NFL Playoff Bracket 2013: Key Matchups in Saturday's Divisional Round Action
By the time Saturday Night Live starts on NBC, the field of eight teams vying for a spot in Super Bowl XLVII will have been reduced by two.
The fourth-seeded Baltimore Ravens look to keep Ray Lewis' career going for another week, taking on the top seed in the AFC, the Denver Broncos, in the early game on Saturday afternoon.
When these two teams last met in Week 15, the Broncos doubled-up on the Ravens, winning 34-17.
In the nightcap, the No. 3 seed in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers, head to San Francisco to face the second-seeded 49ers in a rematch of their Week 1 showdown, one that saw the Packers lose by eight points, 30-22.
With teams sitting only two games away from playing for the Lombardi Trophy, you can be sure that every player on the field will be fired up and playing as hard as they can.
Let's take a look at the key matchups that could determine the outcome of Saturday's slate of action on the NFL playoff bracket.
Click here for a full, interactive NFL playoff bracket courtesy of CBS Sports.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (4:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Key Matchup: Baltimore RBs vs. Denver LBs
A case could be made for Baltimore's receivers against Denver's pass defense, but if Baltimore can't get a ground game established early, the Ravens ability to do anything through the air will be severely compromised.
Led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Von Miller and veteran Keith Brooking, the Broncos allowed only 91 rushing yards per game during the regular season—including only 56 to the Ravens in Week 15—the third-lowest mark in the NFL.
Baltimore's running game got back on track in the Wild Card Round against the Indianapolis Colts, picking up 172 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
As they did then, Baltimore's offensive line must hold their blocks long enough to create a hole for fullback Vonta Leach and either Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce, whichever back happens to be in the game at that time.
Who Wins in the AFC?
If they can get past the line of scrimmage and into the second level of Denver's defense, Leach needs to neutralize one of the waiting linebackers
Establishing the run not only keeps Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense off of the field, but it will make things a bit easier for Joe Flacco through the air.
Champ Bailey and the Broncos pass defense is equally as solid as their run defense is, but it gives Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin a chance to make a play in one-on-one coverage.
If the Broncos linebackers are stuffing the run, either at the line of scrimmage or for a short gain, it will force Baltimore into third-and-long situations and ask Joe Flacco to win the game with his arm.
With Flacco far less effective on the road than he is at home, that's not a recipe for success when facing the third-ranked pass defense in the NFL.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (8:00 p.m. ET, FOX)
Key Matchup: Green Bay's offensive line vs. San Francisco's pass rush
You wouldn't normally put the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals in the same sentence, but when it comes to protecting the quarterback, both teams fail miserably.
Only the Cardinals, with 58 sacks, allowed their quarterback to take more punishment during the regular season than the Packers did, with Aaron Rodgers getting sacked a league-high 51 times, two more than Philip Rivers in San Diego.
While Rodgers and the Packers passing game have thrived in spite of that, the 49ers pass rush poses an entirely different set of problems.
Who Wins in the NFC?
San Francisco ranked 11th in the NFL with 38 sacks on the season, but it's how many different places that the 49ers can bring the pressure from that poses a significant challenge for the Packers.
Three different members of the 49ers defense recorded a sack in their previous meeting with Green Bay, finishing the game with five quarterback hits.
Complicating things even more for Green Bay is that defensive end Justin Smith, who only recorded three sacks on the season but causes problems for any offensive lineman he faces, is expected to play, according to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area:
As 49ers begin practice, everyone is accounted for. Likely another limited day of work for Justin Smith, who's expected to start Saturday.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) January 10, 2013
That puts added pressure on the right side of Green Bay's offensive line, guard Josh Sitton and tackle Don Barclay. Not only will they have to account for Smith, but with linebackers Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis on that side of the line, they could easily be facing a no-win situation.
Should they fail to keep that terrorizing trio off of Rodgers back and out of Green Bay's backfield, it will be a long afternoon for the Cheesehead Nation.
If they can raise the level of their play and keep Rodgers out of harm's way, well, you can never count out the reigning NFL MVP—especially when he has time to throw the ball.
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