Then there were eight. Following the Seattle Seahawks' victory over the Washington Redskins on Sunday afternoon, the second round of the 2013 NFL playoffs was set.
Next week promises to feature four outstanding games as we look forward to one of the best weekends that the NFL has to offer.
Each team in the divisional playoffs won at least 10 games during the regular season. In short, they were who we thought they were.
Remember, these odds are not my own.
Ray Lewis wins final career game at M&T Bank
Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens passing game made enough big plays to overcome nine penalties and a shoddy defense to defeat the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
For future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, it was the final home game of what has been one of the best careers in the history of the National Football League.
Flacco threw for more than 280 yards and two scores en route to an outstanding 125.6 quarterback rating. After starting the game 4-of-11 passing, the enigmatic quarterback completed eight of his final 12 passes.
Despite getting only 70 yards on the ground from Ray Rice, Baltimore did tally 172 rushing yards and over 440 total yards on the day, thanks to Bernard Pierce's 103-yard effort.
It now must go into Denver and take on Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
Baltimore finished the regular season .500 on the road and averaged 13 fewer points per outing than at home.
Flacco and company will have to improve on anemic offensive performances we saw throughout the season if they are to come away with an upset victory in Denver.
I just don't see it happening.
That was one lackluster performance by the Houston Texans. They barely escaped a Cincinnati Bengals team that struggled moving the ball on offense.
Matt Schaub did complete 29 of his 38 passes in his first career postseason start. He, however, served up Cincinnati's only touchdown of the game on a platter in the second quarter. The veteran quarterback threw an ill-advised pass to the outside that was intercepted by Leon Hall and returned for a touchdown.
In the end, Houston came out on top after another stellar playoff performance by Arian Foster. He recorded 174 total yards and a score in the win. Foster has now tallied 510 total yards and four scores in three career postseason games.
Houston's defense also came through big time. Have yourself a game, Mr. J.J. Watt. The favorite to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year had another dominating performance with five tackles, a sack, two passes defended and two more quarterback hits.
The defense is going to have to play like this next week against Tom Brady and the Patriots in New England if Houston has any shot of moving on to the AFC Championship Game.
Equally as important, Schaub and company are going to have to improve in the red zone. One touchdown in four chances will not cut it against a high-flying New England offense.
While Houston won't get blown away like it did in Week 14 against New England, it isn't in a position to seriously challenge the reigning AFC champion for a full four quarters.
Russell Wilson and Co. Dominated the Redskins on Sunday
It's somewhat hard to gauge the Seattle Seahawks' 24-14 victory over the Washington Redskins, who were playing with an injured Robert Griffin III for most of the game until fellow rookie Kirk Cousins took over in garbage time. No one knows how this game would have turned out if RGIII was near 100 percent for the duration.
With that in mind, Seattle did score the final 24 points of the game and looked absolutely dominating on the defensive side of the ball. Washington gained only 74 yards after the first quarter.
One major worry for Seattle has to be Chris Clemons, who is believed to have a torn ACL and will have surgery later today (via NFL.com). The defensive end recorded a team-high 11.5 sacks during the regular season. Seattle will miss him a great deal against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons next Sunday.
By virtue of the Minnesota Vikings' loss on Saturday, Seattle will have to win each of its next two games on the road to punch its ticket to the Super Bowl.
Do you see the Seahawks getting past Atlanta as well as either the Green Bay Packers or San Francisco 49ers on the road to win the conference championship? The way they are playing right now, it isn't out of the question.
After all, Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch are playing lights out right now. They combined for nearly 400 total yards yesterday afternoon. Those types of performances are going to be needed moving forward.
Atlanta Awaits the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday
After sitting at home watching playoff football like the rest of us, the Atlanta Falcons now face the unenviable task of going up against one of the two hottest teams remaining in the playoffs.
Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks will travel to the Georgia Dome to take on the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC. Early lines have Atlanta at 2.5-point favorites, which indicates Vegas is expecting an incredibly close game.
If Matt Ryan performs like he has the last three games, Atlanta will be in a good spot when all is said and done on Sunday. His level of performance has a direct correlation with the success of the team. Ryan, however, has had two really bad performances at home this season and is going up against one of the two best defenses (along with the San Francisco 49ers') remaining in the playoffs.
We should get a feel rather early whether Ryan will be up to the task.
Even as the top seed in the NFC, Atlanta has taken a back seat to the other three teams remaining in the postseason in the conference.
It's the respect factor.
