This has been a strange NFL season. Usually there's a whole host of playoff teams that look like Super Bowl contenders, but you're forced to narrow it down to two for the big game.
This year, it's way too easy to nitpick about every team, including the beloved team for many of you, the 15-1 Green Bay Packers. I see a reason for all 12 playoff teams to NOT go all the way.
I will say, however, that the best 2 teams are in the NFC. Yes, two and a half. Just like the CBS show "2 Men," right?
Those teams are the Packers, San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints - when the Saints are at home, which I think only counts as half a vote.
Looking back on my preseason playoff picks, I barely got a majority right - seven out of 12. I foresaw Green Bay, New Orleans and Atlanta in the NFC, and New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston in the AFC. Right on!
I also thought Philadelphia, Dallas and Arizona would make it out of the NFC and the New York Jets and San Diego would qualify from the AFC. Wrong-oh!
Thank goodness all four of my conference finalists are in, New Orleans beating Green Bay and Pittsburgh dropping Baltimore, with the Saints winning the Super Bowl.
Now, though, I gotta say, I don't like either New Orleans or the Steelers to win more than one playoff game.
The name of the game at this time of the season is defense, with a little offense thrown in.
As a wild card team last year, the Packers defense stepped up and made coordinator Dom Capers look like a head coach-in-waiting, and that's with him not being so successful as a head coach in the past.
This year, though, Green Bay, while accumulating a lot of turnovers, gets rolled in yardage. Sunday's 45-41 victory over the Lions didn't help matters any. A modest improvement won't be enough.
New Orleans (especially on the road), the Giants, Falcons and Lions have gaping holes on defense, too. See ya later.
That leaves San Francisco as my best bet to get out of the NFC, a team that admittedly has a "manager" at quarterback in Alex Smith. But Frank Gore's running and a shutdown defense are what it takes to win in the playoffs.
On the AFC side, the Patriots have a terrible defense, while the rest of the AFC teams are adequate there, while their offenses suffer. Cincinnati is unproven, Denver's Tim Tebow lost it as quickly as he found it, and Pittsburgh and Houston have major injury issues.
That leaves Baltimore. Joe Flacco is up and down but Ray Rice's running and a clamp-down defense make them my other best pick to reach the big game.
Notice I'm not actually picking them to get there. No, I'll just select winners as the games come, because the 49ers and Ravens might get bounced in their first games for all I know.
That's how topsy-turvy the league is this year. And being a Packers or Lions fan aside, isn't that what makes the NFL so interesting?
Here's this week's picks, with times and TV network coverage:
Cincinnati at Houston, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC - Two teams lacking playoff experience. Both teams limped home, the Texans 0-3 after clinching a playoff berth, Cincinnati 3-5 when it needed wins.
Both defenses are excellent, while the Bengals have the better passing game with a relatively healthy QB Andy Dalton and Houston has Arian Foster to lead a superior running game. Texans, 23-20.
Detroit at New Orleans, 8 p.m. Saturday, NBC - It's not the Lions' fault, unless you blame them for losing to the Packers last weekend, but I don't give them much of a chance playing in the Big Easy, where's the Saints' average margin of victory is more than 24 points, including a 31-17 win over the Lions a month ago.
Detroit's lack of a running game will mean New Orleans can key on QB Matthew Stafford and force multiple interceptions and/or sacks, and a weak rush defense means at least a few long runs by Saints' back Darren Sproles.
Bad combo against a team trying to avenge last year's first-round playoff loss to 7-9 Seattle. And I didn't even get to New Orleans QB Drew Brees' record 5,400 yards passing. Saints, 38-22.
Atlanta at New York Giants, 1 p.m. Sunday, Fox - For some reason, this matchup makes me think of Big Ten vs. Southeastern Conference bowl games.
At this time of the year, the SEC shows it plays on a different level, and here, Atlanta is a stand-in for Alabama, LSU or Florida. Falcons, 31-20.
Pittsburgh at Denver, 4:30 p.m. Sunday, CBS - I'm sorely tempted to pick against the Steelers, with the loss of top back Rashard Mendenhall and top tackler, safety Ryan Clark, and the injury that has limited the mobility of QB Ben Roethlisberger.
But a shutdown defense, No. 1 overall and against the pass, will still be enough to end Tebow-mania once and for all. At least this season. Steelers, 17-10.
Last week - 14-2, 88 percent (yes, and that was with picking the Lions to win!). Season - 173-83, 68 percent.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.