NFL Playoff Predictions: Which Road Teams Have Best Shot of Advancing?
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Home is where the heart is, but four NFL teams will enter enemy territory this weekend in hopes of embarrassing their opponents with road victories.
Playing in front of the home fans is no sure recipe for winning in the NFL postseason. Upsets are plentiful around this time of the year.
Heading into the Divisional Round, it's a tale of two conferences with vastly differing outlooks. The higher AFC seeds are heavily favored to advance, while the NFC is up for grabs.
Here's a look at each road team's prospect of advancing to the next round, ranked from least to most likely.
4. Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos
So, this one doesn't look too good for the Baltimore Ravens.
After defeating the Indianapolis Colts, who probably had no business in the playoffs anyway, Baltimore will travel to Denver to take on the hottest team in football.
The Broncos have won 11 straight games, including a convincing 34-17 victory over Baltimore. The rematch might deliver more of the same results.
Joe Flacco played well in the regular season contest, but Denver's fierce front seven limited Ray Rice to 38 rushing yards. The star running back, who coughed up two fumbles last week, will need to provide a more impressive outing this time.
On the other side, Baltimore allowed 118 rushing yards and a score to Knowshon Moreno. They have no shot at stopping Peyton Manning if Denver's rushing attack keeps Baltimore on its heels.
Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will need to locate a time machine and play like they did during their peak for Baltimore to hang with Denver.
3. Houston Texans @ New England Patriots
Do the Houston Texans have a shot at upsetting the New England Patriots?
It's not as impossible as Dan Shaughnessy would like everyone to believe. After Arian Foster briefly changed his Twitter avatar to an excerpt from his column giving Houston no chance to win, Shaughnessy stuck by his guns. He wrote another article declaring that the Texans "simply can't win," saying, "No matter how much I study and prepare, I cannot come up with a scenario that has the Houston Texans defeating the New England Patriots Sunday night."
He doesn't have much of an imagination or an understanding of how the NFL works. Did he see Eli Manning break free from a bear hug, close his eyes and fling a pass downfield that perfectly stuck to David Tyree's helmet against the undefeated Patriots?
They also can't let New England jump out to an early lead. While the Pats are vulnerable to the passing attack, the Texans are at their best running it down their opponent's throat and finishing them off with a well-executed play-action pass.
New England is the clear favorite, and they probably will advance behind the NFL's best offense.
But nothing is a sure thing in the NFL.
2. Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons
This is one contest where home-field advantage goes a long way.
In a neutral setting, the Seattle Seahawks might enter this game as a favorite. If they played at Seattle, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone picking Atlanta.
Both of these squads play their best in front of their home fans. The Seahawks finished the season undefeated at CenturyLink Field, while the Falcons won their first seven at the Georgia Dome before dropping a meaningless Week 17 showdown to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After outscoring their opponents by 123 points during the final five games of the season, Seattle finished with the NFC's highest point differential at plus-167.
They allowed the least points per game and are equipped with an elite secondary that could slow down Roddy White and Julio Jones.
But can they win a playoff game on the road against a healthy quarterback?
It's very possible, but the other NFC road team has an even better chance at advancing to the conference championship.
1. Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers
None of the other three teams have Aaron Rodgers.
Which road team is most likely to win this weekend?
Eight years ago, the San Francisco 49ers spurned the hometown quarterback, instead selecting Alex Smith with the No. 1 pick of the 2005 NFL Draft. Now, Rodgers gets another chance to show San Francisco that they made a huge mistake.
Having the best signal-caller in the sport isn't the only reason to like Green Bay's chances. The Packers are again poised to peak at the perfect time.
Charles Woodson and Sam Shields are now healthy and ready to boost Green Bay's secondary against the untested Colin Kaepernick.
DuJuan Harris has given Green Bay's rushing attack a spark, averaging 4.6 yards per carry during the final four regular-season games. Meanwhile, Frank Gore stumbled to the finish line, accumulating 3.7 yards per carry through the past five contests.
It feels all too similar to two years ago, when injured stars returned, and James Starks established a presence on the ground. Green Bay could be on the verge of another Super Bowl run.
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