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Divisional round handicapping column

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Posted Jan. 11, 2013 @ 4:05 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Here's a fun fact: In the last 20 divisional round games dating back to the 2007 postseason, we've seen as many underdogs as favorites move on to the divisional round. Yes, 10 favorites have fallen hard in these last five postseasons. 

Here's a little more about these 10 unfortunate faves: 

• Nine favorites were No. 1 or No. 2 seeds playing at home after a bye week. The losing favorites were the 2011 Packers, the 2010 Patriots and Falcons, the 2009 Chargers, the 2008 Titans, Panthers and Giants and the 2007 Colts and Cowboys. The 2011 Saints, the No. 3 seed in the NFC, were the only road favorite of the group; they fell at San Francisco last January. 

• Five of these teams were favored by more than a touchdown: the 2011 Packers, the '10 Patriots, the '09 Chargers, '08 Panthers and '07 Colts. What's more, the '07 Cowboys, who lost to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Giants, were favored by 7-to-7½ points in the divisional round, based on various closing lines. 

That's right — at least one favorite of more than a touchdown has lost in this round in each of the past five seasons. 

With this backdrop, here are my divisional-round picks: 

 Baltimore (+9½) can be competitive at Denver on Saturday afternoon. The Ravens' defense did a credible job against Peyton Manning and Co. in Week 15, allowing 350 yards on 75 plays in a 34-17 loss. Seven of those points came on Chris Harris' game-changing interception return in the final moments of the first half — a potential 14-point swing. The Ravens are talented and experienced, and they are a threat to Denver if they play something close to their best. Baltimore is an attractive underdog at this price.

•Likewise, I'm all over Houston (+9½) at New England on Sunday. The Texans hardly could have played much worse in their Week 14 loss against the Patriots. They did not score a single point until the third quarter, and they allowed TDs on the Pats' first three drives. Houston is much better than that. The Texans outgained a good Bengals team by a more than 2:1 margin in the wild-card round and are capable giving New England much more of a test than in the first meeting between these clubs. The Texans' pass rush, pass coverage and running game will be keys. 

•In the Saturday-night divisional game, I'll take the Packers (+3) at San Francisco. My rationale is simple: Getting points with an Aaron Rodgers-led offense appeals to me. Green Bay is 2-0 straight-up and against the spread as an underdog in playoff games with Rodgers in the lineup. What's more, I'm just not thrilled with the 49ers' recent form. Only once in the last five games have the 49ers scored more than seven first-half points, with the lone exception their impressive Week 15 win at New England. The 49ers cannot start slowly against Green Bay if they are to move on to the NFC championship game for the second straight season. 

•For my final selection, I'll take Atlanta (-2½) over Seattle. I'm well aware of the Falcons' playoff futility. Moreover, they aren't the most imposing 13-3 team I've ever seen. There's a good statistical case for the Seahawks, whom I don't relish picking against, given how well they are playing. Nevertheless, there's much to like about the Falcons. They have a strong passing game, and they come off a week of rest. What's more, I have liked how they have played at home in big games in 2012, with wins vs. the Broncos, Saints and Giants examples of their ability to step up their play when the bright lights are upon them. 

Last week: 2-2
Season to date: 38-32-2 

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