Since the Panthers are off this week, I'm going to take a shot at picking the wildcard games instead. These games are very important, because someone always gets hot. The Super Bowl winner has played on the first weekend of the playoffs in each of the past three years. UPDATE: The Observer has just scheduled a fun, free event next Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. You can talk football with former Panthers Mike Rucker, Mark Carrier and current Panther radio analyst Eugene Robinson and eat FREE pizza, but you HAVE to pre-register here.
Normally, I only pick the Panthers' outcome, both on a weekly and a "before-the-season" basis. (My colleague Tom Sorensen picks all the games each week). My results were decent this year. I picked the team to go 10-6 in early September, before the season began, and to make the playoffs. They went 12-4.
On a week-by-week basis, I got the Panthers right 12 out of 16 times, or 75 percent of the time. My best pick was probably choosing the Panthers to lose at Arizona back when no one thought the Cardinals were much good, or picking them to beat the Jets by 10, which they did. My worst one was probably picking Carolina to win at New Orleans.
In any case, I think Carolina will wind up hosting Philadelphia next Sunday at 1:05 p.m. in the NFC playoffs in Charlotte, because I think Philadelphia beats New Orleans this weekend. The Eagles are relatively healthy and both Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy are playing extremely well. More importantly, they are playing in Philly, and the Saints are only 3-5 on the road. My pick: Philadelphia 27, New Orleans 23.
In the other NFC game, I like San Francisco to beat Green Bay on the frozen tundra, which would send the 49ers to Seattle next weekend (assuming Philadelphia also wins). The 49ers have really rounded into form the past month and are a serious Super Bowl threat despite their No.5 seed in the playoffs. My pick: San Francisco 24, Green Bay 17.
In the AFC, I believe Kansas City will pull a mild upset and edge Indianapolis on the road, 20-16, and that Cincinnati will beat San Diego, 28-20.
-- If you haven't voted in my poll yet for what you believe was the most important play of the Panthers' 2013 regular season, please do. Here's the link.
I asked 16 Panther players that same question this week and those results will be published soon online and in The Observer, but I would like your input, too.
I can tell you one thing: from the early results, it's almost a sure thing that the players and the fans aren't going to pick the same play at No.1. (The fan vote has Domenik Hixon's diving catch -- above in the picture -- to win the home game vs. New Orleans as a runaway No.1 so far).