There were no major surprises during Wild Card Weekend. The Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks advanced, earning trips to the Divisional Round, where they will face the top seeds coming off a bye.
Of the four contests, the Seattle Seahawks taking on the Atlanta Falcons is the only game that is not a rematch from earlier in the season. The rematches bring another dynamic to those games since both sides have head-to-head tape to study.
All told, the upcoming weekend is probably the best of the NFL season. The best eight teams in the league go at it to move within two victories of the Super Bowl. And it's enough football to fill up an entire weekend without a single lackluster matchup.
Let's take a glance at the complete schedule followed by an examination of each game.
Divisional Round Schedule
|Road Team||Home Team||Date||Time (ET)||Channel|
|Ravens||Broncos||Saturday, Jan. 12||4:30 p.m.||CBS|
|Packers||49ers||Saturday, Jan. 12||8 p.m.||Fox|
|Seahawks||Falcons||Sunday, Jan. 13||1 p.m.||Fox|
|Texans||Patriots||Sunday, Jan. 13||4:30 p.m.||CBS|
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
Ray Lewis showed he wasn't ready to call it quits on Sunday, racking up a team-leading 13 tackles to help lead the Ravens to a victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Now he faces off with fellow legend Peyton Manning for the last time.
The two teams met in mid-December, while Lewis was sidelined with a triceps injury, and it was a rout. The Broncos led 17-0 at halftime and cruised to an easy victory. Baltimore has to hope having its emotional leader available will change the outcome.
Lewis aside, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are the two most important players for the Ravens. They combined to rush for just 58 yards on 17 carries in the first meeting. Keeping Manning and his myriad weapons off the field is paramount, and they hold the key.
For Denver, the central focus on defense is forcing Joe Flacco into mistakes with constant pressure. The Broncos recorded a key pick-six of him in the first meeting. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil will be coming off the edge hoping to force a similar mistake.
One key turnover from Flacco is all Manning would need to turn a tight game into another big win. The Ravens need to play a near-perfect game.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
The Packers have run the gamut of postseason emotions over the past two years. Two seasons ago, they won four playoff games–a feat they hope to replicate–en route to a Super Bowl triumph. Last season, they were upset in their first game.
Green Bay looked like a team poised to come closer to the former scenario against division rival Minnesota Vikings, playing suffocating defense against fill-in quarterback Joe Webb and Adrian Peterson. A tougher challenge awaits in the 49ers.
Even though San Francisco won the previous meeting, that was all the way back in Week 1. Coaches will surely find lessons they can use from that game, but the emergence of Colin Kaepernick means the outlook will be different for the Packers defense. Kaepernick gives the 49ers a little more margin for error, assuming the playoff pressure doesn't get to him.
That said, the main matchup will remain the 49ers defense against the Packers offense. The 49ers were one of only three teams to allow less than 300 yards per game during the regular season. The unit must step up to slow Aaron Rodgers and Co.
Whichever team wins that marquee matchup will likely win the game.
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
Fans in the nation's capital would probably argue the Seahawks wouldn't be in this game if Robert Griffin III was healthy on Sunday. While that may be true, Seattle deserves credit for fighting back from an early 14-0 deficit to advance.
Furthermore, the perennial underdogs can now enter their next game knowing all of the pressure is squarely on Matt Ryan and the Falcons. The talented quarterback hasn't been able to find his footing in the playoffs with an 0-3 record.
Playing at home is a huge advantage for the Falcons, however. Not only were they 7-1 in the Georgia Dome, but the turf should help the offense operate at peak efficiency. The Seahawks are better built to win in the elements, like they did on the poor FedEx Field surface.
Don't count out the Seahawks, though. Russell Wilson has been nothing short of amazing over the past couple months, and has now advanced further than his fellow rookie QBs, Griffin and Andrew Luck. Add in Marshawn Lynch and Seattle isn't going to go away easily.
Sooner or later Ryan is going to get that playoff monkey off his back. He's too good not to. He'll need an elite performance to lead the Falcons to the next round, but that's the way playoff football is.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
It was no contest when these two teams met a month ago. The Patriots raced out to a 28-0 lead by early in the third quarter and didn't look back. The Texans were 10-1 heading into that game and have only gone 2-2 since, including their wild-card win.
Houston can't allow the rematch to become a shootout. The Texans were down 7-0 within six minutes last time, and they aren't built to play catchup. They have to establish Arian Foster early and force the game to move at a more reasonable pace.
That's easier said than done. The Tom Brady-led Patriots offense has been clicking on all cylinders all season. They averaged nearly five points per game more than any other team and should have a full-strength Rob Gronkowski ready to roll.
All eyes will be on J.J. Watt to see what the Texans' defensive end can do to slow that attack down. He led the league in sacks during the regular season with 20.5 and added another one in the playoff opener. His patented swat should also come in handy against the Patriots quick passing game.
Ultimately, the Patriots own the edge in this matchup. The Texans have enough talent to make it competitive, however, especially if New England is rusty after the week off.