Wild Card weekend is over and it’s time for the heavy hitters to step on the gridiron. This weekend offers a lot of intriguing story lines. From the quarterback who was never supposed to play again ,to the legendary linebacker playing in his last playoffs, and an overachieving rookie leading his team past all who stand in their way. These divisional match-ups should be thrilling.
Denver Broncos vs Baltimore Ravens
Peyton Manning is finally playing on a team that has a respectable defense. Having a defense that ranks 2nd in total yards and 4th in total points, alleviates a lot of pressure on the offense. The Ravens handled Manning’s former team (Indianapolis Colts) last weekend, but they are now facing a more well-rounded team. Since returning from career threatening neck surgery, Manning hasn’t skipped a beat being placed in a new offense. He has the 2nd most passing yards (4,659) and touchdowns (37) of his career, while posting a quarterback rating of 105.8. The Ravens are flying high with the return of their emotional and defensive leader, Ray Lewis. However, they are an average team on the road (4-4) and the Broncos have only lost one game at Mile High (7-1), back in week 3 to Houston. The Ravens should put up a good fight behind Ray Rice, but his recent fumbling issues are troubling. If Baltimore plays a clean game, and their defense is able to create 2 or more turnovers, they could come out on top. However, the Broncos have won 11 in a row, and should make it 12 come Saturday.
Broncos 31 Ravens 24
San Francisco 49ers vs Green Bay Packers
This game will be either the most exciting, or biggest letdown of the week. The Packers are back in full swing, and if the 49ers aren’t careful, the game could be over at halftime. Green Bay sent a message to the rest of the league last week with the way they handled Minnesota. The Vikings were coming into the playoffs with a 4 game winning streak, yet were out of the game early in the second half. The 49ers still have an intimidating defense that has allowed the 2nd fewest points. However, their offense is more of an issue. After controversy at quarterback this year, the Niners need a competent starter to handle the 2nd best pass rushing attack in the league. If Frank Gore and the ground game can get field position and control the clock, it will take some pressure off the passing game, and keep the ball away from Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has been on fire, launching three or more touchdown passes in the final three weeks of the season, and posting a QB rating of 104.9 against the Vikings last week. The 49ers defense will present a number of problems for Rodgers, and because his team has a weak ground game, he will be forced to air it out. The 49ers need a few great plays from their defense to pull this one off. This will be a close game, but the Packers should come out on top.
Packers 24 Niners 20
Atlanta Falcons vs Seattle Seahawks
Is this the year that the Falcons and Matt Ryan can finally get a postseason win? The simple answer, no. Ryan and the Falcons had a great regular season and come into the playoffs with the best record in the NFL. Seven out of their 13 wins were by a touchdown or less, so they know how to win the close ones. Ryan and his receivers are having career years, and rank 6th for total passing yards. However, there are a few red flags that their record doesn’t show. Michael Turner and the rushing game had an off-year and rank 29th in the league. Unlike Green Bay, Falcons haven’t had much success in the playoffs, so relying just on their passing game is going to put immense pressure on Ryan. Their defense also instills a “bend, but don’t break” policy. They rank 23rd and 21st in passing (242.4) and rushing (123.2) yards allowed, but are 7th best in total points allowed (26.2). On the other-hand the Seahawks are coming in with a lot of momentum. While they do have a poor road record (3-5), they showed last weekend they can play in a hostile environment by scoring 24 unanswered points last week in Washington. The Seahawks obvious strength is their defense. The defense was the best in the league, allowing the fewest points (15.3) and 4th fewest total yards (306.2). This allows rookie Russell Wilson, who is playing like a seasoned pro, some leeway to make some mistakes. Marshawn Lynch should also help put Wilson with more manageable short distance downs. If Wilson limits his mistakes and the Seahawks can knock Ryan around at the beginning of the game, they should be able to pull off the upset at the Georgia Dome and continue the Falcons struggles in the playoffs.
Seahawks 27 Falcons 17
New England Patriots vs Houston Texans
The Texans are heading to Gillette Stadium after a close game with the Bengals last weekend. Matt Schaub struggled in the beginning of his playoff debut, but was able to fight off his nerves as the game went on. This Sunday, Schaub and the Texans are going against similar defense, but a much better offense in New England. The Texans know the Pats well after being crushed 42-14, in week 14. This game shouldn’t get that out of hand, but Houston will need a career game out of J.J. Watt and Arian Foster to give them a chance. If Watt, or another Houston defender, can create a few turnovers that lead to easy points, anything is possible. Tom Brady and the Pats are coming into the playoffs winning 9 of their last 10 games. They have an all-time great in Brady, an above average defense allowing 20.7 points a game, and one of the best coaches of all-time in Bill Belichick. Houston needs to catch a few breaks, or get an early lead to put the pressure on New England. However, the Patriots should prove too much for them, and should win comfortably.
Patriots 31 Texans 20
This weekend offers a lot of exciting variety in the type of games we can expect. The Falcons and Patriots against the underdog Seahawks and Texans. The Ravens at Broncos and Packers at Niners games look like closer games on paper, but playoff football always offers a few surprises.