AFC WILD CARD

Colts (10-6, No. 6 seed) at Texans (11-5, No. 3), 4:35 p.m. (ESPN)

Spread: Texans by 1.

Outlook: Wild-card weekend kicks off with proof bad starts are survivable in the NFL. Indy once was 1-5 and Houston started 0-3 and now both sizzle into January. The AFC South rivals split their season series, each winning by three on the road, one reason their playoff rematch is a near pick-’em game that opened Texans minus-2 before taking a dive. The matchup that will tip the result: Can an offensive line that has protected Andrew Luck very well continue to do so vs. J.J. Watt and a Houston defense that is especially strong at home? And can Lamar Miller get it going vs. a stout Colts run defense to ease the burden on Deshaun Watson? The Colts have won three of the past four over the Texans and Indianapolis is a trendy (mini) upset pick here – to a degree they feel like the favorite. But I’m riding Houston’s big home defense into the next round.

Prediction: Texans, 23-20.

NFC WILD CARD

Seahawks (10-6, No. 5) at Cowboys (10-6, No. 4), 8:15 p.m. (FOX)

Spread: Cowboys by 2 1/2.

Outlook: Fitting this is the only prime-time matchup of the playoffs’ opening weekend, because (not unlike vampires), both these teams own the night. Dallas is 11-3 in its past 14 starts under the lights, and Seattle under Russell Wilson is a mighty 22-5-1 while playing in prime time. Something’s gotta give. A foundation of this pick is the venue. Dallas is great at home (7-1), while the Seahawks are a mere 4-4 when traveling. Seattle beat the Cowboys 24-13 in September, but Dallas is appreciably better now, especially since remembering that running back Ezekiel Elliott needs to be the fulcrum of the offense. Seattle doesn’t hurt itself (plus-15 on turnovers), but that banged-up offensive line could make it rough for Wilson. With only mild trepidation, give us the Cowboys at home.

Prediction: Cowboys, 24-20

– Greg Cote, Miami Herald


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