Get your popcorn ready: NFL divisional round playoff preview capsules
Baltimore Ravens (11-6) at Denver Broncos (13-3)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
The Baltimore Ravens will come into the game Saturday afternoon attempting to avenge the regular season loss to Denver, in the hopes Ray Lewis will prolong his final season and make it one step closer to the Super Bowl. For the Ravens to be successful, they need to utilize Ray Rice to his fullest potential. Lewis was also injured when the teams met in the regular season, and his presence on the field could be a huge advantage for the visiting team.
On the Denver side, all eyes will be on veteran QB Peyton Manning.
“It’s been quite a year for me,” Manning told the Broncos’ official website. “I remember one year ago I was in a hospital bed watching opening day, so there’s a little reminder there of how far I’ve come.”
The Broncos have had two weeks to prepare for the Ravens. Manning has won nine straight overall versus the Ravens, including two playoff matchups. The Broncos are also second overall in the league in scoring. Favorite: Broncos.
Players to watch:
Broncos: QB Peyton Manning – Manning will make his first playoff appearance with the Broncos on Saturday and also his first appearance in the postseason since is neck surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2011 season. It’s supposed to warm up to a balmy 18 degrees in Denver this afternoon, and the superstar QB is 0-3 in sub 40-degree playoff games. He will also be wearing a glove made for cold weather and reports mention that it could affect his grip on the ball.
Ravens: LB Ray Lewis – For his first game on the field in two months, Lewis had 11 tackles in the game versus the Indianapolis Colts last season, a pretty good start for not playing for two months. As previously mentioned, Lewis and his squad will attempt to prolong his final season and notch one last Super Bowl win.
Green Bay Packers (11-5) at San Francisco 49ers (11-41-)
Saturday, 8:00 p.m.
The biggest storyline for the divisional match-up Saturday night is Aaron Rodgers returning to his hometown to play in the stadium where watched so many games growing up. Rodgers has been quoted saying around the time he was going be drafted in 2005, that the 49ers would be sorry if they didn’t draft him. I think anyone associated with the Niners would agree with that sentiment here in 2013.
The 49ers have QB Colin Kaepernick at the helm, who is making his first postseason start since he took the job from former QB Alex Smith when Smith suffered a concussion. Kaepernick has had some ups and downs since taking the reigns, but he should be in his prime at home in Candlestick Park tonight.
Players to watch:
49ers: Colin Kaepernick – Kaepernick is making his postseason debut Saturday night. Since he took the starting job, Kaepernick has a 62.4 percent completion percentage, throwing for a little over 1,800 yards and 10 touchdowns. Kaepernick will have to make some big plays in this game to earn the win for San Francisco.
Packers: LB Clay Matthews – The bread and butter of the Niners offense is their running game, and it’s Matthews job to shut that unit down Saturday. If Matthews can get pressure across the line to Kaepernick, the QB has no chance to get the ball out of his hands.
Seattle Seahawks (12-5) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Seattle Seahawks are the hottest team in the NFL right now, led by their stellar defense and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
Fresh off their wild card win versus the Washington Redskins, the Seahawks are ready for their first playoff appearance since the 2010 season and are looking for their first Super Bowl win. Unstoppable running back Marshawn Lynch is coming off a 130-plus yard game versus the Redskins last week and will be looking to build upon that Sunday afternoon.
The Atlanta Falcons are led by three standout receivers: Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, who hope to gain a win at home in the Georgia Dome tomorrow night.
Atlanta also has dual threat running backs in Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers that have provided match-up problems for teams throughout the regular season.
Players to watch:
Seahawks: Seattle’s secondary – Led by top cornerback Richard Sherman, the Seattle secondary is frightening. Sherman has a total of eight picks this season. Sherman, along with Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner, is bound to give the wide receivers on the Atlanta side some problems in the backfield.
Falcons: QB Matt Ryan: Ryan has been a great regular season quarterback, but he needs to prove that he could get the job done and bring a Super Bowl win back to Atlanta. Ryan has a track record of being nothing short of terrible in the postseason, if anyone needs a reminder, just take a look at his stats from the Falcons-Giants playoff game in the 2012 postseason.
Houston Texans (13-4) at New England Patriots (12-4)
Sunday 4:30 p.m.
This is second meeting this season for the Patriots and Texans. The Patriots were victorious by a 42-14 margin only about a month ago. This game will be fresh in the minds of the Texans, who will be looking to avenge the loss and move on in the playoffs.
The divisional playoffs are nothing new for beloved New England QB Tom Brady, who seems to lead his team to the postseason every year with ease. The Pats will be looking to Bill Belichick and the veteran QB to carry them to their second straight Super Bowl appearance, and without the Giants in the picture, the Pats are looking at a clear path to the championship.
Players to watch:
Patriots: TE Rob Gronkowski. The tight end is expected to play on Sunday. Gronkowski returned to play in Week 17 against the Dolphins after a broken forearm earlier in the season forced him to the sidelines for more than a month. He caught just two passes but did record a touchdown in a 28-0 win against the Dolphins. However, he was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday before practicing in full on Friday. He creates a severe match-up problem for the defense because he has wide receiver-like speed and the size and strength to match any cornerback.
Texans: QB Matt Schaub. Schaub needs to be vertical, utilizing his biggest weapon in Andre Johnson. He also needs to improve on the game he had versus the Patriots last month and prove he could take down a powerhouse team. He’s earned over 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns this season with a 64.3 completion percentage.