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Playoff picks: Packers a good bet this time

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Playoff picks: Packers a good bet this time

Six days after Adrian Peterson blistered them for nearly 200 yards and helped lift his team to a stunning playoff berth, the Green Bay Packers get another taste of ``A.D.''

This time, they will deal with ``All Day'' Peterson at Lambeau Field. And in the playoffs.

The stakes are similar to last week for the Vikings, who would have been out of the playoffs had they lost to Green Bay, which already owned the division title. The venue, obviously, is different.

If that seems like a big edge for the Packers, well, they lost their last two postseason home games, both to the Giants, who went on to win the Super Bowl each time. They dropped a 31-14 verdict to Minnesota after the 2004 season, the only time in 104 matchups these NFC North rivals have met in the playoffs.

So Green Bay is 1-3 in recent home playoff games on the tundra. That doesn't diminish the challenge facing Minnesota, an 8-point underdog.

``It put us in a spot that we've been wanting to be, wanted to get here since April 23 of last year when we started OTAs,'' Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder said of the win over the Packers that got them a trip to Green Bay, where they lost 23-14 in the regular season.

``It's going to be tough going to Lambeau. Obviously it's an environment that's tough to play in, but we're hoping that a lot of our Vikings fans travel, just like there were some Green Bay fans at home this past week.''

The shorter week won't matter to either side considering they faced off last weekend. At least it gives the Packers less time to watch video of the horror show their defense put on trying to slow down Peterson.

They'll do a better job this Saturday night.

BEST BET: PACKERS, 31-20

Indianapolis (plus 6 1/2 ) at Baltimore

This could be Ray Lewis' final game; he announced Wednesday his plan to end his 17-year career that certainly should land him in the Hall of Fame.

There are much better ways to finish than chasing around the Colts' offense, which will be a difficult chore for the Ravens' defense. With Lewis sidelined for nearly three months with a triceps injury and Terrell Suggs not resembling the Defensive Player of the Year he was in 2011 as he plays while still recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, Baltimore can't count on shutting down opponents.

In previous seasons when the Ravens were a defensive power, Andrew Luck might be reduced to an overmatched rookie. Not now.

UPSET SPECIAL: COLTS, 23-17

Cincinnati (plus 5) at Houston

The Texans stumbled into the playoffs, losing three of four and blowing home-field advantage and a bye in the AFC. Cincinnati, on the other hand, won seven of its last eight with a staunch defense.

Houston made the postseason for the first time last year and promptly knocked off the Bengals in the wild-card round. Both teams are improved this season, and the key could be which side protects its quarterback better. Houston has J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith providing pressure on the quarterbacks. For Cincinnati, it's Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson.

Houston will do it better.

TEXANS, 24-20

Seattle (minus 1 1/2) at Washington

The juiciest of the weekend's matchups features two streaking teams: Washington won its final seven games to take the NFC East, Seattle took its last five and seven of eight.

Rookie quarterbacks Robert Griffin III for the Redskins and Russell Wilson for the Seahawks have been sensational, like Indy's Luck. RG3 showed enough mobility in the win over Dallas to clinch the division, and his knee should be even stronger on Sunday to provide the double-threat potential that highlights his game.

Wilson is healthy and has similar skills. Even more encouraging for him is the Seahawks have an intimidating, resourceful defense with the speed to slow down Washington's offense. Seattle also has learned how to win on the road.

SEAHAWKS, 23-16

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2012 RECORD:

Against spread: 7-6 (112-124-7). Straight up: 12-4 (159-92-1)

Best Bet: 7-8-2 against spread, 11-6 straight up.

Upset special: 11-6 against spread, 9-8 straight up.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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How big is the Ravens' roster bubble?

How big is the Ravens' roster bubble?

With two preseason games left and a little more than a week until the 53-man roster has to be set -- the first cut from 90 to 75 players must be done by Tuesday, with the final cut to 53 by Saturday, Sept. 3 -- the bubble is about to burst for many Ravens.

There has been speculation all camp about players landing on the right side or the wrong side of the roster bubble, but how big, exactly, is that bubble?

The hard truth is it's not very big at all. This isn't the case of 90 people competing for 53 jobs. By our count, 47 spots on the team can be considered locks, which leaves just six open spots. And one of those is at quarterback.

Here's how my colleague Clifton Brown and I view the Ravens roster bubble with two games left, although an injury could send one of these locks to IR and make the bubble just a bit larger.

RELATED: WILL LEWIS WIN STARTING LEFT GUARD SPOT OVER URSCHEL?

QUARTERBACK:

Locks (1): Joe Flacco

Bubble: Ryan Mallett, Josh Johnson

The Ravens will keep just two quarterbacks, but Johnson has done enough to warrant consideration for the job and put Ryan Mallett on the bubble.

RUNNING BACK:

Lock (5): Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West, Kyle Juszczyk

Bubble: Lorenzo Taliaferro

With an outstanding camp West moves to the 'lock' category, and Taliaferro could begin the year on the PUP list, which will buy him some time to get healthy. But that doesn't guarantee Taliaferro will play for the Ravens again.

TIGHT END:

Lock (4): Dennis Pitta, Ben Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams

Bubble: Daniel Brown

Pitta is still out with a broken finger but he will be on the active roster, something few expected four months ago. Maxx Williams has also missed time recently, so this group at the moment isn't nearly as deep as once thought. Darren Waller (four games) and Nick Boyle (10 games) will begin the season on the suspended list but could be heard from later in the year.

WIDE RECEIVER:

Lock (6): Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore.

Bubble: Jeremy Butler, Chris Matthews, Keenan Reynolds

This group is deep but also loaded with injury concerns. If healthy, the top six will all make the 53-man roster. Given the injury questions surrounding Perriman, Campanaro, Moore and Smith, it makes sense to keep a seventh receiver, and Butler is well ahead of the other two.

