Saturday, March 8, 2014
TEXANS (13-4) at PATRIOTS (12-4), 4:30 p.m.
Outlook: New England is 13-3 all-time at home in the playoffs, is rested off a bye and has an offense that is as close to unstoppable as we saw this season, with a league-leading 34.8-point average. Houston found that out in Week 14 in a 42-14 Patriots breeze. It was 28-0 before the Texans got up off the canvas; Tom Brady had 296 yards and four TDs, and was sacked only once. Sunday's rematch is bound to be closer, but I still like New England to cover a big betting line. The Pats' underrated defense helped fashion an NFL-best plus-25 turnover margin and will force Matt Schaub into mistakes. The Texans just don't seem fully in synch to me, and them slipping past the Bengals by six points last week didn't change my mind much on that. Houston was 6-2 on the road this season, yeah. But New England, in winter, with Brady and Bill Belichick staring at you, is a whole different kind of road.
Prediction: Patriots, 34-20
SEAHAWKS (12-5) at FALCONS (13-3), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Falcons might bear the most pressure of any Final Eight team this weekend, as a doubted No. 1 seed. Doubted? They are favored by less than the home-field edge, and part of that is the much-talked-about 0-3 playoff record under Coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan, who has been mediocre at best (71.2 rating) in those three elimination games. That's a small sample, but it will keep weighing a ton until these guys figure a way to win a playoff game. This is the only weekend game that is not a rematch of a regular-season meeting, and also these clubs' first-ever playoff bout, lending a further air of unpredictability. Without much confidence, I like the Falcons to get off the schneid. Atlanta was 7-1 at home, is fresh off a bye, and Seattle Coach Pete Carroll is 0-3 against this opponent. Oh, and dig this: No West Coast team since the 1989 Los Angeles Rams has won two consecutive playoff games in the East.
Prediction: Falcons, 24-20
-- Greg Cote, The Miami Herald