COLTS (12-5) at PATRIOTS (12-4), 8:15 p.m.
Outlook: Saturday’s prime-time game is the only divisional-round duel in which the teams did not also meet in the regular season. A few numbers for you here: Tom Brady has QB’d 17 career playoff wins, the most ever. (Joe Montana had 16.) Bill Belichick has coached 18 postseason wins. (Only Tom Landry with 20 and Don Shula with 19 had more.) And New England is 8-0 at home this season and 14-4 overall in the postseason at home. Now you expect a dome team such as Indy to teeth-chatter into Brady’s igloo and win? I don’t think so, friend. You can extol Andrew Luck’s clutchness all you want and marvel over his 28-point comeback over Cincy last week. He’s still a babe in deep winter facing a QB who’s as historically clutch as anybody presently taking snaps. The point spread feels too big; Colts are 11-6 against the spread and Luck is 14-2 in games decided by seven or fewer. But Pats should ride a daunting venue to victory as long as their to-do list prominently includes blocking Robert Mathis and covering T.Y. Hilton.
Prediction: Patriots, 27-23
SAINTS (12-5) at SEAHAWKS (13-3), 4:35 p.m.
Outlook: The playoff weekend kicks off with a matchup that would be a tough call were it in the Superdome, but isn’t so tough a call in Seattle. New Orleans was only 3-5 on the road this season, and Seattle has won 15 of its past 16 at home, where that “12th Man” breaks decibel records. Drew Brees’ passer rating goes from phenomenal at home (126) to average on the road (84), his offense’s point production dropping commensurately, and “the road” gets no tougher than here. Yes, the Saints won away from home last week, edging Philly, but playing in Seattle is a different animal. Seattle has the NFL’s finest defense, especially against the pass. The secondary with Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas is the best around, with a league-leading 28 interceptions and a miserly opponent passer rating of 63.4. It was no fluke this defense dominated Brees in a 34-7 Seahawks win on Dec. 2. It will be closer this time I’ll take ‘dogs-with-points yet again – but I still can’t see Brees leaving with a smile.
Prediction: Seahawks, 24-20
– Greg Cote, The Miami Herald