Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are the lowest seed to advance.
Come the Divisional Round, the NFL Playoffs become astronomically intensified as January progresses.
At this stage of the season, essentially pro football's equivalent to the Elite Eight, teams fight even harder for victory.
Take Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks as a prime example from Wild Card Weekend.
Seattle soon found themselves trailing 14-0 against Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins on Sunday. But, instead of panicking, Wilson remained cool and Seattle gradually worked their back into the game.
By halftime, the Seahawks had cut Washington's lead to one point and ultimately won, 24-14. They scored 24 unanswered points, while Washington didn't add anything after the first quarter. This is the nature of postseason football because surviving to advance requires 60 minutes from the entire team.
Each subsequent week is significantly tougher than the last.
The Houston Texans got solid pressure on Andy Dalton and limited the Cincinnati Bengals' quarterback to a 46.7 completion percentage.
Well, a similar performance will be required in the Divisional Round against the New England Patriots.
Tom Brady spreads the field much more consistently, can read the defense pre-snap and makes impressive in-game adjustments. One area where the Texans dominated was third-down defense, where Cincinnati failed to move the chains on nine third-down attempts.
By the same token, Brady and the Pats ranked No. 1 during the regular season in third-down conversion rate at 48.7 percent. Houston, who often dominates time of possession en route to victory, must get off the field on this down, or it will be a long, long game.
Offensively, Arian Foster has to work the trenches and set up the pass. Averaging 4.4 yards per carry on a whopping 32 carries last week, expect New England to occasionally bring an eighth defender in the box.
Doing so does may expose the pass defense and that's where Matt Schaub comes in. Houston can't rely on Schaub to outplay Brady because that won't happen. The Texans do have a competitive advantage with a better ground game, but Foster needs more than the 15 rushing attempts he had in their Week 14 meeting, a 42-14 thumping by New England.
Still, until the Texans prove they can slow elite passing games, another early playoff exit is set to occur.
Patriots 34, Texans 21
The Baltimore Ravens enter this weekend with much confidence because they had closed out the regular season with a 1-4 record, but defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card Round.
Here, the Denver Broncos host Baltimore after slamming the Ravens in Week 15. Don't, expect another blowout.
The Ravens bent a little, but didn't break against the Indianapolis Colts and kept Andrew Luck and Co. out of the end zone.
Without question, Manning is on another level, so Lewis will need to recognize everything pre-snap.
Denver brings a capable rushing attack led by Knowshon Moreno. Their running backs compiled 167 yards in the regular season meeting. Given that Indy racked up 152 on the ground, the Broncos have to slam the line of scrimmage and maintain balance.
This will greatly assist Von Miller and the defense, which will again be the best Baltimore has seen this season. The Broncos can apply an immense amount of quarterback pressure, generate turnovers and stuff the run.
That said, expect Ray Rice to be fed early and often. The Ravens can't afford to become one-dimensional, although Joe Flacco will also need to stay on par with Manning throughout.
Broncos 24, Ravens 17
The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers is among the NFL's best postseason rivalries. Here, we see another installment of this historic matchup that is one of three 2012 regular season rematches.
If there's one disparity, it comes in the form of Aaron Rodgers' pass protection. Despite his excellent efficiency all season and last week, Rodgers has been sacked 54 times in 17 games.
Therefore, San Francisco will bring the pain and keep the throttle up. Constantly pressuring Rodgers will force him to throw it away or sooner than wanted. As a result, the 'Niners get off the field on third down.
Green Bay's defense, however, will determine the victor.
The Packers face another solid rushing attack led by Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick's mobility will be a factor. Another added facet to San Francisco's offense is a sound passing game led by an improving Kaepernick.
Minnesota cannot scare many secondaries with the threat of the deep ball, whereas the 'Niners at least present Randy Moss and Vernon Davis among others. This potential balance will keep Green Bay honest, which reduces the pass rush and prevents the Pack from controlling the line of scrimmage.
By game's end, chalk up another postseason victory for the Bay Area.
49ers 27, Packers 21
The Wild Card victory came at a premium for the Seattle Seahawks.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com:
#Seahawks DE Chris Clemons does have a torn ACL & meniscus, I'm told. Appointment with Dr. James Andrews Monday. Swelling not bad at least— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 7, 2013
To that end, expect the Atlanta Falcons to run even more. Matt Ryan is surrounded with an immense amount of talent, but Seattle can lock Atlanta down with defensive backs Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman.
Utilizing Michael Turner to set up the pass will be crucial because Seattle can be suspect against the run.
In short, it's controlling the tempo at the initial point of attack that will be the greatest factor.
Fortunately for Seattle, Russell Wilson and the offense possess the capability to match Atlanta's pace. Wilson's mobility, reliable decision-making and the Falcons' lack of a pass rush combine to give the Seahawks the advantage.
Here, Seattle must apply a heavy of Marshawn Lynch needs in hopes of shortening the contest. The end result is keeping Atlanta's offense off the field and minimizing Ryan's possessions. Considering that the Dirty Birds also allowed 4.8 yards per rushing attempt in the regular season, Lynch will take over as the game progresses.
Seahawks 23, Falcons 20
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