Ryan needs to get that proverbial monkey off his back due to a 0-3 record in the postseason. If not, Atlanta will be compared to the Andy Reid-era Philadelphia Eagles—a team that wins a whole lot in the regular season, but cannot get it done in January.
Kaepernick looks to lead 49ers past reigning NFL MVP
The San Francisco 49ers needed that bye week really bad. They have not been playing their best ball as of late and needed the time off to get a couple things right.
First and foremost, San Francisco's defense needs Justin Smith to return after missing the last two-plus games with an injury. All indications are that he will be ready to go Saturday night against the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick. That's going to be huge for the 49ers considering that they have yielded over 1,000 total yards and 86 points in the 10 quarters that Smith was out.
In the year that brought us Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, there is one other young quarterback in his first playoffs. Colin Kaepernick came into the playoffs with the least amount of starts among the 12 quarterbacks vying for a Super Bowl ring. History doesn't tell us a story too kind to young quarterbacks being able to shoulder the load in January.
With that in mind, Frank Gore is a huge key. He is averaging over seven yards per rush in three career games against Green Bay. The Pro Bowl running back put up 112 yards on just 16 rushes in San Francisco's Week 1 win over the Packers at Lambeau.
If Gore gets at least 20 rushes, San Francisco will come out on top in a rematch most expected to take place in this year's playoffs.
It should be fun.
Rodgers looks to lead Packers over team he grew up cheering for
The Green Bay Packers had one of the least impressive performances for a winning team this past weekend. Going up against the Minnesota Vikings and backup quarterback Joe Webb, Green Bay struggled on offense throughout the game.
It finished just 3-for-14 on third downs and tallied 11 total yards on its final five drives. That's not going to get it done against much better competition, such as the San Francisco 49ers next week at Candlestick.
Needless to say, Green Bay needs to do more on the offensive side of the ball to be successful against a unit that finished No. 3 in overall defense. It will need to do a better job creating time for Aaron Rodgers in the passing game to be effective. The reigning NFL MVP was sacked three times and thrown to the turf a total of five times against Minnesota.
In reality, Green Bay just doesn't match up too well against San Francisco. It has the worst running game of any team remaining in the playoffs. If its offense is forced to be one-dimensional against San Francisco, the Packers will be in for a long Saturday night by the Bay.
On a side note, it's great to have this old-time playoff rivalry back at full force. The names might have changed, but the importance is right there in front of our eyes. The storylines are plentiful as well.
Rodgers taking on the team he grew up rooting for and hoped he would be drafted by. Colin Kaepernick taking on his home-state Packers and one of the two teams he grew up dreaming he would one day play for.
I can't wait.
Brady and the Patriots looking to repeat as AFC Champs
Barring a major upset, the New England Patriots will advance to the AFC Championship after defeating the Houston Texans Sunday. They have more talent, are playing at home and possess one of the best quarterbacks to ever suit up on Sundays.
I just don't envision a scenario that features Tom Brady hanging his head in defeat at the end of the game while congratulating Houston quarterback Matt Schaub.
While I won't go as far to say that New England is favored to capture a second consecutive conference championship, I will say that it will most likely be taking on Brady's old nemesis Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos two weeks from yesterday with a trip to New Orleans at stake.
Again, I could be wrong. After all, this is the NFL playoffs, where the unexpected tends to happen more often than not.
New England opens up as 9-point favorites over a still struggling Houston team. That should tell you all you need to know at this point.
Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis: One last go-around.
The Denver Broncos have won their last six home games by an average of nearly three touchdowns per outing. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens are averaging nearly two touchdowns less on the road than they are at home.
Can you say blowout?
There is, however, a reason why they still play football games on the field rather than makeshift home offices such as mine.
Peyton Manning is under .500 in his career in the postseason.
Interestingly enough, Manning has faced Ray Lewis and the Ravens just twice in his career in the playoffs. The Colts won each game with great defense, 20-3 in the 2009 playoffs and 15-6 in the 2006 postseason.
One primary thing to look for here is where the battle lines are drawn. Manning and Lewis, two of the best at their positions in the history of the NFL, promise to give us one hell of a battle come Saturday. If will and passion alone decided games, Baltimore could surprise us a great deal.
Too bad for the Ravens, that's just one of many factors. Manning and the Broncos have way more talent from top to bottom and are playing at home.
I'm going with the Hall of Fame quarterback over the Hall of Fame linebacker here. Denver will win the game and face the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.
It's not like I'm going out on a limb with that prediction. After all, Vegas has Denver as the favorite to bring home the Lombardi Trophy.