2013 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Preview

January 12, 2013

Things pretty much went as planned on Wild Card Weekend in the NFL. I’m sure that RG3 would disagree with that, but it isn’t often that I go 4-0 in picking games.

This weekend has the potential to get a lot messier. Frankly, only one of the four games this weekend has an absolutely clear favorite.

Here are the previews for the AFC and NFC Divisional round games.

AFC Divisional Round

Baltimore at Denver (Saturday, 4:30 PM ET)

Baltimore looked good last weekend, both on offense and defense. However, the Ravens will have their hands full this weekend trying to stop Peyton Manning and the Denver offense, which racked up 34 points on the Ravens in a game back in December, the second most points Baltimore has surrendered in a single contest this season.

Baltimore should feel good about its defensive efforts against Indianapolis last weekend, because the team will need to be strong defensively to win this game as well. The Ravens held Peyton Manning to just 204 passing yards in the last battle between the two teams, and it would not be surprising to see Baltimore have similar success. Manning isn’t used to the cold, and the temperature could be in the single-digits for the majority of this game.

Denver is probably the better team, but the cold could have far more negative effects on the Broncos than the Ravens. It will be interesting to see how Manning holds up against a Ravens defense that is very comfortable playing in the cold. Ultimately, the Broncos defense will have to shut down Baltimore’s running game to win this game.

I like Baltimore in this game to keep things very close, and a flawless game by Joe Flacco would put a lot of pressure on Denver. But I don’t think that Flacco will be flawless, and I also think that the Broncos will be able to contain Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce enough so that Baltimore is held to under 20 points. I like Denver in a close one.

My Pick: 24-17 Denver

Houston at New England (Sunday, 4:30 PM ET)

Houston looked good in the first half of its win over Cincinnati last Saturday, but regressed to its “end of regular season” form by the end of the game. The Texans are going to need four quarters of good play to beat New England in this game, because the Patriots, as of right now, are my favorite to make it to the Super Bowl on the AFC side.

The Texans were taken out of their comfort zone the last time they played New England, primarily because of the defensive secondary. Tom Brady carved up the secondary en route to an early 21-0 lead, which made it difficult for Houston to employ its normal offensive scheme which involves a heavy dose of the running game. If Houston wants to avoid a similar story, the defense will need to find a way to contain Brady and his plethora of receivers. Otherwise, Houston’s offense won’t be a factor, no matter how well it does.

New England has to avoid looking ahead to next weekend. The Patriots are the favorite in this game, and already have proven that they can find the weaknesses in Houston’s defense. But the Texans did look good in the first half of last weekend’s game, and if Arian Foster can rumble for first downs consistently, Houston has the ability to control the clock. The last thing New England wants is a low scoring game in which Houston’s offense controls the tempo.

On paper, New England is the biggest favorite of the weekend. Unfortunately for Houston, the final score of this game may reflect that. The Texans can be a very dangerous team, but have been far too inconsistent lately. I would not be surprised if this game is pretty much over after three quarters.

My Pick: 34-17 New England

NFC Divisional Round

Seattle at Atlanta (Sunday, 1 PM ET)

It is astounding to me how many people are picking Seattle to win this game. The Falcons have to be hearing the love for the Seahawks thinking, “what are we, road kill? We’re the No. 1 seed in the NFC.”

Seattle has certainly done a nice job this season, with the league’s best defense and an offense that is very balanced thanks to Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson. The Seahawks are also riding a six game winning streak that includes a very impressive beatdown of San Francisco a couple of days before Christmas. There are two things that might derail Seattle’s success this weekend, however. One is Atlanta’s talented duo of wide receivers, Roddy White and Julio Jones. Another is the fact that this will be the second consecutive weekend that the Seahawks have traveled across the U.S. to play a game. At some point, you’d think making 2000-plus mile trips would take a toll on a team.

Atlanta is counting on Matt Ryan. The quarterback is 0-3 in his career in the postseason, and two of those losses haven’t even been close. Perhaps the fourth time is a charm. Ryan is the leader of an offense that is pass happy, which means that it will be targeting the teeth of Seattle’s defense. That being said, Ryan will need to play a very solid game for the Falcons to win. Turnovers will play a key role in this game, if there are any.

Seattle’s defensive numbers suggest that the Seahawks are precisely the kind of team to take down Atlanta. I think that the Falcons will come out with a chip on their collective shoulder, however. Atlanta isn’t taking anything for granted at this point, and I think that will make a huge difference in how this team plays. This game will be close, but I don’t think Seattle will pull off the upset.

My Pick: 27-24 Atlanta

Green Bay at San Francisco (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

This is perhaps the most interesting matchup of the weekend, because both teams have the talent to make it to the Super Bowl, which isn’t something I would say about any other game. Also, this game has a chance to be a barnburner.

Green Bay took it to Minnesota last weekend, and is showing a lot of confidence heading into this game. Aaron Rodgers attempted to lead the Packers to a come-from-behind victory over San Francisco in the season opener, but came up a little short. In order to assure Rodgers won’t have to be Superman in this game, Green Bay’s defense will have to limit Colin Kaepernick’s ability to throw downfield. The second-year quarterback out of Nevada has become comfortable enough with the offense now that he is taking more chances, which could benefit the Packers. Green Bay’s defense has 18 interceptions this season.

Before Green Bay held Adrian Peterson to under 100 yards last Saturday, San Francisco might have thought it could simply use Frank Gore to pound out yards on the ground. Instead, we’ll find out just how good Colin Kaepernick is when the stakes are high. Kaepernick will be extremely important in the success of the 49ers offense, just as he was in the game against New England back in mid-December. However, San Francisco cannot get lazy on defense if they build a lead, because Rodgers is just as capable as Tom Brady at leading a comeback.

San Francisco is very talented on both sides of the ball. Green Bay has the experience. Although the 49ers have looked very strong ever since Kaepernick took over, I like the Packers on the road. I think that this game will go back and forth, and the team that has the ball last could end up being the winner.

My Pick: 38-34 Green Bay

– K. Becks

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