Packers-49ers toughest to pick this week

For the second straight week in the NFL playoffs, three of the four matchups look like slam-dunk picks.

Now if I could only get that fourth game right.

Last week, I felt sure about the home teams in the AFC and Green Bay in the NFC, though I did a little homework just to confirm my initial suspicions.

It was the other game, Seattle at Washington, that tripped me up as I didn’t see Robert Griffin III being that hobbled after he was OK in the final regular-season game.

This week, I hate to say it for you Packer fans, but it’s the Green Bay-at-San Francisco matchup I’m having a really hard time figuring out how to pick.

Without further ado, let me give you my analysis:


Baltimore at Denver, 4:30 p.m., CBS – This is a huge step up for the Ravens, from playing Indianapolis at home to the Broncos on the road.

I see Denver quarterback Peyton Manning picking apart the Baltimore secondary, since the Ravens will have to honor the run. Unless Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has the game of his life, the Broncos’ defense at home will make mincemeat pie for dessert.

For their 12th straight win, Broncos, 36-20.

Green Bay at San Francisco, 8 p.m., Fox – The only prime-time game of the weekend deserves this honor. I like the direction the Packers are heading, this being the healthiest they’ve been just about all season.

On Wednesday, the team announced James Starks should be able to suit up at running back, while the setbacks to receivers Jordy Nelson (ankle) and Randall Cobb (flu) shouldn’t stop them from playing Saturday.

Here’s what I’m worried about – the return of San Fran’s Justin Smith. Even with a torn triceps muscle, he’ll be playing and wreaking havoc to both the running and passing games of Green Bay.

QB Colin Kaepernick didn’t play in the first meeting, but even with his thin resume of experience, if he were to implode, Alex Smith would be at the ready to step in.

Remember how they say defense is what wins championships this time of the year? It’s the 49ers who are strongest there. They lost their shot at last year’s Super Bowl due to special teams flubs, and right now the Packers and 49ers look equal there with some shaky play from each of their placekickers.

From what I read, to remind me of how strong San Fran is on defense, they’ve got enough safeties and cornerbacks to play quality defense even against the Packers’ full flight of receivers – Nelson, Cobb, James Jones, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley.

Where does that leave the Green Bay offense? With Aaron Rodgers on his back? Trying to run? Neither sounds good if you’re a Packers fan.

As much as I hate to say it, I’m taking the 49ers, 17-13.


Seattle at Atlanta, 1 p.m., Fox – Should be an easy pick, eh? No. 1 seed hosting the No. 5 wild card.

Not so fast. Like everyone else in America, especially in Atlanta, I’m waiting for the Falcons to show up in the playoffs. The Georgia Dome might be a deafening roar of an advantage, but it hasn’t been before.

The Seahawks play great defense, especially with their physical secondary, and the playoffs are about exerting your dominance over the other team.

Maybe Atlanta will make this a good game, but I’m betting not, except maybe in desperation catch-up mode. Seahawks, 28-23.

Houston at New England, 4:30 p.m., CBS – The Texans have played poorly ever since they got bum-rushed by New England, 42-14, in Week 14.

Is it a coincidence that this is the same score that Alabama throttled Notre Dame by in the BCS Championship game on Monday? Even if it’s not, I’ll ask this question – how many times would the Fighting Irish have to play the Crimson Tide before they could get on even footing with them?

Let’s say that answer is the same as the number of times Houston will have to play New England to catch up. Then let’s say that number is seven – maybe eight. So I’ll be ready to pick the Texans to win this game in 2020 or 2021. But for now, Patriots, 35-21.

Last week – 3-1, 75 percent. Playoff total – 3-1, 75 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.