NFL: Previewing the 4 Divisional Playoff Games
Now that the NFL's Wild Card Weekend is in the books, we turn to next week and the four intriguing matchups between conference foes. With no alarming surprises coming in the Wild Card Weekend and all four favorites winning, we turn to the divisional round that has the potential to be the most unpredictable yet. With many high-octane offenses remaining in the playoffs, the fans are in store for a very exciting divisional playoff weekend.
Furthermore, many questions regarding mainstream NFL storylines will be answered: Will Atlanta finally break their playoff schneid? Will Peyton come closer to completing the ultimate comeback? Will Ray Lewis go out in legendary fashion?
Only time will tell.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks
As the top seed in the NFC bracket, the Atlanta Falcons made a statement with their play in the regular season. However, they now face arguably the hottest team in football in the Seattle Seahawks. Led by rookie phenom Russell Wilson, the Seahawks bring a very well-rounded football team into Atlanta.
Although they are hot, the Falcons offense will be too much for Seattle's defense to handle. With running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers proving to be a successful one-two tandem, Seattle will have to commit to stopping the run, even if it means putting eight defenders in the box. This will open up Matt Ryan's play-action pass game, and if he as good as he has proven this season, the Seahawks could be in for a long afternoon.
While Russell Wilson has had success running and throwing the ball this season, look for the Falcons to make Wilson and the Seahawks a more one-dimensional team. If the Falcons can shut down Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch and force the Seahawks into third-and-long situations, they have the potential to be very, very dangerous.
Prediction: Atlanta 27, Seattle 14
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET on FOX
San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers
Although they showed signs of struggle down the stretch, the San Francisco 49ers still managed to stave off the Packers in grabbing the second first-round bye in the NFC. However, with their trouncing of Minnesota, Green Bay has shown fans and opponents that they are still the team to beat in the NFC.
Whoever is at quarterback for the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick or Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers is better—plain and simple. Sporting one of the most efficient passer ratings in the NFL, Rodgers has been lethal and has significant playoff experience and success. Should he play, this would be Kaepernick's first playoff game. While Alex Smith does have slight playoff experience, it isn't pretty, as he played an abysmal game at home against the Giants in the NFC Championship Game last year.
While Green Bay has recently proven to have the better offense, there is no doubt that San Francisco has the better defense. However, I do not think it will be enough to stop Aaron Rodgers and company, who seem to be firing on all cylinders as of late. Unless San Francisco's offense puts up some serious points against the Pack, they will be one and done in the playoffs.
Prediction: Green Bay 30, San Francisco 13
Saturday 8 p.m. ET on FOX
New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans
In Week 14 of the NFL season, the New England Patriots absolutely manhandled the Texans, winning a game that was never even close 42-14. Now, the Texans travel back up to Gillette Stadium to face a fired-up Patriot team.
Having won nine of their past 10 games, the Patriots are another red-hot playoff team. On the other end, the Texans escaped with a narrow victory over a Cincinnati team that quite frankly looked nothing like a playoff team. Abysmal was an understatement for Andy Dalton, who accrued a passer rating of just 44.7 on 127 yards passing.
While Houston's defense has recently been playing strong, their secondary does not possess enough weapons to contain Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and all of Brady's other potent weapons. Unlike past Patriot teams, this squad has been drastically successful in running the football, as they ranked seventh in the league following regular-season play. New England is just too complete of a football team for Houston to handle, and it will certainly show come Sunday.
Prediction: New England 38, Houston 17
Sunday 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS
Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens
Earlier this season, the Denver Broncos traveled east and beat a Baltimore Ravens team that was not played up to their potential. In that game, the Bronco defense held Ray Rice to 38 yards and 12 carries and forced Joe Flacco to throw the ball 40 times, an absurdly high amount of attempts for their offense.
In order for the Ravens to be successful on the road in Denver, they must control the tempo of the game and keep Peyton Manning on the sideline for as long as possible. To do this, it starts with Ray Rice. Coming off of an uncharacteristic two-fumble performance in their victory over Indianapolis, Ray Rice needs to get his swagger back and be an effective duel-threat for the Raven offense.
Defensively, the Ravens at times looked very shaky in pass coverage against Andrew Luck, leaving gaps in zone coverage down the field that provided steady 15- to 20-yard gains for Indy's offense. If the Ravens defense even gives Manning slight windows, he will pick them apart all day as he led in completion percentage with 68.8 percent and was second to only Aaron Rodgers in passer rating with 105.8. Although the Ravens may play a better offensive game this time around against the Broncos, it will be awfully tough for the Ravens offense to keep pace with Manning.
Prediction: Denver 27, Baltimore 20
Saturday 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS