Home turf will notbe enough for Pack
By BARRY WILNER
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | January 03,2014
San Francisco kicker Phil Dawson (9) celebrates with teammates Andy Lee (4) and Anthony Davis (76) after kicking the game-winning field goal against the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday in Glendale, Ariz. The 49ers victory capped a 6-2 road record.
There’s only one road favorite for this weekend’s wild-card games, and it’s the team that lost — barely — in last February’s Super Bowl. That the San Francisco 49ers are favored at Lambeau Field might be shocking to some. It shouldn’t be.
The 49ers (No. 3, AP Pro32) are 2 1-2-point choices over the Packers (No. 11, AP Pro32) and, frankly, it’s surprising the spread isn’t higher. Obviously, the oddsmakers put plenty of stock in Aaron Rodgers being back behind center for Green Bay on Sunday.
But if they are also counting on Lambeau being a decidedly strong venue for the Packers, they shouldn’t. Green Bay (8-7-1) was 4-3-1 at home and lost to the best teams it faced there, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Plus, the Niners (12-4) are one of the strongest wild-card teams in recent NFL history. They have no fear of going on the road, where they were 6-2.
And they beat Green Bay at Candlestick Park to start the season.
“Green Bay is a completely different team than the team we saw in Week 1, as we are,” wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. “For us, we would like to carry that momentum. We are in a six-game winning streak.”
Make it seven.
BEST BET:, 49ERS 37-27
No. 7 New Orleans (plus 2 1-2)
at No. 10 Philadelphia, Saturday
Now for an entirely different scenario: New Orleans is one of the league’s most uncomfortable road teams.
The Saints (11-5) were perfect at home, but things were difficult away from the Big Easy, where they were 3-5. Those shortcomings were especially on display against playoff-quality opponents Seattle, New England and Carolina, although only the loss to the Seahawks was a rout.
What the Saints have going for them is experience. What the Eagles (10-6) have going for them are the positive vibes from a turnaround season under new coach Chip Kelly.
But look for Philly to have just enough of a case of nerves for Drew Brees and company to win in a shootout.
UPSET SPECIAL: SAINTS, 37-33
No. 9 Kansas City (plus 2 1-2)
at No. 8 Indianapolis, Saturday
These teams met in Arrowhead Stadium just two weeks ago and the Colts dominated after a slow start, winning 23-7. Kansas City, after a 9-0 start, finished with an 11-5 record and struggled against some quality opponents in that closing stretch. In fact, the only wins came against weaklings Oakland and Washington.
Still, the Chiefs are talented and well coached, if not as healthy as they’d like to be.
Indianapolis (11-5) has had some forgettable performances to go with a bunch of impressive results. If it can protect Andrew Luck, Indy can repeat its wins over the Seahawks, Broncos and 49ers — merely the top three teams in the AP Pro32. If not, the Colts might replicate losses to the Rams and Dolphins.
No. 13 San Diego (plus 7)
at No. 6 Cincinnati, Sunday
Another club with a spotless home record, the Bengals (11-5) are the biggest favorite for the weekend. They won at San Diego on Dec. 1, and they’ve scored at least 34 points in each of their last five home games. Cincinnati averaged 34 points in the Jungle this season.
With the league’s third-ranked defense, all the Bengals need to do is protect the ball, which can be a problem for inconsistent quarterback Andy Dalton. He was picked off four times last Sunday in the win over Baltimore.
San Diego (9-7) closed with four wins to sneak off with the final AFC wild card. The Chargers can score and have a pretty balanced offense. But the defense is vulnerable through the air, which could make A.J. Green unstoppable.
2013 RECORD: Against spread: 9-6 (113-122-7). Straight up: 14-2 (156-97-1).
Best Bet: 8-9 against spread, 14-3 straight up.
Upset special: 7-10 against spread, 4-13 straight up.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org