Time for picks that hopefully stick

The New Year is my time to shine, prediction-wise. Or was I just a football flash in the plan?
Riding the crest of an 8-3 record from last year’s NFL post-season, I return to amaze, impress, and enrapture you with this year’s version of my gridiron predictions, beginning with this weekend’s opening round of four wild-card playoff clashes.
Okay, so I’m just trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice. Just humour me, okay?
•Dallas (10-6) at Carolina (11-5)
I abandoned them in my pre-season selections, and until the bandwagon goes over the cliff, I won’t do it to my beloved Cowboys twice.
Granted, the offence has been just plain offensive this season, and quarterback Quincy Carter could blow any Super Bowl plans to smithereens if he becomes unglued in his first playoff start, which will be in the unfriendly confines of the Panthers’ lair.
But with head coach Bill Parcells at the helm, with the No. 1-ranked defence in the league, and with a renewed sense of believe in themselves after three-straight 5-11 seasons, this squad has worked too hard to bow out before putting at least one playoff win in their pocket.
Jake Delhomme also will be in his first playoff start as the Carolina pivot, John Fox is in his first playoff game as a head coach, and the Panthers have to try and put a 24-20 regular-season loss in Dallas against the ’Boys on Nov. 23 behind them.
It will be close, but the Lone Star State crew will prevail.
Cowboys 23, Panthers 21
•Seattle (10-6) at Green Bay (10-6)
Sure, Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren knows his old Packers’ quarterback Brett Favre pretty well, and you would think he could design a defensive strategy that would shut down the Mississippi gunslinger.
But there’s more at work here than X’s and O’s. Ever since Favre’s father, Irvin, died suddenly a week ago Sunday, his strong-armed son and all his teammates have taken their game to another level.
Every other team in the NFL watched Favre dissect the reigning AFC champion Oakland Raiders in the Raiders’ own insane asylum of fans on a Monday night spectacular that ranked up there with the gutsiest efforts in sports history.
They watched as the Packers dismantled the Denver Broncos this past Sunday, then were granted new life by the Arizona Cardinals’ monumental upset of the Minnesota Vikings thanks to a last-second, highlight-reel touchdown catch.
They understand Favre is playing with an angel on his shoulder right now, and the rest of the “Pack Attack” is taking his lead.
And while passing plays and running lanes can be defenced, motivation cannot. Make no mistake about it—Green Bay is on a mission and it will take a special team to stop them.
Seattle’s had a good season, but they’re not that special. The Packers remember last year’s painful playoff loss at Lambeau Field against the Atlanta Falcons, and they’ll be ready to avoid any letdown this time around.
Packers 27, Seahawks 13
•Tennessee (12-4) at Baltimore (10-6)
Talk all you want about Ravens’ running back Jamal Lewis and his 2,000-plus rushing yards. Talk about the intimidating presence of Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis. Talk about how the home field crowd will alter the communication plans of the Titans, especially on offence.
But this game comes down to the simple truth that if Steve McNair is healthy enough to start at quarterback for the Titans, then he’s strong enough to carry Tennessee past Baltimore.
The Ravens are putting their hopes behind centre on quarterback Anthony Wright, who’s been no more than a third-stringer in his career up until being forced into the starting role in the middle of this season.
Smart money says McNair starts, plays well, and the Titans’ defence accommodates him by making Wright’s first playoff start one to forget.
Titans 16, Ravens 7
•Denver (10-6) at Indianapolis (12-4)
The Broncos looked awfully good disposing of the Colts by a 31-17 margin under the Hoosier Dome two weeks ago, churning up and down the field via a running game that didn’t even include star Clinton Portis in the backfield due to injury.
But at some point, the Indianapolis defence has to step up and prove it’s not as soft as everyone says they are. At some point, Peyton Manning has to shed his big-game loser tag at quarterback, and have a clutch outing in a playoff game.
At some point, the Colts have to prove their not just regular-season darlings and can muster up some gumption in the post-season.
Broncos’ quarterback Jake Plummer hasn’t been in the playoffs since 1997 with the Arizona Cardinals—and Portis’ health is a big question mark.
Those two factors, coupled with the desire of Manning, running back Edgerrin James, wide receiver Marvin Harrison, and other Colt veterans to finally prove they can deliver in the post-season, should be enough to push Indy over the top.
Indianapolis 31, Denver 20

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