Recent history has shown that home field usually is meaningful in these four games, with only one visitor winning in each of the past two seasons. Only twice since 2002, when the current setup began, has there been a sweep by the four hosts, though; never have all visiting clubs won in the divisional round.
Such numbers should make everyone search for that one or two road squads who might pull off another win. We think we’ve found the right one: the thawed-out 49ers (13-4).
The Carolina Panthers (12-4) had one of their most impressive victories in a turnaround season when they won at San Francisco 10-9 on Nov. 10. Neither side has forgotten that defensive battle in which the 49ers lost tight end Vernon Davis and rookie safety Eric Reid to concussions.
The pick: 49ers, 23-16
No. 7 New Orleans (plus 8) at No. 1 Seattle, Saturday
Now that they have the first road playoff win in franchise history, can the Saints (12-5) start a winning streak away from New Orleans? That’s not exactly a Big Easy for them in Seattle, where the Seahawks routed the Saints 34-7 on Dec. 2.
The pick: Seahawks, 24-20
No. 8 Indianapolis (plus 7½) at No. 5 New England, Saturday
The stats might not show it, the reality does: This has been one terrific year for Tom Brady. Despite almost an entirely new crew of receivers, Brady guided the Patriots to a 12-4 record and yet another AFC East crown.
The new guy in town will be Andrew Luck, who has that same look of stardom and indefatigability that Brady always has worn.
The pick: Patriots, 33-28
No. 3 San Diego (plus 10) at No. 2 Denver
San Diego’s last road game during the season was a Thursday night win at Denver (13-3). A repeat performance will likely require controlling the ball to keep Peyton Manning and the record-setting Denver offense on the sideline.
The pick: Broncos, 38-30