NFL Playoffs 2013: Top Matchups to Watch in Divisional Round
The next round of the NFL playoffs is the focus of league chatter, as the Divisional Round matchups are set and coaching staffs are scrambling to throw together the right game plan.
With matchups such as the the Green Bay Packers visiting the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots hosting the Houston Texans, the Divisional Round may make up for a disappointing Wild Card weekend.
While football is the quintessential team sport, specific matchups will determine which teams proceed onward to the Conference Championship game.
Game plans tend to focus on taking advantage of the opposition's weaknesses, which could make a less important player a key factor in the game's outcome.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
Matchup: Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil and OLB Von Miller vs. Ravens OTs Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele
For the Ravens to upset the Broncos, Joe Flacco will need to have time in the pocket to look down the field and read the defense.
The majority of the pressure to protect Flacco will fall on Oher and Osemele, as the Broncos have one of the league's premier edge pass-rushing duos in Miller and Dumervil.
When the Broncos dominated the Ravens 34-17 in Week 15, Flacco was sacked three times but was knocked down on nine other occasions.
Baltimore will need to protect Flacco better this time around or the outcome will be the same. It's also imperative for the Ravens to get Ray Rice involved, as a strong rush game will put a damper on Denver's pass rush.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
Matchup: Packers CB Tramon Williams vs. 49ers WR Michael Crabtree
This game is difficult to predict because it matches strength against strength, with the Packers' explosive offense facing off against the 49ers' stout defense. That being said, the game will probably be decided by San Francisco's offensive efficiency.
Things have changed since these two teams met in Week 1, as Colin Kaepernick has taken over for Alex Smith as the 49ers starting quarterback.
Kaepernick possesses more big-play ability than Smith, although he is nearly as consistent in the short-range passing game as well.
Michael Crabtree has thrived with Kaepernick under center, as he caught 35 passes for 538 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season's final five games.
Williams will be tasked with slowing down Crabtree in a matchup that may decide what promises to be a good game.
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
Matchup: Falcons WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White vs. Seahawks CBs Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner
This may be the matchup of the weekend, as the Falcons' talented wideouts are set to face off against the Seahawks' formidable and physical cornerback tandem.
Jones and White both appear to be healthy, which wasn't true for most of the season due to a variety of ailments that Jones struggled through.
When the Falcons offense is clicking, Matt Ryan and his favorite two receivers are virtually unstoppable.
To make their own lives easier, the Seahawks must stifle the Falcons rushing attack, which shouldn't be too tough of a task considering the Falcons are ranked 29th in rushing offense.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Matchup: Texans RB Arian Foster vs. Patriots run defense
The Texans lost to the Patriots in Week 14, as they were outplayed in every facet of the game.
Sure, things could be different this time around, but I'm not expecting them to be.
Houston's best chance to pull the upset is to rely on Arian Foster, as controlling the clock would keep Tom Brady on the sideline.
The Patriots want to force the Texans to run up the middle, because big Vince Wilfork will be waiting to make a play.
For the Texans run offense to be successful, the offensive line will need to be sound at the point of attack to allow Foster an opportunity to cut back into an open hole.
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