The playoffs got off to a mediocre start, with a 2-2 record in the picks.

Now the big boys come to play.

The Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons, the top seeds in the AFC and NFC, respectively, come back from their well-earned bye week, as do the second-seeded New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers.

Fun fact about the AFC playoffs—the same four teams are there in 2012 that were there a season ago. This year, the Baltimore Ravens go to Denver and the Houston Texans head to New England. Last year, the Patriots hosted the Broncos and the Ravens had the Texans at home.

The divisional round also marks Aaron Rodgers’ first trip to Candlestick Park in a game that counts. It will be his fourth start against the San Francisco 49ers overall, with all three previous meetings coming in the regular season at Lambeau Field.

That’s significant because Rodgers is a Northern California native who grew up a fan of the 49ers. That would be the same 49ers that had the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and famously (or infamously) selected Utah’s Alex Smith over the University of California standout, Rodgers. Rodgers eventually fell to the No. 25 overall pick by the Packers.

All he’s done since then is apprentice behind Brett Favre for three years, win a Super Bowl, become the Most Valuable Player of the league and currently stands as the highest-rated quarterback in the history of professional football.

So, yeah, he’s done OK. And he’s still, well, a little miffed about that whole passed-over-by-my-favorite-team thing.

With that, on with the picks … with the home teams in CAPS:


BRONCOS (minus 8½) over Ravens: I get the Ray Lewis Farewell Tour thing, I really do. But the Ravens only go as far as their running game takes them and Denver stoned that running game about a month ago … on the road. The X-factor is how well ancient Peyton Manning handles the Rocky Mountain low temperatures.

Packers (plus 2½) over 49ERS: I’m not picking against Aaron Rodgers in this one. Given his history for playing with a chip on his shoulder, this could be one of those six- or seven-touchdown games that ends with him giving the proverbial finger to the old hometown team.


FALCONS (minus 2½) over Seahawks: I’d like Seattle more if Marshawn Lynch hadn’t been limited in practice all week. Atlanta’s run defense is weak, but Matt Ryan’s life got a lot easier when Chris Clemons went down in a heap on the artificial dirt at Washington last week.

PATRIOTS (minus 9½) over Texans: Seriously? The Texans are going to be that much improved after a 42-14 beatdown at Foxborough in Week 14? Ummmmm, no.

Last Week: 2-2
In the Playoffs: 2-2