NFL Playoffs — Divisional Round Preview
The divisional round of the NFL playoffs occurs this Saturday and Sunday, with the winners advancing to next weekend’s championship games. Here’s a preview of this weekend’s games:
Saturday, Jan. 12
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver; 4:30 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Less than a week after dispatching the Colts in the wild card round, the Baltimore Ravens face the Denver Broncos. The AFC West champ and top seed in the conference, the Broncos beat the Ravens, 34-17, in Week 15 of the regular season. Baltimore held Denver quarterback Peyton Manning largely in check during that contest, but turnovers and a lackluster offensive effort hurt the Ravens.
Thanks to running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, Baltimore had the NFL’s 11th best rushing attack this season, averaging 118.8 yards per game. Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked 35 times during the regular season. The Broncos ranked second-overall in the NFL in total defense in 2012, and they tied for the league-lead with 52 sacks, including 18.5 by linebacker Von Miller.
Manning led the AFC in passer rating in the regular season with a 105.8 mark. Denver receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker each broke the 1,000 yard-mark in receiving yards in 2012. Since running back Willis McGahee was injured in Week 11, Knowshon Moreno has spearheaded the Broncos’ rushing attack. Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Bernard Pollard each missed the earlier game against Denver, but both will play this week. Baltimore allowed just 21.5 points per game during the regular season. They kept the Colts out of the end zone last week.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
Candlestick Park, San Francisco; 8 p.m. (ET) on Fox
After routing the Vikings last week, the Green Bay Packers must travel to play the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers this Saturday. The Packers lost to the 49ers, 30-22, in Week 1 of the regular season.
Green Bay’s offense scored 27.1 points per game during the regular season. Receivers Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb should give Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers plenty of targets. Rodgers was sacked an NFL-high 51 times during the 2012 campaign. He will be a target for 49ers’ linebacker Aldon Smith, who led the NFC with 19.5 sacks. San Francisco ranked first in the NFC in total defense and second-overall in points allowed at 17.1 per game.
With both running and passing abilities, 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick made the San Francisco offense more dynamic after taking over for Alex Smith during the season. The 49ers finished 11th in the league in total offense. San Francisco running back Frank Gore paced a rushing attack that ranked fourth in the NFL at 155.7 yards per game. Gore gained 112 yards against Green Bay in Week 1. The Packers ranked 11th in the NFL in total defense. Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews finished fifth in the NFL with 13 sacks in the regular season. He had two sacks and a fumble recovery in the win against the Vikings last week.
Sunday, Jan. 13
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
Georgia Dome, Atlanta; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
A week after rallying to beat the Redskins, Seattle continues its road trip by playing against the Atlanta Falcons, who are the NFC South champs and the top seed in the conference.
Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan finished fifth in the NFL with a 99.1 passer rating in 2012. Atlanta receiver Julio Jones had 1,198 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions during the regular season, while teammate Michael Turner ran for 800 yards and 10 scores. Seattle finished fourth in the league in total defense, yielding 306.3 yards per game. The Seahawks allowed an NFL-low 15.3 points per contest, but they’ll be without defensive end Chris Clemons, who tore ligaments in his left knee in the victory over the Redskins.
Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch can alter a defense’s game plan. He finished third in the NFL with 1,590 rushing yards this season. Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown 17 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in his last nine games. Seattle placekicker Steven Hauschka suffered a strained calf in the win over Washington and is questionable for Sunday. The Falcons’ defense held opponents to 18.7 points per game, fifth-lowest in the NFL this season. Atlanta finished tied for fifth in the league with 20 interceptions. Defensive backs Thomas DeCoud, William Moore and Asante Samuel combined to pick-off 15 passes.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.; 4:30 p.m. (ET) on CBS
After beating the Bengals last Saturday, AFC South champion Houston advanced to play AFC East champ New England this weekend. The Patriots thoroughly dominated the Texans, 42-14, in Week 14.
Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady will make his 23rd playoff start on Sunday. If Brady can lead his team to victory in this game, he’ll break a tie with Joe Montana for the most playoff wins by a quarterback in NFL history (16). Brady finished second in the AFC with a 98.7 passer rating in the regular season. The Texans’ ranked seventh-overall in the league in total defense, but just 16th against the pass. Houston had 44 sacks in 2012, including 20.5 by league-leader J.J. Watt.
Texans’ running back Arian Foster was the AFC’s second-leading rusher in the regular season. In the win over Cincinnati last week, Foster became the first player in NFL history with at least 100 yards rushing in his first three postseason games. The Patriots’ defense ranked ninth against the run this season, but allowed an AFC-high 271.4 passing yards per game. New England led the AFC with 20 interceptions, including five by safety Devin McCourty. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has been a consistent force on the line of scrimmage.