As for the Indianapolis Colts, who, if anything were beaten even more soundly in their contest, it’s hard to be any happier for them. Just goes to show how it’s all in the expectations, not the results. Such is the life of a fan.
Since I was 0-2 for the AFC and 2-0 for the NFC, we’ll have to start with the AFC again and trust that another week of life has taught me something useful. Hope so. The weekend of the divisional round is always the toughest of the year.
Ravens at Broncos – Saturday’s early game (4:30) should be a might chilly, around 19 degrees or so, but being on Denver time means they won’t see the sunset until the fourth quarter so, unless the wind’s blowing something fierce, the weather should not be a really big factor in this game.
However, they are going to be playing a mile up and not on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Playing hurry-up ball at altitude will create conditioning issues for the defense that’s not used to it. While the Baltimore defense appeared to be back to its old healthy self last week, this isn’t a game condition that a one-week prep can fix.
There’s no doubt the Ravens’ defense can bring the lumber when the situation calls for it, but with Denver going for nearly 400 yards of offense per game, that’s a lot of heavy swinging to do for some guys who, while talented and highly inspired, are nonetheless not going to be in peak form.
Peyton Manning is a textbook definition of a rhythm quarterback and only the very few have ever been able to affect his pace. He’s got plenty of receiver talent available, along with the arm and head to get the ball where it needs to be when it needs to be there.
Without an able strategy to stop Manning, Baltimore’s offense is going to have to play tit-for-tat, and it’s just hard to trust them to keep that up for very long. That leaves Baltimore needing to rely on turnovers to create enough opportunities to win.
Manning has beaten the Ravens nine straight. Denver has a 13-3 postseason record at home. With those kinds of numbers, even the few turnovers they may create shouldn’t make the difference.
Packers at 49ers – By way of contrast, Saturday night’s game is by a bay, and short of another earthquake leveling the place, I can’t think of a more spectacular location for this quality of game.
We may all associate Aaron Rodgers with Green Bay of course (or even State Farm if you will excuse that), but he’s from northern California and idolized the Niners – Steve Young in particular – in his youth. He will relish this chance, and he always plays well in the postseason (and pretty much anytime).
The new kid on the block, Colin Kaepernick, was born in Milwaukee and was a Packers fan growing up (and also admittedly a Niners fan since his family moved to California when he was still pretty young) and always wanted to be the quarterback at Green Bay (and San Francisco).
These personal connections are interesting and all, but largely meaningless to the action on the field. San Francisco has a more consistent running game with Frank Gore, but the Packers have had a good month in that department. As we’ve all learned lately, it’s who gets hot at the right time that matters most.
Rodgers is deadly accurate as a passer, even more so when he’s on the move, so the inevitable pressure from the 49ers front will not be as critical an issue. Kaepernick is also a mobile and accurate quarterback, but as we have seen, being young and able to make plays with your legs often gets you hurt. A little more experience helps in this category.
The 49ers have receivers both good and plenty, but they are not deep and deeper like the Packers are. On balance, the Niners have a more balanced and deeper defense. Playing at home gives them that advantage.
This one is a toss-up, but I give it to Rodgers to find a way to win. He usually does this time of year.
Seahawks at Falcons – Provided no more injuries get reported following last week’s slog through the “turf” at Fed Ex Field (and I think the feds should definitely X that place), Seattle comes into the strange environment of a domed stadium just a bit hobbled and mystified.
On the season, Seattle was not a really good road team but they had a decent December. Still, they played three dome games this season and lost all of them. They have a one-man wrecking crew of a rushing attack, but it’s still just one guy. Sometimes we forget, but Atlanta can throw you some change-ups on the ground.
Finally, Atlanta has an excellent home record since the arrival of Coach Mike Smith. The possible loss of John Abraham is serious, but less an issue for playing at home. It’s really all in Matt Ryan’s hands on this day, and his team got the rest they needed to stock up for this one. Besides, it wouldn’t seem right for Tony Gonzales not to at least get into a conference championship game.
Texans at Patriots – Who doesn’t want to see Houston get this one? Who actually believes they will? That’s a football version of binary logic, and a simple analogy of the universe that exists within one and zero.