Football is a team sport, but one offensive player from each of the NFL’s 2012 Divisional Round Games will do enough individually to lead his team victory.
Here are predictions of who will carry which clubs to the conference title.
Peyton Manning Will Lead Denver Broncos over Baltimore Ravens
Will Ray Lewis play his last NFL game on Saturday?
Denver just beat Baltimore by the score of 34-17 in Week 15 of the regular season. Manning actually only threw for 204 yards, but that was more a result of the Ravens’ poor front seven than stellar secondary.
Manning only attempted 28 passes, his lowest amount since Week 1, because Knowshon Moreno and company were able to rack up 163 yards on the ground. With Ray Lewis back, though, Baltimore’s run defense should improve forcing Manning to carry the workload. And given that the Ravens fielded just the 20th-ranked pass defense in the regular season, he shouldn’t have trouble doing so for the Broncos’ 12th straight win.
Frank Gore Will Lead San Francisco 49ers over Green Bay Packers
San Francisco doesn’t have a shot in a Colin Kaepernick vs. Aaron Rodgers shootout, but if the defense and running game show up, it has the edge thanks to Frank Gore and its No. 2-ranked defense.
The 49ers’ halfback is having his best season since 2009. Not only did he miraculously manage to stay healthy, but he recorded 1,448 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns while rushing for 4.7 yards a pop.
Jim Harbaugh must lean on Gore because in the regular season, Green Bay’s defense held quarterbacks to a passer rating of just 76.8. Only three units were better. But while the Packers’ pass defense is top notch, their run defense, ranked 17th in the NFL, is vulnerable.
Julio Jones Will Lead Atlanta Falcons over Seattle Seahawks
Matt Ryan has never won a playoff game so it’s difficult to imagine him carrying the Falcons to victory against the Seahawks’ No. 1 defense in points allowed. But expect him to be able to get the football to Julio Jones.
Seattle’s massive cornerbacks in Richard Sherman at 6’3”, 195 pounds and Brandon Browner at 6’4” 221 have shut receivers down with their physicality all season. But the 6’3”, 220-pound Julio Jones has the strength as well as the speed to put up his usual numbers against the duo.
Jones has scored four touchdowns in the last three games that meant anything to Atlanta. He’s a touchdown machine who will be difficult to stop from finding pay dirt in the Georgia Dome.
The Seahawks will keep it close, but they haven’t been nearly as dominant the past two weeks as they were over the previous three.
Tom Brady Will Lead New England Patriots over Houston Texans
Ask Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe if the Texans have a shot in this one.
Houston hasn’t been able to score at least 20 points in the past three weeks. New England hasn’t scored fewer than 20 points since Week 2.
The Patriots boasts the highest-scoring offense in the NFL. And while the Texans’ defense is top-notch, their offense won’t be able to keep up with the Pats’.
In their first meeting, New England won 42-14 and Brady threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns finishing with a passer rating of 125.4. H-Town needs a miracle.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.