X Stone-Cold Guarantees for NFL's Divisional Playoffs
The NFL Divisional Round is considered by many as the most entertaining games of the NFL playoffs, with two quality games each day featuring the top eight remaining teams in football.In 2013, it appears to be no different.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are one game away from what could be a classic battle in the AFC championship game. However, they'll face a more challenging task against two teams who didn't give their best effort last time around.
Here are my ten locks for this playoff weekend.
10. Atlanta Falcons Defense Holds Marshawn Lynch Under 100 Yards Rushing
Marshawn Lynch has been the most important offensive player on the Seattle Seahawks, as his ability to run the football well opens up plenty of opportunities for Russell Wilson and company.
He will face a new challenge against an Atlanta Falcons defense that has shown improvements this season under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
Fortunately for the Falcons, I think they will answer the call. Not only will their emotions be running high with this week's playoff game being of utter importance, but this defense has played its best football this season at home against quality competition.
I expect Sean Weatherspoon to continue to lead the charge like he has done all season, and ultimately force Russell Wilson to beat them without their best playmaker having a major impact.
9. Peyton Manning Throws a Touchdown Pass to Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas
A big part for Peyton Manning's fantastic run this season has been his improving chemistry with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, who have grown leaps and bounds due to playing with the signal caller.
With a week to prepare for the Baltimore Ravens defense, the key focus is to not lose the momentum that both of these receivers faced early on in the season.
Fortunately, they face a good matchup against a Ravens secondary that has battled injuries all season long. Cary Williams and Corey Graham are expected to get most of the playing time come Saturday, which gives the advantage to the receivers on all levels.
In a game that will be much closer than most people expect, every point might be necessary for the Broncos to pull off the victory.
8. Ray Rice Will Have over 100 Total Yards of Offense Against the Denver Broncos
Ray Rice has been the cornerstone of the Baltimore Ravens offense since entering the league a few seasons ago. His ability to be effective in both the running game and passing game has resulted in a great amount of all purpose yardage and ultimately considered to be one of the elite running backs in football.
His success will continue on the road against the Denver Broncos, a team who limited the Ravens offense a month ago in the regular season. Since they faced off in December, the offense has begun to show signs of life under interim offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.
Caldwell's play calling has led to a balanced offense, which does include opportunities for Rice and rookie running back Bernard Pierce.
The Ravens realize their success rate is much higher when Rice touches the football, and he will make his impact on Saturday in Denver.
7. Colin Kaepernick Will Face His Struggles in His First Playoff Start
Colin Kaepernick prepares for not only the first playoff game in his career, but also the biggest game of his life up to date.
Unfortunately, the challenge won't be easy. He faces a Packers team that has experience on both sides of the football, especially on the defensive side.
This week, the challenge will prove to be much different, but their ability to force Kaepernick into making costly turnovers by trying to force too many throws down the field.
Since becoming a starter, Kaepernick has relied too much on his arm strength in order to complete crucial passes late in games. As the Packers limit the 49ers rushing attack, the pressure turns to the second year starter who will struggle putting up points with the Packers offensive attack.
6. Roddy White Leads the Charge in the Falcons Up-Tempo Passing Attack
Roddy White has endured the painful struggles of losing in the postseason after previous success in the regular season.
He has voiced his displeasure about the doubters that exist, and has insisted that his team will prove them wrong when it matters most.
This weekend, he will get the job done. Granted, the task won't be easy against a Seahawks secondary that is the best in football. However, with the attention turned to Julio Jones, look for Matt Ryan to turn to White when the All-Pro is his best in the end zone.
5. Aaron Hernandez Will Lead All Tight Ends in Receiving Yards and Touchdowns
With the return of Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez is bound for a big performance in the postseason against a defense that has shown its struggles against opposing tight ends.
There is no question that Gronkowski is Tom Brady's favorite target and the biggest threat to the Texans defense. However, his presence will lead to plenty of opportunities for Hernandez, who will be able to stretch the field and be the best offensive player coming off the bye for New England.
4. Andre Johnson Has the Best Performance of Any Wide Receiver This Weekend
Andre Johnson has faced plenty of doubters this season, and this week will be no different. After a lackluster performance against the Cincinnati Bengals, can he return to form against a questionable Pats secondary?
I believe it's going to happen, as Johnson knows he must produce at a high level for the Houston Texans to stand a chance of making this a winnable game.
He'll likely face Aquib Talib, who has provided a spark to the Patriots secondary but has also been inconsistent in his pass coverage.
Johnson is the best wide receiver remaining in these playoffs, and he will prove it by making a more significant impact on this Texans offense.
3. Both the Broncos and Patriots Outcomes Will Be Either 10 Points or Less
The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots appear to be on a mission to survive the second round of the playoffs and to play in the hyped AFC championship game.
However, the task at hand won't be easy. They will have to survive a letdown performance coming off the bye against two teams who want to show a little payback.
While the Baltimore Ravens ride the emotional wave of Ray Lewis' retirement into the second round, the Houston Texans want to rebound after being embarrassed on national television a month ago against the Patriots.
Both teams have shown the ability to run the football effectively, while also showing enough explosiveness in the passing game to keep these defenses on the field.
This time around for the Patriots and Broncos, it's going to be a hard fought win if they advance to the next round.
2. Atlanta Falcons Secure the Playoff Win They Have Long Anticipated
The Atlanta Falcons clearly have the most to prove this weekend as they welcome arguably the hottest team in football into town.
Matt Ryan and company cruised to the top seed in the NFC, but ultimately fail to earn the proper recognition until they accomplish something in the postseason.
This week, that is bound to change. Not only did the Falcons use the week off to get healthy after a rough end to the season, it's evident that their home field advantage has proven to be one of the best in all of football.
Seattle travels to the East Coast for the second time in the past seven days, which certainly will be a burden on the young squad. They were also unfortunate to lose their top pass rusher Chris Clemons, who will be missed in a big way on Sunday.
It won't be an easy game by any means, but the Falcons will take care of business at home and march closer to their first Super Bowl during the Mike Smith era.
1. Aaron Rodgers Leads the Green Bay Packers Back to the NFC Title Game
The Green Bay Packers couldn't have started the playoffs better last week after dominating the Minnesota Vikings in all phases.
As they travel to San Francisco for a tougher challenge, I envision them seeking revenge and becoming one step closer to returning to a Super Bowl.
Aaron Rodgers will be fortunate to have all of his top receivers at disposal for a second straight playoff game, as the game plan can now turn towards spreading out the 49ers defense.
San Francisco will need to disrupt Rodgers by their pass rush, but how viable is Justin Smith? If he's able to play, is he even near 100%?
With the defense struggling in recent weeks, Colin Kaepernick would need to rise to the occasion against the Packers who has something to prove. Charles Woodson will have something to say about that.