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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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Lamar Jackson makes history with career day in win over the Bengals

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Lamar Jackson makes history with career day in win over the Bengals

BALTIMORE — Lamar Jackson set the tone for Sunday’s game on the Ravens' first drive of the afternoon. 

He rushed just twice, one of which went for a touchdown, but had 57 yards on the game-tying opening drive. 

Jackson finished with 152 yards on the ground — a career high — to carry the Ravens to a 23-17 win over the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. 

“I take advantage, like I said before, and I’m trying to win at the end of the day,” Jackson said after the game. “If I’ve got to run, I’ve got to do it and today that’s what it was. Sometimes I had to pass. Sometimes I had to run.”

He did throw for 236 yards and completed 21 of 33 passes, too. But the story was his legs, which kept the Bengals off-balance all day.

“Lamar was able to get out and run because of the way they were playing,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They were playing kind of spill defense. They really didn’t want us to run the ball up inside with our running backs, and that opened up some other things."

Jackson now has 460 rushing yards on the season and is on pace for over 1,200. He’s also on pace for just over 4,000 passing yards.

His dual-threat ability has flummoxed nearly every team the Ravens have played this season. Jackson has had over 300 scrimmage yards in all but one (last week in against the Steelers) of the Ravens' games. 

“That’s the most frustrating thing for a defense,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “You have a play covered, and he’s an elite athlete. We’ve played a couple of good athletes. He’s one of the rarest I’ve seen in person. Just one little crease and he’s got 30 yards on you.”

Cincinnati sold out to stop the interior run, and Jackson and the rest of the Baltimore running attack burned the Bengals on the outside. 

Jackson’s elusiveness was never more evident than on the Ravens' last full drive of the game. The Ravens received the ball with 13:32 left in the fourth quarter and a 20-10 lead. They didn’t give the ball back to the Bengals until there was just over three minutes to play.

“I catch myself on the sideline stretching because, you know, they’ll be holding the ball for a minute and we’ve got to stay warm,” Matthew Judon said. “He picks us up in crucial times and keeps getting first downs. It’s hard, man. You can’t cover everybody and keep a spy on him [at] all times.”

The nine minute, 46 second drive, highlighted by a 16-yard Jackson scramble on 3rd and 14, put away any realistic chance the Bengals had of pulling off an upset.

It capped off a historic day for Jackson and his place in the NFL record books. He became the first player in NFL history to rush for more than 150 yards and register at least 200 yards passing in a regular season game.

The Bengals sold out to stop interior rushes and mostly took away big passing plays from the Ravens. Jackson just made the Bengals pick their poison when it came to choosing what to stop. 

And Jackson made Cincinnati realized that whatever it chose was still poison.

“He was cutting it back, throwing outside and running around,” Bengals linebacker Preston Brown said. “He was just having fun on us, and that’s what you never want to have done.”

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Mark Andrews fails to hurdle defender, turns ball over instead

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Mark Andrews fails to hurdle defender, turns ball over instead

In any NFL game, there are plenty of obstacles to hurdle. Ravens tight ends have taken that literally this season, to mixed effect.

On occasion, the Ravens’ trio of tight ends have managed to add a few extra yards after the catch by hurdling a would-be tackler. Sometimes, it doesn’t go as well.

It’s always scary seeing huge NFL athletes high up in the air. What goes up must come down, and the potential for injury is rarely more pronounced than during an attempted hurdle.

Ball security is typically a lesser concern, but it certainly was an issue for Andrews on this play. This was the second consecutive week the Ravens have turned the ball over in their own territory late in the first half.

The defense managed to hold Cincinnati to a field goal, but against a less talented team, turnovers are a good way to make games closer than they should be. 

In an offense with a lot of unproven talent at wide receiver, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens have turned to their tight ends more often than usual. In fact, Jackson has targeted a tight end on a higher percentage of passes than any other quarterback in football.

This has given Andrews, Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst more opportunities to leap over defenders, even though the reward is minimal and the risk is major.

Maybe Andrews’ fumble will give the unit pause the next time they’re face to face with an oncoming defender.

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