’t the type of team to get in­tim­i­dated.

Of par­tic­u­lar fun could be how the two tight ends, New Eng­land All-Pro Rob Gronkowski and Kansas City’s un­der-no­ticed Travis Kelce, fare.

PA­TRI­OTS, 23-16

The Pack­ers woke up on of­fence in Wash­ing­ton as the line fi­nally stopped im­i­tat­ing a sieve. The run­ning game got its legs and Aaron Rodgers looked like a cham­pi­onship-qual­ity QB.

That was against the

Red­skins. The bal­anced, ex­pe­ri­enced and deep Car­di­nals are an­other mat­ter.

Be­fore Ari­zona did a sleep­walk through its rel­a­tively mean­ing­less fi­nale against Seat­tle, it was on a tear, win­ning nine straight. Pro Picks thinks the Car­di­nals are the NFL’s most­bal­anced squad.

CAR­DI­NALS, 29-20

How in­trigu­ing this matchup would be with all the stars at full strength. But along with Pitts­burgh’s health woes, the Bron­cos know Pey­ton Man­ning cer­tainly isn’t at 100 per cent ef­fi­ciency.

Den­ver, though, is in fine shape com­pared to the Steel­ers, who beat them 34-27 in Week 15 when the banged-up Bron­cos, with Brock Osweiler at quar­ter­back, blew a big lead.

“So, we’re ex­pect­ing a fully healthy team at their place, where it’s go­ing to be loud and prob­a­bly the big­gest chal­lenge of the year for us,” Roeth­lis­berger said. No big leads in this one, but ... BRON­COS, 20-16

Against spread – Week (1-3), Sea­son (123-122-7).

Straight up – Week (3-1), Sea­son (157-103).

Best Bet – 8-9-1 against spread, 10-8 straight up.

Up­set spe­cial – 9-9 against spread, 6-12 straight up.

AP PHOTO

New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots cor­ner­back Duron Har­mon speaks to the me­dia Tues­day in Foxbor­ough, Mass. The Pa­tri­ots host the Kansas City Chiefs in an NFL divi­sional play­off game Satur­day.

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