The 2013 NFL playoffs will continue with two more thrilling showdowns on Sunday, and there will be plenty of stars and storylines to keep football fans occupied throughout the day.
The No. 5 Seattle Seahawks will make their second cross-country trip of the postseason to take on the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons in the NFC divisional round game.
Then, the No. 3 Houston Texans will head north to face the No. 2 New England Patriots, who were not gracious hosts when these two teams met in Foxboro in Week 14.
A full schedule of all remaining NFL playoff contests can be found at ESPN.com. Here is what to watch for in Sunday’s games.
No. 5 Seattle Seahawks vs. No. 1 Atlanta Falcons
When: Sunday, Jan. 13, 1 p.m. ET
Matt Ryan has looked like an elite quarterback throughout the regular season, but the top passers in the NFL forge their reputation in the playoffs. Ryan has not done this yet, and he will have to prove in this contest that he is ready to take the next step in his career.
Russell Wilson does not face the same expectations, but he must make a few plays in this game. He avoided mistakes last weekend against the Washington Redskins, but he should not be expecting his defense—as talented as it may be—to allow just 14 points for a second consecutive week.
While each quarterback plays a very different role for his respective team, this game will be heavily influenced by which one has a better day.
Atlanta Wide Receivers and Seattle Cornerbacks
The playoffs have yet to produce a positional matchup with so much intrigue.
Roddy White and Julio Jones have dominated opposing defensive backs this season, with each one eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards (White had 1,351; Jones had 1,198). Both players are tall, strong and physical.
But this description also matches Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, Seattle’s starting cornerback tandem. There is no better pair of cover corners in the league, and they will make White and Jones work hard to win one-on-one matchups.
This matchup will feature four men who are extremely effective at what they do, and fans will not be disappointed if they choose to focus on these battles.
No. 3 Houston Texans vs. No. 2 New England Patriots
When: Sunday, Jan. 13, 4:30 p.m. ET
The last time these two teams met, fans saw all they needed to know in the first 15 minutes of the game.
The Texans offense stalled and failed to produce any points. The three drives during the quarter produced two three-and-outs and an interception.
New England, in contrast, scored touchdowns on both of its drives in the opening period. Tom Brady was well protected and in rhythm, and he was able to pick apart the Houston secondary.
If this game starts the same way, the memories from the Week 14 beatdown will come flooding back, and Houston will find it extremely difficult to find the necessary confidence to mount a comeback.
Houston DE J.J. Watt
A large part of New England’s success against Houston during the regular season is owed to the offensive line’s ability to neutralize J.J. Watt.
The Defensive Player of the Year candidate had just four tackles and no sacks, although he did manage to force a fumble. In addition, the Patriots protection was able to keep Watt far enough away from Brady that he wasn’t able to bat down a single pass.
If Houston is going to compete in this game, it will need much more production out of its defensive star.
Watt’s performance will be one of the deciding factors of this contest, and fans should keep an eye on him throughout the game.