With 8 NFL teams still in the playoff mix, it appears that homefield advantage will rule this weekend, with only the Green Bay Packers spoiling things in San Francisco:
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Ravens (11-6) at Broncos (13-3)
Time: 3:30 p.m., CBS; WSCR 670-AM.
Line: Broncos by 9.
History: Broncos QB Peyton Manning has never lost to the Ravens in nine meetings, including a 34-17 thrashing administered in Baltimore four weeks ago.
Storyline: The Ravens will try to wring a few more drops of emotion out of LB Ray Lewis' swan song, but thankfully that factor won't be as over hyped this week as it was last week in Baltimore. … The Broncos are on an 11-game win streak and seven of those wins have been by double digits. They've outscored their last four opponents 132-45.
Local flavor: Ravens starting CB Corey Graham played his first five years with the Bears after he was drafted in the fifth round in 2007 out of New Hampshire and went to the Pro Bowl as a special teams player after the 2011 season. Backup linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo spent three seasons (2005-07) with the Bears and went to the Pro Bowl as a special teams player twice. For the Colts, No. 3 quarterback Caleb Hanie spent his first four years (2008-11) with the Bears as a backup. After Jay Cutler was injured late in 2011, Hanie went 0-4 as a starter, throwing 9 interceptions and 2 TD passes.
Pick: Broncos 27, Ravens 13
Packers (12-5) at 49ers (11-4-1)
Time: 7 p.m., Fox; WSCR 670-AM
Line: 49ers by 3.
History: Packers hoping to return the favor after Niners came to Lambeau in Week One and spanked them 30-22.
Storyline: OLB Aldon Smith had 19 ½ sacks in his first 13 games for the 49ers, including 5 ½ against the Bears, but hasn't had any since DRT Justin Smith suffered a torn triceps. Smith is expected to play, but he's not close to 100 percent. … Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has been on fire, with 11 TD passes and no interceptions in his last four games. QB Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers will be making his first postseason start.
Local flavor: Crystal Lake's Bryan Bulaga started most of the last two seasons and the first nine games this season at right tackle for the Packers but is on injured reserve with a fractured hip. So is running back Cedric Benson, the Bears' first-round pick in 2005, who rushed for 1,593 yards in three seasons before he was cut. For the 49ers, 2012 first-round pick and former Illini WR A.J. Jenkins played in just three games and did not catch a pass this season. No. 3 QB Scott Tolzien is a Fremd H.S. graduate from Rolling Meadows. No. 3 RB Jewel Hampton is an undrafted rookie from Southern Illinois.
Pick: Packers 27, 49ers 23
Seahawks (12-5) at Falcons (13-3)
Time: noon, Fox; WSCR 670-AM
Line: Falcons by 1.
History: The pressure is clearly on the Falcons, who have won 56 regular-season games in the past five seasons and zero playoff games. They made the playoffs in three of the previous four seasons and went one-and-done each time. If it happens again, heads will roll.
Storyline: The Seahawks' current six-game win streak started with their 23-17, come-from-behind overtime victory over the Bears at Soldier Field, and they've outscored opponents 217-74 since then. … Falcons may have the best WR duo in the game in Roddy White and Julio Jones, but Seahawks have the NFL's best big CB tandem in 6-foot-3 Richard Sherman and 6-4 Brandon Browner. … Seahawks will be without their best pass rusher, DE Chris Clemons.
Local flavor: Seahawks backup OLT Frank Omiyale spent three up-and-mostly-down seasons (2009-11) with the Bears, moving in and out of the lineup at guard and tackle. Falcons RB Michael Turner is a Waukegan native and North Chicago H.S. graduate who set rushing records at Northern Illinois before being drafted by the Chargers in the fifth round in 2004. His NIU career marks of 4,941 yards and 43 rushing touchdowns were surpassed by Garrett Wolfe, another ex-Bear.
Pick: Falcons 27, Seahawks 20
Texans (13-4) at Patriots (12-4)
Time: 3:30 p.m., CBS; WSCR 670-AM
Line: Patriots by 9 ½.
History: Just a month ago the Patriots head-slapped the Texans 42-14 in Foxborough, starting the 11-1 losers toward a 1-3 finish.
Storyline: A victory would be the 17th in the postseason for the Patriots' Tom Brady, making him the winningest QB in NFL playoff history. … Texans DE J.J. Watt, the NFL defensive MVP with 20 ½ sacks and 16 pass break-ups, was held without a sack vs. the Patriots, which happened to Watt only three other games this season.
Local flavor: Texans WR Kevin Walter is a Libertyville H.S. graduate and TE Owen Daniels played at Naperville Central and Wisconsin. Daniels led the team with 6 TD catches and was second with 62 receptions and 716 yards. Walter was third with 41 catches and 518 yards. Backup FB and special teams ace Tyler Clutts played for the Bears in 2011, and SS Danieal Manning was a five-year starter for the Bears, starting in 2006, the year they drafted him in the second round. Weak-side linebacker Whitney Mercilus was the Texans' first-round pick in 2012 out of Illinois, where he led the nation in his final season. Patriots WR Brandon Lloyd also played at Illinois and was a Bear in 2008, when he caught 26 passes for 364 yards.
Pick: Patriots 30, Texans 23.
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