Pivotal Individual Matchups of the NFL Divisional Round
We've reached the NFL's Divisional Round, and this weekend eight of the league's best teams will lock horns in order to determine which four squads will advance to the conference championship games and a shot at Super Bowl XLVII.
In each of those contests there will be several games within the game, individual duels that go a long way towards determining which team will go home and who will advance.
Here's a look at some of the most pivotal ones from each of this weekend's games.
BAL at DEN: Eric Decker vs. Chykie Brown
When these teams met about a month ago the Denver Broncos rolled, due in large part to a huge game from Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker, who piled up eight catches for 133 yards and a touchdown in a 34-17 Denver victory.
Decker has at least six catches in four straight games, topped 1,000 receiving yards on the season and led the AFC with 13 touchdown catches, and if the Ravens are going to have any shot at upsetting the Broncos the Baltimore secondary and second-year cornerback Chykie Brown are going to have to hold Decker in check.
GB at SF: Marshall Newhouse vs. Aldon Smith
One of the biggest questions facing the Green Bay Packers entering this week's tilt with the San Francisco 49ers is how an offensive line that allowed the second-most sacks in the NFL this year will deal with a formidable San Francisco pass rush that racked up 38 sacks this season.
More than half those sacks were accrued by linebacker Aldon Smith, and while the triceps injury suffered by defensive end Justin Smith changes things significantly. Green Bay tackle Marshall Newhouse, who has struggled at times this season, is still going to have to have one of his best games of the year if the Packers are going to avenge their Week 1 loss to San Francisco.
SEA at ATL: Brandon Browner vs. Roddy White
The unstoppable force will meet the immovable object at the Georgia Dome this week, when the sixth ranked passing offense of the Atlanta Falcons meets the sixth-ranked pass defense of the visiting Seattle Seahawks.
The Falcons feature as talented a group of receivers as any in the NFL while the Seahawks can say the same about their secondary, and Sunday's game will feature any number of intriguing matchups in that regard.
However, it's the one between Atlanta wideout Roddy White, who has been arguably the NFL's most consistent receiver over the past six seasons, and Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner, who looked a touch rusty last week in his return from a four-game suspension, that could well determine the outcome of this game.
HOU at NE: Glover Quin vs. Rob Gronkowski
Poor Glover Quin.
Not only do the Houston Texans and their starting strong safety have to try to figure out a way to beat a New England Patriots team that destroyed them in Week 14, but the Texans will also have to contend with tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed their first meeting with a fractured forearm.
Despite missing five games Gronkowski led all tight ends in touchdown catches in 2012, and given that Quin ranked among the worst safeties in the National Football League in coverage this season according to Pro Football Focus the fourth-year pro is going to have his hands full.