OK, let's get this out of the way.
I have been terrible so far in 2014 on NFL picks. Shaquille O'Neal at the free throw line would have a much better chance than me at making one. I am shooting 20 percent so far.
My 2013 NFL season was a good one. I believed in the Panthers long before most did, picking them before the season began to finish 10-6 and make the playoffs. They ended up 12-4. In individual Panther games, which I picked each week, I ended up 12-4 as well (no, I didn't pick Carolina to win every time, that's just how it worked out).
But 2014 has been awful, and I hope no one has bet any money and gone down in flames with me. I am 1-for-5 so far, missing 3 out of 4 in the wild-card week and then incorrectly picking the Panthers to upset San Francisco last week (I didn't make a prediction on the other 3 for some reason).
So take these picks at your own risk, but I believe Denver and Seattle will both justify their No.1 seeds and win at home Sunday to advance to the Super Bowl.
Denver, to me, is just a little more complete team than New England, which has been ravaged by injury but still gotten this far in one of Bill Belichick's best coaching jobs. There will be a ton of scoring in this one, but I'm going with Peyton Manning over Tom Brady and picking: Denver 38, New England 34.
In the NFC game, defense will be much more prevalent. On a neutral field, I think I would pick the 49ers -- they are playing extremely well and certainly have a shot at going all the way. But the Seahawks in Seattle are a different breed -- tougher, more confident... just plain better. First read this great and funny Rick Reilly piece about Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll and their feud, and then give me Seattle, 20-17.
Of course, given my track record in 2014 so far, that probably means we will see a New England-San Francisco Super Bowl.
Steve Smith: I'm a Panther until I'm told otherwise
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