NFL Playoffs previews and predictions for the Divisional Round:
Ravens (11-6) at Broncos (13-3)
Saturday, CBS, 4:30 p.m. ET
Peyton Manning makes his return to the playoffs in what could be Ray Lewis’ final NFL game, as arguably the best offensive and defensive players of the last decade go head-to-head one last time. As a member of the Colts, Manning had a 2–0 postseason record against the Ravens — with a 20–3 win following the 2009 season in his last trip to the playoffs and a 15–6 victory after the 2006 season en route to winning his only Super Bowl title. Although he has won both of his matchups with Baltimore, Manning has not necessarily been the reason for victory — throwing for a combined 416 yards, two TDs and three INTs. All three of Manning’s picks against the Ravens have been thrown to center field safety Ed Reed, who has eight INTs in 12 career playoff games, one shy of the all-time record.
Broncos by 9
Texans (12-5) at Patriots (12-4)
Sunday, CBS, 4:30 p.m. ET
Three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady is one victory away from the all-time playoff wins record, currently held by Brady’s boyhood hero Joe Montana (16–7 playoff record; 14–5 with 49ers, 2–2 with Chiefs). This will be the second meeting in the last six weeks between Houston and New England. In Week 14, the Patriots marched to a 42–14 statement victory over the Texans, who carried a then-AFC-best 11–1 record. Including that loss, Houston quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown one TD and four INTs while posting a 2–3 record over the last five weeks. Brady was better than that, but not quite at his best down the stretch, throwing four of his eight total INTs in Weeks 15 and 16. Brady does, however, enter with the confidence of a 10–2 playoff record at home, while Schaub is making his first-ever playoff start on the road.
Patriots by 10
Packers (12-5) at 49ers (11-4-1)
Saturday, FOX, 8 p.m. ET
In the season-opener back in Week 1, the Niners traveled to Lambeau Field to defeat the Packers, 30–22. San Francisco took an early 10–0 lead and carried a 23–7 lead into the fourth quarter before Green Bay rallied to within one score and two-point conversion away from a tie in the fourth quarter. In that game, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith threw two TDs in a near flawless effort. Since then, however, Smith has been replaced with second-year dual-threat Colin Kaepernick, who went 5–2 as a starter, including a 3–0 mark at home. While Kaepernick is making his first playoff start, Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers carries a 4–2 postseason record and a championship belt celebration following a victory in Super Bowl XLV.
49ers by 1
Seahawks (12-5) at Falcons (13-3)
Sunday, FOX, 1 p.m. ET
Much has been made of Matt Ryan’s 0–3 record in the playoffs, and rightly so. In three postseason defeats — at New York (24–2), vs. Green Bay (48–21) and at Arizona (30–24), respectively — Ryan has never thrown for even 200 yards in a single game. Meanwhile, he has thrown a combined three TDs and four INTs, while losing two fumbles and taking 10 sacks. In fairness, his losses have come against Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner, three passers who have a combined four Super Bowl wins. This time around, Ryan will square off against rookie Russell Wilson, who is 4–5 on the road, 1–2 in domes and 2–2 in the Eastern Time Zone this season — but does have a playoff win already.
Falcons by 1
Last week: 3-1 // Season: 175-85