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

Ravens excited about increased speed at wide receiver

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Ravens excited about increased speed at wide receiver

Will the Ravens’ increased speed at wide receiver force opponents to defend them differently?

The Ravens hope so.

They were without Breshad Perriman (knee injury) all of last season, and without Steve Smith Sr. (Achilles injury) the final two months.

That gave opponents license to put a safety closer to the line of scrimmage, and to crowd Ravens receivers with press coverage – unafraid that the Ravens could throw deep with success.

However, Perriman is healthy again, and the Ravens added two speed receivers by signing Mike Wallace during free agency and drafting Chris Moore in the fourth round.

The Ravens believe that speed will lead to more big plays, help their running game, and give Smith and other receivers more operating room.

“We’ve had years when we couldn’t back anybody up,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “The ability to back people up, it’s huge – to quote a famous politician not to be named here. It’s hard for me to see the speed all of the time in some of these drills. I’m like,`How fast are they really moving?’ Then I go ask the (defensive backs) and they say, ‘They’re moving really fast.’ And that makes me feel good about it.”

Perriman averaged 19.5 yards per catch at Central Florida, Moore averaged 19.3 yards per catch at Cincinnati, and Wallace has averaged 15.2 yards per catch over a seven-year NFL career.

The Ravens believe their speed will make opponents think twice about crowding the line of scrimmage. And when opponents do crowd the line of scrimmage, the Ravens plan to make them pay with big plays.

RELATED: FREE AGENT WEDDLE ALREADY MAKING AN IMPACT

Ravens quickly convinced Weddle will be difference maker for secondary

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Ravens quickly convinced Weddle will be difference maker for secondary

Veteran safety Eric Weddle is quickly making a strong impression with the Ravens.

After the first week of OTA’s, both coach Johh Harbaugh and defensive back Lardarius Webb mentioned Weddle as being a difference maker, after being acquired in free agency from the Chargers.

Weddle’s experience as a three-time Pro Bowler should be vital for a Ravens secondary that surrendered too many big plays last season.

Webb sees Weddle seamlessly taking command of the secondary, calling out coverages and making sure teammates are lined up properly.

“If he has anything to tell me I’m always listening,” Webb said. “He’s going to be big for this defense – for this team. He speaks up. I told him, `We want Eric Weddle. Don’t hold back. Don’t be quiet. We want you. If you yelled when you were with the Chargers, I want you coming out here yelling. Just be yourself. Grow the beard back, because we want the beard. If that’s who you were, grow the beard. He’s growing it back. He’s being himself and we’re loving it. It was a great move.”

Weddle has been offering advice to Webb on making the transition from cornerback to safety. Weddle can also lead by example, helping the development of young safeties like Terrence Brooks and Matt Elam.

At age 31, Weddle wants to show he can still play at a Pro Bowl level, and he desperately wants to make the playoffs. Harbaugh seems to have no doubt Weddle will make the Ravens’ defense better.

“I just really appreciate his attitude,” Harbaugh said. “He’s got an enthusiasm for the work day. He loves football. He loves every part of the work day. He loves every part of being in here and being a football player. There’s never something that you look at him and he’s not excited to do. That is infectious. That’s something that makes us all better, and to me, that’s one of the things that a great leader does and he’s got those qualities.

“He fits in with how we do things around here perfectly. I give (general manager) Ozzie (Newsome) all the credit in the world. That was a great signing.”

RELATED: CONDITIONING REMAINS AN ISSUE FOR RB RICHARDSON

Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

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Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

Will running back Trent Richardson’s lack of conditioning be his downfall with the Ravens?

Richardson missed the first week of OTA’s with a hamstring issue, which was not the kind of early impression he wanted to make. Some injuries are unavoidable. But conditioning has been an issue for Richardson throughout his brief and so far undistinguished NFL career.

Entering the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick with the Browns in 2012, Richardson has disappointed in Cleveland and Indianapolis, and spent 2015 out of the league after the Raiders cut him before the season. When the Ravens signed Richardson in April, he knew it might be his last NFL chance. However, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants to see even more commitment from Richardson when it comes to staying in shape.

RELATED: IN LATEST COMEBACK BID, RAVENS TE DENNIS PITTA'S CONFIDENCE NOT A PROBLEM

“Trent just needs to get healthy,” Harbaugh said after the first week of OTA’s. “I think the workload and the amount of work it takes to be a world class conditioned athlete is something that he’s working on right now. That’s what he needs to understand and that’s where he needs to get himself. When he gets himself there, he’s got talent. It will be fun. I’m very certain he’ll get there and when he does we’ll be able to evaluate him.”

The Ravens don’t have to wait on Richardson. Their running back competition is already intense, with Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West all fighting for carries and roles.

Whether Richardson even threatens to make the team remains to be seen. His bigger priority is improving his conditioning, and getting back on the field.

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