What to Know : Divisional Round of the Playoffs

football, games, playoffsThe divisional round of the playoffs is upon us! This weekend, two AFC games and two NFC games will determine who plays in next weekend’s conference championship. Here’s what you need to know:

Ravens at Broncos

Saturday, January 12th, 4:30pm EST

What to know from history: It’s important to know that the Broncos beat the Ravens earlier this season, 34-17. But it’s probably more important to know that Peyton Manning has beaten the Ravens…nine times in a row. He was a Colt for 8 of those 9 wins (two of which occurred in the playoffs), but it doesn’t matter much. It should be expected that Manning will prove similarly dominant on Saturday despite the new uniform.

But there’s another interesting note from history at play here: Manning has usually been un-Manning-like in the playoffs, with a record of just 9-10. Joe Flacco’s playoff record? 6-4. He’s been to the playoffs and won one round every year since he came into the league five years ago (an NFL record).

What to know on Saturday: The one thing history doesn’t account for is emotion, and there will be plenty to go around on Saturday. The Ravens want to send Ray Lewis out with a Super Bowl victory, and Peyton wants to prove that he’s better than he’s ever been.

Packers at 49ers

Saturday, January 12th, 8:00pm EST

What to know from history: The history between the Packers and the 49ers in the post-season is rich. Five games total, four won by the Packers, each game a classic in it’s own right. Even when the scores weren’t of nail-biting caliber, the weather conditions and the level of talent on the field seemed to set the stage for the making of history. When these two teams meet in the playoffs, there are sure to be fireworks. There’s also the added salt that Aaron Rodgers grew up in San Francisco and was notoriously passed by in the 2005 NFL Draft for Alex Smith, who was the 49ers QB until head coach Jim Harbaugh made the switch to Kaepernick mid-season. It’s no secret that he’s played with a chip on his shoulder about the snub ever since (much to the benefit of the Packers), and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that chip come out swinging in his first ever game at Candlestick Park in SF on Saturday.

What to know on Saturday: Green Bay might have the upper hand in the win/loss column, but they’ve never seen a 49ers team like this one. These Niners run a predominantly read-option offense led by QB Colin Kaepernick, and it’s not a system the Packers have had the opportunity to play against yet this season (the Niners beat the Packers in Week 1, but with Alex Smith at QB – totally different system). However, even though they say that defense wins championships, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers might have something to say about that. He has a 3-1 record of playoff wins on the road. He also has an unbelievably low interception rate; he is literally the least intercepted quarterback in league history. In his total of 7 playoff starts, he’s thrown 4 interceptions out of 253 attempts. That’s insane. If anything is cited next to defense as the championship-winner, it’s winning the turnover battle. And Rodgers doesn’t turn the ball over.

Seahawks at Falcons

Sunday, January 13th, 1:00pm EST

What to know from history: This game will be the first time the Seahawks and the Falcons meet in the post-season. Rookie QB Russell Wilson has one playoff win under his belt, but the Seahawks are just 4-5 on the road this season, including last week’s playoff win in Washington. Perhaps more troubling is the gloomy history surrounding Falcons QB Matt Ryan: he has been to the playoffs nearly every year since 2008, but has yet to win a game. He’s 0-3 in the playoffs thus far.

What to know on Sunday: You know that emotion surrounding Baltimore over Ray Lewis’s last season? A similar emotion hangs over Atlanta. They want to win the Super Bowl for future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, who is almost definitely retiring after this season. Matt Ryan, I’m sure, would also like to get the critics off his back when it comes to his losing record in the playoffs. The Seahawks seem to be the hottest team in the league right now, winning 7 of their last 8 games. But they’ll be without star defensive end Chris Clemons, who was clearly missed after leaving the game with an ACL injury last Sunday against the Redskins. They’ll also be trying to do what no west coast team since the ’89 LA Rams has done: win two back-to-back playoff games on the east coast.

Texans at Patriots

Sunday, January 13th, 4:30pm EST

What to know from history: Recent history tells us that the Texans got shellacked by the Patriots barely over a month ago in the very same stadium in which they’ll play on Sunday. History also tells us that Tom Brady is an otherworldly 16-6 in the playoffs. He’s a cog in the Belichick machine that could scarcely run any smoother if it tried. However, teams with byes haven’t always faired too well over the past few years. There seems to be something to be said for playing straight through the end of the regular season into the playoffs, so the Texans might have a bit more momentum (and lots of motivation) when they reenter Foxborough on Sunday.

What to know on Sunday: The Texans are not getting any love this week; they are the ultimate underdog. At last check the Patriots were a 9.5 point favorite with the over/under hovering around 48 points. That’s a pretty significant point spread. But for anyone who thinks the Patriots are going to waltz in and demolish the Texans for a second time, myself included, think about this: After their undefeated 2007 season, which included a 38-35 win over the Giants in Week 16, the Patriots were a 13.5 point favorite heading into the Super Bowl. A Super Bowl that the Giants won, 17-14. So the odds don’t have the final say, even when they are enormously lopsided.

Which games are you guys looking forward to this weekend? Any favorites on the schedule?

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