Three of the greatest quarterbacks of this generation will have a chance to advance to their respective conference's championship games during this weekend's Divisional Round of the 2012-13 NFL playoffs.
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos host the Baltimore Ravens, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots face the Houston Texans and Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers go on the road to take on the San Francisco 49ers. In some order, the three represent the very top of the NFL's quarterback hierarchy.
Add in on-the-cusp quarterbacks like Atlanta's Matt Ryan, Baltimore's Joe Flacco and Houston's Matt Schaub and young, exciting quarterbacks like San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and Seattle's Russell Wilson, and you get a Divisional Round worth savoring this weekend.
In the following slides, we'll present which quarterbacks and teams we think will be advancing past the Divisional Round in 2012-13.
The home-road splits for Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco point to a clear winner of Denver and Baltimore.
Arguably no quarterback was better at home in 2012 than Manning, who tossed 22 touchdowns against just three interceptions (NFL-high plus-19 touchdown-to-interception ratio) and finished with a passer rating of 112.3 in Denver. The Broncos were 7-1 at home this season.
Few quarterbacks struggled as badly on the road as Flacco.
While completing nearly 63 percent of his passes and throwing 10 more touchdowns than interceptions (15-5) at home, Flacco saw his numbers drop to a 56.9 completion percentage, seven touchdowns, five interceptions and a passer rating of just 74.9 away from Baltimore. As those numbers would forecast, the Ravens were just 4-4 on the road.
Unless the quarterbacking trends reverse drastically Saturday in Denver, Manning and the Broncos should advance comfortably to the AFC Championship Game.
Pick: Broncos 31, Ravens 20
Final: Ravens 38, Broncos 35
There are legitimate reasons behind picking Green Bay to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
The Packers have the better, more experienced quarterback, a history of winning road playoff games and a head coach capable of putting together offensive game plans that can beat any defense.
However, Green Bay loses out to San Francisco in two very important categories: The 49ers are considerably better on both the offensive and defensive lines.
If the Packers can't run the football, protect Aaron Rodgers or stop the run on defense, San Francisco will comfortably control Saturday's clash in much the same way it did during a Week 1 win at Lambeau Field. Rodgers can only do so much in a matchup that simply doesn't favor Green Bay in many areas.
Pick: 49ers 33, Packers 27
Final: 49ers 45, Packers 31
Every postseason is independent of the last, but recent trends certainly do not favor the Falcons Sunday.
Top seeds in the NFC have lost in the Divisional Round in five of the last six years, while quarterback Matt Ryan still does not possess a playoff win despite three tries and a 56-24 overall record since entering the NFL in 2008.
However, there are also numbers relevant in the present that should scare the Falcons.
Atlanta allowed the 29th highest yard-per-carry average in the NFL this season at 4.8, and no team ran the football more than the Seahawks in 2012. Over the last five games, Seattle averaged 221.4 rushing yards a game (all wins).
Ryan should be better than his overall postseason stat line (three touchdowns, four interceptions, 71.2 passer rating), but the Seahawks can very easily turn Sunday's tilt into their type of game via the run.
Pick: Seahawks 24, Falcons 20
Final: Falcons 30, Seahawks 28
Top-level quarterbacks have had their way with the Texans' defense in 2012, a trend that must reverse for Houston to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots on the road to cap off the weekend.
Manning, Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Brady combined to throw for 1,405 yards (351.3 a game), 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Texans' suspect secondary this season. The Broncos, Packers, Lions and Patriots combined to score 140 points, or 35 a game.
Houston doesn't have the horses on offense to outscore a Brady-led Patriots team in New England, so a Texans' win assumes a considerably better performance by a defense that has rolled over and died against top quarterbacks this season.
Brady may be just 6-6 in his last 12 postseason games, but he should get the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game with another vintage performance against an overrated defense.
Pick: Patriots 34, Texans 20
Final: Patriots 41, Texans 28