After ugly start to playoffs, Pro Picks needs winners

Now that was ugly.

No, not the performance of the Bengals in the second half at Indianapolis in our Upset Special.

And not the controversy over the officiating in Dallas' victory against Detroit.

The way Pro Picks faltered out of the postseason gate, going 0-4 against the spread: THAT was ugly.

So it's time to rectify. Here we go - but with no upset special this week. Still trying to shake off the effects of the previous one.

No. 8 Indianapolis (plus 7) at No. 5 Denver, Sunday

The focus, deservedly, will be on Peyton Manning and the quarterback who replaced him in Indianapolis, Andrew Luck. How juicy would a shootout between those two be?

This one very well might be decided by the defenses, however, which means advantage Denver, despite what Indy did against playoff flop Cincinnati.

Denver was undefeated at home this season, including an opening 31-24 victory over the Colts. The Broncos have displayed more balance on defense than Indy, which can be run on. With the way Denver has redesigned its offense recently, that could be a decided edge.

As can being off last week. Boy, did Denver need the bye.

''Luckily, we've played well enough in the season to get a bye week, which helped us, because if we played last week, (linebacker) Brandon Marshall probably doesn't play and (safety) T.J. (Ward) is probably a little rusty,'' tackle Terrance Knighton said. ''Those three days off allowed people to refocus and it's almost like a new season now.''

Which will begin with another win.

BEST BET: BRONCOS, 33-20

No. 10 (tie) Baltimore (plus 7) at No. 2 New England, Saturday

If there's one team that doesn't fear a journey to Foxborough, it's the Ravens. They've won there twice in the postseason, including the 2012 AFC title game that preceded their victory over San Francisco in the Super Bowl. The year before, they lost by three points when Billy Cundiff missed a chip-shot field goal to force overtime.

New England always is formidable at home, winning all seven of the games that meant anything this season. Having gone a decade since their last Super Bowl crown, the Patriots, most notably Tom Brady, are on a mission.

Yes, Baltimore was impressive in winning at Pittsburgh last Saturday night, and Joe Flacco has become just as clutch at quarterback as anyone. But the Ravens' secondary remains questionable despite shutting down the Steelers.

PATRIOTS, 28-24

No. 13 Carolina (plus 10 1/2) at No. 1 Seattle, Saturday

Give credit to the Panthers for winning four straight to take the NFC South, then handling Arizona in the wild-card round. Then consider that the victories were over New Orleans, Tampa, Cleveland and Atlanta - all losing clubs - and the injury-weakened Cardinals.

Seattle appears to be peaking, especially on defense, where it has that nasty and stingy edge again. It doesn't usually blow out opponents and probably won't do so against Carolina. But the Seahawks are on a mission, too, trying to become the first repeat Super Bowl champs since the Patriots of 2003-04.

SEAHAWKS: 23-13

No. 4 Dallas (plus 6) at No. 3 Green Bay, Sunday

Hard to believe the Cowboys have not been back to Lambeau Field in the postseason since the 1967 Ice Bowl. Equally hard to believe this is a matchup (for the first time) of an 8-0 road team against an 8-0 host.

Having already won in Seattle, the Cowboys know all about handling the toughest environment in pro football. Except Green Bay in January, with all the weather considerations - not to mention Aaron Rodgers chucking the ball, Eddie Lacy carrying it, and an improving defense led by Clay Matthews - is another animal. A grizzly, perhaps.

PACKERS, 27-24

---

2014 RECORD: Against spread: This week (0-4); Season (128-120-5). Straight up: This week (2-2); Season (171-87-1)

Best Bet: 7-11 against spread, 11-7 straight up.

Upset special: 9-9 against spread, 7-11 straight up.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.