A scintillating slate of divisional-round action on Saturday made it abundantly clear that the dregs of the 2013 NFL playoffs have been thrown out and the real battle for postseason supremacy has begun.
Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco came through as unlikely heroes yesterday for their teams, and now MVP candidates Matt Ryan and Tom Brady will try to do the same. After the ascent of two young stars on Saturday, there won't be a good football fan alive who wants to miss a second of Sunday's action.
As always, the key to any good football Sunday comes with preparation. You've got your pizza, hot wings and beverages, but left out one important detail: When do these games even get started?
Luckily, we're here to provide those answers. Here is a complete preview of both Sunday matchups, with when and where to watch the games added for good measure.
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
When: Sunday, Jan. 13 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta
This Falcons team may be the least-respected 13-3 team in recent memory. Despite taking care of business almost on a weekly basis and tying for the NFL's best record, Atlanta is actually viewed as the inferior team by Las Vegas oddsmakers (assuming the standard three-point home favorite line).
All things considered, it's not hard to see why. The Falcons played the league's sixth-easiest schedule, per Football Outsiders, and didn't exactly blow many teams out. Mike Smith's squad was 7-2 in games decided by one score or less, a figure that ultimately suggests some reversion to the mean is coming.
Atlanta's chances essentially boil down to whether Matt Ryan and (likely) Roddy White will be able to pick on a rusty Brandon Browner. Richard Sherman is playing at an absolute peak level at the moment and will likely be given the task of covering Julio Jones.
Browner, on the other hand, is in just his second game back following a suspension for performance-enhancing substances and looked vulnerable at times last week. Though the Redskins completed only two of five passes sent his way, Robert Griffin III (understandably) spent the final three quarters missing wide-open targets.
Ryan shouldn't have the same problems. If Browner is still working his way back to NFL game speed, the Falcons could at least find some success in the secondary.
However, their deficiencies against the run require attention. Though an improved unit down the stretch, Atlanta still finished 21st in the NFL against the run and struggled particularly in early downs.
According to Football Outsiders' DVOA ranking, the Falcons finished 23rd in run defense efficiency on first down and 21st on second. Contrast that with the Seahawks, who finished third on first down and led all teams on second-down rush attempts, and Marshawn Lynch could ultimately dictate the game's pace by himself.
If Lynch is able to dominate and the Falcons' passing game struggles, it's pretty difficult to see a scenario where Atlanta wins.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
When: Sunday, Jan. 13 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Where: Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
Like both of Saturday's divisional-round contests, Houston-New England will be a rematch of a contest we already saw once this season. That game saw the Patriots abjectly destroy the Texans, 42-14, after starting the game out on a 28-0 run that ultimately dictated the final score.
Three early touchdowns were (obviously) critical. They put Tom Brady, who finished with 296 yards and four touchdowns, in a rhythm and completely took Houston out of its offensive game plan. Arian Foster wound up receiving only 15 carries, which is something the Texans cannot repeat if they want to keep this game close.
This time around, New England should once again find success passing the ball, but a healthy Johnathan Joseph should do wonders for Houston. The two-time Pro Bowler had just returned from the injury report in the teams' first meeting and was noticeably hobbled, as the Patriots completed six of seven passes in his direction, per Pro Football Focus.
Joseph seems to be fully healthy again and that's nothing short of a godsend. He did an admirable job covering Cincinnati's A.J. Green last week and should do better against Brandon Lloyd this time around.
The questions lie with whether the Texans will be able to keep Wes Welker and the Patriots' tight ends under wraps. Aaron Hernandez had eight receptions for 58 yards and two touchdowns in the teams' first meeting and will be joined by Rob Gronkowski on Sunday.
Houston has actually done a pretty good covering tight ends this season (it ranks fourth in DVOA), but the overall scope of New England's weapons may be too much for the secondary to bear.