NFL gameday: Try your best to root for the Seahawks — it’s in the Saints’ best interests _lowres

FILE - In this Nov. 27, 2014, file photo, San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore, center, is tackled by Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas (29) and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (54) during the first quarter of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif. After Jamaal Charles ran wild on Seattle, the Seahawks got serious again about stopping the run. Arizona and San Francisco were stymied the past two games. Now comes a major challenge for Seattle facing the Eagles' duo of LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

THIS WEEK’S STORYLINE: When sifting through the Saints’ potential opponents in the postseason, try to find a way to root for the Seahawks

The rooting interests for Saints fans are pretty clear: New Orleans needs to win, and everyone else in the NFC South needs to lose — something that appears quite possible on paper.

The Saints probably are not going to be a wild-card team. They need to win the division. Picking up a victory this week against the Panthers, and having the Falcons lose at the Packers, would put New Orleans in the driver’s seat.

But getting to the playoffs shouldn’t be the only goal. The Saints need to get there and do some damage. As things currently stand, they would host the Seahawks in the first round.

That’s not the game you want. Assuming Seattle is going to get into the playoffs one way or another, the best scenario for the Saints would be for the Seahawks to win the NFC West and for the Cardinals or 49ers to win a wild card. The Lions are currently in control of the No. 6 seed.

We already know the Saints can hang with the 49ers and Lions, and Arizona is enduring its own struggles. Any of those opponents would be preferable to the Seahawks.

So, unless you think Seattle will drop more of its final four games against Philadelphia, San Francisco, Arizona and St. Louis than it wins, the best bet is to cheer for the Seahawks to win and for Arizona to lose.

And, while you’re at it, you might want to say “Go Packers.” They’re only a game up on the Lions in the NFC North.

Nick Underhill’s top five teams in the NFL (this week)

1. Packers (9-3)

That was a quality win over the Patriots last week. No team is hotter than Green Bay right now.

2. Patriots (9-3)

The loss only slides them down a spot. New England played well — just not well enough.

3. Eagles (9-3)

This team is playing great football, as evidenced by the 33-10 whooping it put on Dallas on the road.

4. Broncos (9-3)

They keep winning, and that’s what matters. Still, something about this team makes it feel vulnerable.

5. Seahawks (8-4)

They’re back from the crash earlier this season and appear to be peaking at the right time.

This week’s games

BALTIMORE (7-5) at MIAMI (7-5)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Dolphins by 3

Briefly: Ravens coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco are 4-0 against Dolphins, including three wins in Miami. ... Flacco hasn’t thrown interception in past three games. ... Miami’s Ryan Tannehill has completed at least 70 percent of passes in each of past five games. ... Brent Grimes ranks second in the NFL with five interceptions.

NICK’S PICK: Dolphins 24, Ravens 21

TAMPA BAY (2-10) at DETROIT (8-4)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Lions by 10

Briefly: Detroit QB Matthew Stafford has thrown for 602 yards and six TDs in two meetings with Tampa Bay. ... Lions are 3-0 when QB throws for at least 300 yards, Tampa Bay is 1-3. ... Bucs rookie WR Mike Evans had 554 receiving yards in November, setting team record for any month. ... Tampa Bay DT Gerald McCoy has 16 sacks in past 19 games.

NICK’S PICK: Lions 28, Buccaneers 20

N.y. JETS (2-10) at MINNESOTA (5-7)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Vikings by 51/2

Briefly: Jets have not lost to Vikings since 1975 and have won seven straight in series. Last time teams met, Brett Favre threw 500th career TD pass at Meadowlands for Vikings to Randy Moss. ... Vikings have allowed average of 148.3 rushing yards over last four games with average of 4.7 yards per attempt in that span.

NICK’S PICK: Vikings 17, Jets 14

ST. LOUIS (5-7) at WASHINGTON (3-9)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Rams by 3

Briefly: Rams seeking consecutive wins for first time this season. They’ve alternated wins and losses for eight weeks. Loss would clinch 11th consecutive non-winning season. ... Washington has lost four straight. ... Colt McCoy makes third start of season for Redskins, replacing Robert Griffin III. ... Redskins WR DeSean Jackson leads NFL with 20.0 yards per catch.

NICK’S PICK: Rams 21, Redskins 17


WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Colts by 31/2

Briefly: Colts can clinch AFC South title with win and loss by Houston to Jacksonville. ... Colts playing first road game since Nov. 3 at New York. ... Browns still in playoff hunt, and coach Mike Pettine sticking with starting QB Brian Hoyer, who has been in three-game slump. Rookie QB Johnny Manziel came off the bench last week in relief of Hoyer.

