The playoff picture in the AFC is muddled at the bottom, with Miami and Pittsburgh being just two of several teams trying to get the sixth seed. In the NFC, Seattle has established itself as the top dog, but the next few teams below the Seahawks are fighting for positioning this weekend.
Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers
NFL Football Betting Odds: 49ers -2.5
The Seahawks have established themselves as the number one seed in the NFC. Barring a total and unexpected collapse (or perhaps an injury to Russell Wilson or something of that nature), Seattle should get home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. This is a game in which San Francisco is the team with everything to prove. The 49ers have not looked very good at all on offense this season. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has struggled in the absence of wide receiver Michael Crabtree, a player that opened up so many more gaps and lanes for this offense on so many levels. Kaepernick has to find a way to make plays against Seattle’s ball-hawking defense. If he can’t, the Niners would fall into a tie for the sixth and final spot in the NFC playoff race, putting them in danger of missing the postseason entirely. The Niners are a proud team, though, and the stakes are simply too high for them to lose here. Seattle wants to beat San Francisco but the 49ers need to beat the Seahawks. There’s a difference between those two realities and that’s what will help the 49ers win on Sunday afternoon in their home stadium.
Pick: San Francisco -2.5
Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, 1:00 PM ET
NFL Football Betting Odds: Pittsburgh -3.5
The Dolphins and Steelers are very likely to play a 16-13 or 17-14 kind of game on Sunday. Both teams’ defenses are better than the respective offenses. Both teams have quarterbacks that, for different but equally noticeable reasons, have been quite shaky in 2013. Ryan Tannehill and Ben Roethlisberger have both been all over the place. Pittsburgh has been better in recent weeks, and that process of improvement is probably enough to give the Steelers a slight edge on the betting lines here.
Pick: Pittsburgh -3.5
Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints
NFL Football Betting Odds: Saints -3.5
Carolina’s 1-3 start is a distant memory; this team now looks like a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The Panthers’ defense is imposing, and when a game is close in the fourth quarter, Newton is now making the kinds of plays he failed to make last season.
The Saints’ offense is the side of the ball everyone looks at, but the team’s defense has been much improved this season. Yet, on Monday night in Seattle, that same defense frequently looked lost and out of position against the Seahawks. New Orleans has to get back on track from a defensive standpoint. If the Saints can’t wipe away that blowout loss in Seattle, they will lose a lot more than one game on Sunday. They would lose the chance to win their division and get a first-round bye in the playoffs. New Orleans has a little more at stake, playing at home. Give New Orleans the nod on the point spread.
Pick: New Orleans -3.5