The four wildcard match-ups include a rematch of last week's thriller between Minnesota and Green Bay. This week, however, the teams switch from the cozy dome in Minnesota to the frozen tundra of Green Bay, Wisconsin (actually, under soil heating keeps the tundra unfrozen, but still).
All three of the rookie sensation quarterbacks are in action: Andrew Luck, fresh off a win over Houston, takes the emotionally-charged Colts into an equally emotionally-charged Baltimore, while Robert Griffin III and the Redskins, having won the last play-off place available in the season's final game Sunday Night, take on Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in a match-up of teams whose offenses are mirror images of each other.
Sure thing: Ravens (-7) v Colts at 2.00
I like the Ravens to be able to put their act together at home this weekend. With former Colt head coach Jim Caldwell calling the shots as offensive coordinator, they should overcome the emotional tide behind the Colts, whose coach Chuck Pagano has recently returned from a bout with cancer. Pagano was formely a defensive coordinator with the Ravens, so he knows their schemes inside-out, but more important to the Colts' success this year has been their offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. As he did so often in Pittsburgh, he has maximised the strength of an offensive featuring rookies at key positions and a flimsy line. Arians served as interim head coach while Pagano was gone, and has probably ensured that he'll be at the forefront of the line for head coaching vacancies.
Andrew Luck, the highly-touted rookie QB for the Colts, will face pressure, and the Ravens have their own emotional card to play as veteran linebacker Ray Lewis makes his return from injury, in what will be his final games for the team. Lewis is unlikely to make much difference on the field, but the boost when he is inevitably introduced as the final player out of the tunnel in the pregame may be worth three points to the Ravens there. At 2.00 this may also be the best value bet of the weekend.
Outside bet: Under 43 points in Houston v Bengals at 1.95
This is likely to be a low-scoring and relatively even contest; both teams have better defenses than offenses, and neither is designed to run away with a game or play catch-up very well. It's not a perfect scenario, because each team has one big-threat game-breaking receiver: AJ Green for the Bengals and Andre Johnson for the Texans. Both can get points off turnovers forced by their defenses, and Houston allowed four return touchdowns this year, including a big one last week in their loss at Indianapolis.
Value bet: Houston v Bengals (+4.5) at 1.91
If you don't like the Ravens as good value, you might consider the Bengals getting points. It's likely to be low scoring, as I say above, and indeed it's easy to see the Bengals winning if Houston continue their spotty form of the last three weeks of the regular season. I feel the Texans are likely to get it right when it matters, but that's a different thing than pulling away with a win. I've also picked the Seahawks straight up in Washington; they're giving the Skins three points, and they are traditionally not a great team on the road, so you might consider taking the Skins and points here.
One to avoid: Green Bay v Vikings (+9.5)
This ought to be a close game, and taking the Packers at 2.08 to win might well be a good long odds small wager bet. In normal circumstances, you'd think Adrian Peterson could keep the Vikes within a touchdown, but the real wild card here is the weather, which is forecast to be very bad. This could lead to a low-scoring game, one in which passing is difficult. Paradoxically, that could bother the Vikings' Christian Ponder, who doesn't pass a lot, more than it does Aaron Rodgers - or he could merely dump it to AP and watch the fun that results. There are lots of ways this one could go, but until I see the state of Lambeau Field, I'd be cautious about following any hunches.