NFL Playoff Picture: Projecting Probable Matchups for Divisional Round

Shawn BrubakerContributor IIJanuary 4, 2013

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws against the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore Ravens won 31-30. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

With Wildcard Weekend upon us, the NFL Playoff picture is clear, but what action we will be seeing next week remains to be seen. All four games this weekend promise to be close and could go either way.

The teams on a bye this week will be sure to pay attention. 

They will want to know their matchup as soon as possible. With the seedings in mind, here is a look at the probable matchups in next week's divisional action.


Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos

Momentum doesn't always mean much in the playoffs, but expect the hot Bengals to get the win over the Houston Texans. 

That would set up a trip to Denver for Cincinnati and a matchup that the Bronco's would probably rather avoid.

As good as Peyton Manning is, he can be beaten with pressure, and the Bengals certainly bring pressure. With Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins attacking opposing quarterbacks, the Bengals have racked up 51 sacks this season. 

The Bengals also have the offensive tackles to slow down linebacker Von Miller, something few teams have been able to do this season. 

The Broncos are a more talented team, but the Bengals are built in such a way as to neutralize the Broncos' best players. That could make this game a lot closer than one would think at first glance.


Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers

The Green Bay Packers might have lost to the Vikings this past Sunday, but don't expect lightning to strike twice. The Vikings are a solid team, but elite quarterbacks beat mediocre ones in the playoffs. Expect Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to beat Christian Ponder and the Vikings.

That would set up a matchup between two of the most storied NFL franchises, who are built as differently as could be.

The Packers are built around Rodgers and the passing game, while the 49ers hope to smother opponents with a dominant running game and tough defense. That makes this the most intriguing possible matchup in the playoffs.

Colin Kaepernick is a pretty good quarterback, but he's still developing. That means the Packers have a big advantage at the most important position. On the other hand, the 49ers are stronger in almost every other way.

That will make this game an interesting case study in just how important having an elite quarterback really is.


Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons

With the Packers beating the Vikings, the winner of the Seahawks vs. Redskins game will move on to face the Falcons. I'll take the better overall team in the Seahawks, who have a spectacular defense to pair with an efficient offense.

That would pit the NFL's hottest team versus the team with the best record in the Falcons. Sounds like must-watch football to me.

At any rate, this game would feature Matt Ryan and one of the NFL's most explosive offenses take on the NFL's best secondary. Julio Jones and Roddy White versus Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman should produce one of the most important and exciting individual matchups in the divisional round. 

Beyond the juicy matchup, watching Russell Wilson try to engineer a dream playoff run would be thrilling to say the least.

Interesting to note: Assuming the Packers win against the Vikings, Matt Ryan will be facing a rookie quarterback who has more playoff wins than he does in either Robert Griffin III or Wilson. That's right, Ryan has never won a playoff game. This is Ryan's best chance. He needs to step up.

This matchup of quarterbacks with such different motivations promises an exciting game. 


Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots

The Colts are seemingly the popular pick, but I'll take the superior Ravens to win one for Ray Lewis. They are stronger in nearly every phase, and their defense is well rested after an injury-plagued year.

Ravens fans might dread the results though: another trip to New England in a rematch of last year's heart-breaking AFC Championship game.

For some reason, the Ravens are a different team in the playoffs. While they usually struggle on the road, that doesn't hold in the playoffs, making this game closer on paper than it initially appears. 

Tom Brady and the Patriots will actually have quite a bit to prove too. They're considered one of the NFL's elite franchises, but the Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season. They'll be just as hungry as the Ravens.

Some players to watch will be Torrey Smith, who shredded the Patriots earlier in the season for 127 yards and two touchdowns, and Stephen Ridley, who could trample the Ravens' run defense.