NICK’S PICK: Colts 31, Browns 20


WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Bengals by 3

Briefly: Steelers need win to maintain realistic chance of winning AFC North. They host Bengals to conclude regular season. ... Ben Roethlisberger hit his right wrist on a helmet during loss to Saints and was limited in practice. ... Bengals won on road each of past three weeks, a franchise first. ... QB Andy Dalton was ill during win over Tampa Bay but had fully recovered by midweek.

NICK’S PICK: Steelers 20, Bengals 17


WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Texans by 6

Briefly: Texans have won two of three since bye week, and with two games remaining against Jacksonville over final four weeks, feel they have chance to make move in AFC wild-card race. ... Jaguars coming off second win, a come-from-behind victory against Giants. ... Jaguars have forced league-high eight fumbles, recovering six, over past two weeks.

NICK’S PICK: Texans 20, Jaguars 17

N.Y. GIANTS (3-9) at TENNESSEE (2-10)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Pick’em

Briefly: Giants have lost seven straight. ... Giants now have 20 players on injured reserve after adding five more Tuesday. ... Eli Manning threw for 386 yards in last meeting. ... Titans have lost six straight and 10 of 11. ... Rookie QB Zach Mettenberger has thrown for 1,270 yards and eight TDs for 91.8 rating in five career starts.

NICK’S PICK: Giants 24, Titans 20

KANSAS CITY (7-5) at ARIZONA (9-3)

WHEN: 3:05 p.m. Sunday

Line: Chiefs by 1

Briefly: Both teams have lost two in a row. ... Oakland and Denver, Chiefs’ last two opponents, rushed for combined 393 yards against them. ... Chiefs have not completed TD pass to wide receiver. Only three teams have gone entire season without doing that, most recently New York Giants in 1964.

NICK’S PICK: Cardinals 20, Chiefs 17


WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday

Line: Eagles by 1

Briefly: QB Russell Wilson has 110.9 passer rating in last three games. ... RB Marshawn Lynch has 253 rushing yards and two TDs in two games vs. Eagles. He need 44 yards and one TD to rush for 1,000 yards and 10 TDs for fourth consecutive season. ... Eagles have won 10 regular-season games in row at home. ... QB Mark Sanchez is 3-1 as starter, 4-1 when he plays.

NICK’S PICK: Seahawks 27, Eagles 24

BUFFALO (7-5) at DENVER (9-3)

WHEN: 3:05 p.m. Sunday

Line: Broncos by 10

Briefly: Game pits top two defensive teams in AFC, featuring elite pass rushers. Buffalo’s DE Mario Williams has 12 sacks and DT Marcell Dareus has 10. Denver’s LB Von Miller has 11 1-2 sacks and DE DeMarcus Ware has 10. ... Broncos QB Peyton Manning leads NFL with 36 TD passes, making him only player in history with four 35-plus TD seasons.

NICK’S PICK: Broncos 34, Bills 24


WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday

Line: 49ers by 8

Briefly: 49ers have won past three meetings. ... This is second meeting between teams in Oakland since 1979. ... Raiders lead NFL in red zone efficiency with 14 TDs on 18 trips (77.8 percent). Niners are last at 14 for 36 (38.9 percent). ... San Francisco has scored fewer than 20 points in five of six games.

NICK’S PICK: 49ers 24, Raiders 14

NEW ENGLAND (9-3) at SAN DIEGO (8-4)

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Line: Patriots by 4

Briefly: Patriots have won two straight and five of eight in series between original AFL teams. ... New England needs win to join San Francisco (1983-98) as only NFL teams to win 10-plus games in 14 straight seasons. ... Philip Rivers is 1-5 vs. Patriots since he became starter in 2006. Only win was in 2008, when Matt Cassel was Patriots QB after Brady tore up knee.

NICK’S PICK: Patriots 30, Chargers 24

ATLANTA (5-7) at GREEN BAY (9-3)

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Line: Packers by 12½

Briefly: Teams meeting on Monday night for first time since Atlanta’s 28-21 win on Nov. 22, 1971. ... Falcons have won three of four to get into tie for NFC South lead with New Orleans. ... Packers lead league scoring 20.4 points per game before halftime and 30 first-half touchdowns. ... QB Aaron Rodgers making 100th career start.

NICK’S PICK: Packers 31, Falcons 23

Tracking Nick’s picks