2013 NFL Playoffs: The Complete Guide to the Divisional Round
We're one week into the 2013 NFL playoffs, the field of potential Super Bowl teams has been narrowed from 12 to eight, and this weekend the big boys will get down to business, as the top two seeds in each conference take the field in the postseason for the first time in 2013.
Here's an early breakdown of each of this week's matchups, from the whos and wheres to a key matchup in each game and this writer's picks for which teams will advance to the National Football League's equivalent of the "Final Four".
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
When: Saturday, January 12, 4:30 P.M. EST
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado
What to Watch For: This game is a rematch of a Week 15 contest in Baltimore that the Broncos won handily, limiting the Ravens offense to 119 first-half yards in a 34-17 win.
If the Ravens are going to flip the script here then they're going to have to figure out a way to slow down Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who was the AFC's top-ranked passer and has a pair of 1,000 yard receivers at his disposal in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
The Pick: The Ravens were a .500 team away from home this year, with Joe Flacco throwing for over 250 yards only once in eight road games.
That's not going to be nearly enough against a Denver team that has won 11 straight.
Denver 27, Baltimore 14
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
When: Saturday, January 12, 8:00 P.M. EST
Where: Candlestick Park, San Francisco, California
What to Watch For: Continuing with a rematch theme that is prevalent in the divisional round, this game pits two teams that locked horns all the way back in Week 1, with the 49ers riding a strong performance from their defense and 112 yards from running back Frank Gore to a 30-22 win.
However, there's been a major change in San Francisco. Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick is now the starter for the 49ers, and how the youngster performs in his first playoff start could well be the turning point of what should be a close game.
The Pick: Kaepernick's mobility adds a new dimension to the San Francisco offense, but he's never seen anything like the zone blitz defense that Dom Capers and the Packers will throw at him.
Look for Capers to disguise coverages and mix up blitz packages in an effort to confuse the youngster, and a late Kaepernick interception will open the door for Aaron Rodgers to guide the Packers to victory.
Green Bay 30, San Francisco 28
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
When: Sunday, January 13, 1:00 P.M. EST
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta Georgia
What to Watch For: The only matchup of this week's games that feature two teams who did not meet in the regular season, the Atlanta Falcons enter Sunday's matchup trying to erase memories of two years ago, when a 13-3 Atlanta team entered the playoffs as the NFC's top seed only to get spanked at home by the Green Bay Packers.
If the Falcons are to do so it will likely be on the shoulders of their dynamic pass-catching trio of Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, while the upstart Seahawks will attempt to keep the ball out of Atlanta's hands by pounding away on the ground with running back Marshawn Lynch.
The Pick: In Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas the Seahawks have two big physical cornerbacks and a speedy safety capable of matching up with Atlanta's receivers, while Lynch should find some room to rumble against the Falcons' 12th-ranked run defense.
The Falcons are stunned at home yet again.
Seattle 23, Atlanta 21
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
When: Sunday, January 13, 4:30 P.M. EST
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
What to Watch For: The Houston Texans no doubt hope that this week's matchup is a far cry from the last time the two teams met, as the Patriots throttled the Texans 42-14 in Week 14 to start a skid that saw the Texans lose three of their last four regular season games.
For the Texans to have any shot in this game they're going to have to do a much better job defensively, as although Houston ranked seventh in the NFL in total defense in 2012, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady carved them up to the tune on nearly 300 passing yards and four touchdowns a month ago.
The Pick: The Texans advanced to the divisional round by virtue of a win over the Cincinnati Bengals last week, but a sloppy game in which the Texans found the end zone only once did little to inspire confidence that this matchup with the Patriots will be any different than the last time around.
The Patriots roll and set up yet another matchup between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
New England 38, Houston 16