The NFL’s divisional round playoff games this weekend are likely to range from close fought slugging matches between evenly matched teams, to complete and utter blowouts as some of the best and most overrated teams take to the field.
Ravens at Broncos
Saturday 4:30 p.m. ET
Ray Rice and Peyton Manning will square off for the final time on Saturday as the Ravens travel to Mile High in Denver.
There is a long list of statistics that point to the Ravens having no shot whatsoever in this game, but only one that gives Baltimore hope.
The Broncos have won 11 straight games. Manning has won nine in a row against the Ravens including playoff games. Last week Baltimore gave up almost 300 passing yards to a rookie quarterback who was without his offensive coordinator, and the Ravens gave up those numbers at home.
The Ravens are operating on a short week of rest against a Broncos team that has been off since late December and when these two teams met a less that a month ago the Broncos won 34-17.
All these factors combined with an aging team could spell disaster for Baltimore, but there is some hope.
Manning has never won a playoff game when the temperature at kickoff time was below 40 degrees. His numbers in those games are very un-Manning like, a combined 64 for 120 for 612 yards with one touchdown, seven interceptions and a record of 0-3.
That being said, he’s still Peyton Manning and he’s had all season to get used to playing in Denver. The Broncos will probably roll over the Ravens and make it look fairly easy.
Broncos win by 12.
Packers at 49ers
Saturday 8:00 p.m. ET
This game contains some of the more interesting story lines of the weekend: two starting quarterbacks with roots in the opposing team’s area, and the classic matchup between explosive offense and hard-nosed defense.
Aaron Rodgers is from the city of Chico in northern California and grew up rooting for the 49ers. Colin Kaepernick is from Madison, Wis. and grew up rooting for the Packers.
Now the two will go to war against their childhood teams for a shot at the NFC title.
Grean Bay, whose offense finished the regular season ranked fifth in the league in points scored, will face a San Francisco defense that was second in points allowed.
The Packers’ high rank is even more impressive considering the injury problems they have faced throughout the season. They lost their top wide receiver, Greg Jennings, for half the season due to an abdominal tear, and starting running back Cedric Benson went down for the season in week five with a sprained left foot that required surgery.
With Jennings back in the offense, Green Bay is even better than their top five rank would indicate.
If the Packers can grab an early lead they will win this game easily. They have the fourth most sacks in the league and the 49ers allow the ninth most sacks, so if Kaepernick has to drop back a lot the 49ers are in trouble.
Combine that with a quarterback who would be trying to make a comeback in his first ever playoff game and you have a recipe for a very bad day for the fans in San Francisco.
However, if the 49ers can jump out in front early and let their elite running game and defense take over, then the Packers could struggle since their rushing defense is ranked in the bottom half of the league and allows an average of 118.5 yards a game.
It’s either going to be a close 49ers win, or a solid Green Bay victory.
I’m picking the upset and going with Rodgers’ experience and the Packers’ offense for this one.
Green Bay wins by nine.
Seahawks at Falcons
Sunday 1:00 p.m. ET
This will almost certainly be the most competitive and exciting game to watch as the high scoring Falcons take a shot at the stingy Seattle defense.
Atlanta’s sixth ranked passing offense will be hard pressed to duplicate their regular season success against the Seahawks sixth ranked passing defense.
The two big questions in this game are, will the Falcons be able to get their passing game going and can Atlanta contain the Seattle running game?
Seattle has two of the league’s biggest and most physical cornerbacks in Richard Sherman (6’3″ 195 lbs) and Brandon Browner (6’4″ 221 lbs). They will be a handful for the Falcons’ top receivers Julio Jones (6’3″ 220 lbs) and Roddy White (6’0″ 211 lbs). Add in Seattle’s Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas and Matt Ryan could have his hands full trying to find open receivers.
Atlanta will need to find a way to get the ball downfield and get a lead early or the Seahawks third ranked running attack will chew up the weak Falcons’ rushing defense.
If Atlanta can get out to a big early lead they’ll likely handle Seattle with no problem and win comfortably. However, in a close game look for the Falcons’ defense to get worn down against the run and give up big yardage in a Seahawk win.
I don’t think the big plays will be there for Atlanta this week so getting an early advantage will be difficult.
Seahawks win by six.
Texans at Patriots
Sunday 4:30 p.m. ET
This game can be summed up in one word.
Bill Belichick has had weeks to prepare for this game and will throw wrinkles at Houston that they’ve likely never seen before.
New England has the best tight end in the league back after he missed the Patriots blowout win against the Texans in week 14. That game, which was in Houston, saw the Patriots embarrass the Texans and win by 28.
While Houston will probably respond with some pride and lose by less than four touchdowns this time around, they simply don’t have much of a chance to win.
The only way the Texans can even make it competitive is to control the ball and eat up clock by handing the ball off to Arian Foster a lot. If Foster has a huge game then there is a glimmer of hope for the Texans.
However, it’s far more likely that Houston will be so far behind that Foster will not get a chance to have much of an impact on the game.
Patriots win a snoozer by 14 or more.