Friday, January 11, 2013
The records are gaudy. The star power is high.
Denver, Atlanta, New England and San Francisco host divisional playoff games this weekend. They're a combined 49-14-1, and their rosters are filled with such headline grabbers as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Tony Gonzalez and Patrick Willis.
Their home-field advantages could be formidable, too.
The Broncos, who have won 11 straight games, and Falcons each went 7-1; the 49ers were 6-1-1 and the Patriots 6-2.
None of which makes the Ravens, Seahawks, Texans or Packers quake in their cleats.
“That's not in my mind at all going up to Denver,” said the Ravens' Joe Flacco, the only quarterback to win a playoff game in his first five seasons. “We feel confident, and I think we should.”
Baltimore at Denver opens the weekend's action, followed by Green Bay at San Francisco on Saturday night.
Sunday, Seattle is at Atlanta, then Houston goes to New England.
Ravens (11-6) at Broncos (13-3)
For all those impressive numbers, here's a baffling one: four-time league Manning is a mere 9-10 in postseason games. Those wins and losses were compiled with the Colts, with whom he never had a defense like the one the Broncos possess.
That defense made a big difference when Denver won 34-17 at Baltimore in Week 15. A 98-yard interception return by Chris Harris at the end of the first half turned it into a rout.
The Manning-Ray Lewis matchups through the years have been intriguing, and this will be the final one. Baltimore's emotional leader announced his retirement days before he had 13 tackles in his last home game, a 24-9 wild-card victory over Indianapolis.
Packers (12-5) at 49ers (11-4-1)
Another rematch, but from so long ago: San Francisco won 30-22 in the opener, at Lambeau Field.
The Packers have the edge in this postseason series, 4-1. They would seem to have the edge on offense with top-rated passer Aaron Rodgers and a deep crew of receivers.
And the Niners would have the advantage on defense, having yielded 63 fewer points in the regular season.
Seahawks (12-5) at Falcons (13-3)
Those road woes that plagued the Seahawks can be forgotten. They've won three in a row away from home, including the 24-14 wild-card victory at Washington that was their first on the road in the playoffs since 1983.
With six straight wins overall, they're a confident bunch as they head to the Georgia Dome.
“We've grown and become more together and more in tune with our QB and what he can do and all that,” Carroll said, referring to rookie Russell Wilson. “We're a pretty hard team to beat right now.”
Texans (13-4) at Patriots (12-4)
Yet another rematch, this from Dec. 10 when the Texans flopped in Foxborough, 42-10. That was the beginning of a fade in which they dropped three of four and sank from top AFC seed to No. 3.
Houston recovered somewhat last week in a 19-13 wild-card victory over Cincinnati. This is a much tougher task.
Tom Brady has 16 postseason wins and needs one win to break a tie with Joe Montana.
“He's won a lot of regular-season games, won a lot of playoff games,” coach Bill Belichick said. “What he does on a day-to-day basis, how he performs on the practice field, how he performs in games — whether they're preseason, regular season, postseason, whatever it is — he's pretty consistent. I think you see that during the week, so it shows up on Sunday.”
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