OFFENSIVE LINE:

Locks (7): Rick Wagner, Marshal Yanda, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Ryan Jensen.

Bubble: Vladimir Ducasse, James Hurst, De'Ondre Wesley

Lewis could be the starter at left guard if Urschel remains sidelined, giving the Ravens an all-rookie look on Joe Flacco's blind side. Jensen had a rough night at Indianapolis but can play anywhere on the line. They love that versatility. The Ravens will likely keep an eighth lineman, and they usually stash a couple of others on the practice squad.

DEFENSIVE LINE:

Locks (5): Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy, Carl Davis, Brent Urban

Bubble: Willie Henry, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Michael Pierce

Henry earned coach John Harbaugh's ire with a penalty that gave the Colts a chance to attempt a potential game-winning field goal last week, but the Ravens rarely cut draft picks, let alone fourth-rounders. He is pretty close to a lock. The season-ending injury to Bronson Kaufusi opens the door for someone.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER:

Locks (5): Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Za'Darius Smith, Albert McClellan, Matt Judon

Bubble: Chris Carter, Victor Ochi

With Kamalei Correa also playing outside, the Ravens probably keep only the top five.

INSIDE LINEBACKER:

Locks (4): C.J. Mosley, Zach Orr, Kamalei Correa, Anthony Levine

Bubble: Arthur Brown, Patrick Onwuasor

Levine remains one of the Ravens top special teamers and can play safety in a pinch. His move to linebacker spells trouble for Brown.

CORNERBACK:

Locks (4): Jimmy Smith, Shareece Wright, Jerraud Powers, Tavon Young

Bubble: Sheldon Price, Will Davis, Kyle Arrington, Maurice Canady

Rookie sixth-rounder Canady has missed time with an injury but returned to practice this week. Arrington remains out and his spot on the 53-man roster is looking more tenuous by the day. Ozzie Newsome likes to say that "you can never have too many corners," but it remains to be seen how many the Ravens will keep.

SAFETY:

Locks (3): Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Kendrick Lewis

Bubble: Terrence Brooks, Matt Elam

Elam is sidelined by arthroscopic knee surgery, which could open the door for Brooks. Levine's ability to play safety could factor here. Don't rule out the Ravens signing a veteran safety once other teams make cuts; that's when they landed James Ihedigbo a few years ago.

SPECIALISTS:

Locks (3): Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox

Bubble: None

All have been to the Pro Bowl and all are back. No questions here.

MORE RAVENS: ZA'DARIUS SMITH AMONG THOSE NOT PLAYING SATURDAY

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Will Lewis win starting left guard spot over Urschel?

Will Lewis win starting left guard spot over Urschel?

OWINGS MILLS – Will the Ravens go into the regular season with two rookies protecting quarterback Joe Flacco’s blindside?

“If we go into the regular season that way, it will be because I’m confident in those two guys over there,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

Those two guys are rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who already has the starting job locked down, and rookie left guard Alex Lewis. Lewis heads into Saturday night’s preseason game against the Lions making a push to be a Week 1 starter as well. Third-year left guard John Urschel hasn’t played since the preseason opener and he didn’t practice this week. Lewis has taken advantage of the extra reps.

RELATED: ZA'DARIUS SMITH AMONG THOSE NOT PLAYING SATURDAY

Ravens coach John Harbaugh has said that Urschel has a “contusion”, and was expected to be back soon. But the longer Urschel is out, the more time Lewis has to convince the coaches he should start.

That’s why Saturday night’s preseason game is huge for Lewis. He’s making a rapid adjustment from being a fourth-round pick out of Nebraska, to a possible starter in the NFL.

 “You’ve really got to focus on your technique, your fundamentals, because everyone at this level is good,” Lewis said. “You don’t have those one or two guys you game plan for. In the NFL, all 11 guys on the other side are those dogs you’re trying to get ready for.”

With Flacco starting at quarterback Saturday night, the pressure will be on Stanley and Lewis to play well as a tandem. The Ravens knew they would need a new starting left guard, after Kelechi Osemele signed with the Raiders during free agency. Urschel could still be that guy. But if Lewis plays well Saturday night, it could sway the coaching staff in his direction.

MORE RAVENS: FLACCO LOOKS FORWARD TO PLAYING, BUT NOT GETTING HIT

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LB Za'Darius Smith among those not playing Saturday

LB Za'Darius Smith among those not playing Saturday

OWINGS MILLS – Add outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith to the list of Ravens not expected to play Saturday night. Head coach John Harbaugh said Smith had an ankle issue that would keep him out against the Lions. Smith was not at practice Thursday.

Others not expected to play against the Lions include outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman, left guard John Urschel, tight ends Dennis Pitta and Maxx Williams, safety Kendrick Lewis, cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Jerraud Powers, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams. All of them are at various stages of dealing with injuries.

RELATED: FLACCO LOOKS FORWARD TO PLAYING, BUT NOT GETTING HIT

Perriman returned to practice this week, but head coach John Harbaugh did not commit to playing Perriman after Thursday’s walkthrough practice.

“We’ll see, it’s up to the doctors,” Harbaugh said of Perriman. “He hasn’t gone full speed in practice yet. Today was not a full speed practice for anybody.”

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is not expected to play either, because he just returned to practice this week after offseason foot surgery. With Suggs, Dumervil, and Smith out of the lineup, Saturday should present an opportunity for pass rushers like Matt Judon, Chris Carter, and Victor Ochi to get extra reps.

MORE RAVENS: PERRIMAN HOPES TO IMPRESS WITH SPEED AND HANDS