Last weekend’s thrilling wild card round got us psyched for what should be an even more memorable and intense batch of games this week in the divisional round, which kicks off today.
The Ravens and Broncos will get the day started at 4:30 Eastern time, as Baltimore will enter the menacing and physically intimidating Mile High Stadium to take on the league’s hottest team, Denver–winners of 11 straight. Needless to say, the pressure will be firmly resting on the Ravens today.
Also at stake is the career of legendary linebacker Ray Lewis, who before last week’s game, announced he will be calling it quits at the end of the season.
Of course, Denver can’t take any team in the playoffs lightly and no one understand this better than Peyton Manning, the wily veteran quarterback and former Super Bowl champ that has transformed an 8-8 team from a year ago to the best team in the AFC, and perhaps the league. Especially considering where he was personally just a year ago, he’s not taking anything for granted.
“It’s been quite a year for me,” Manning said on 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.”
However, based on the numbers, Manning should feel a little more at ease. Not only did he lead his team to a decisive 34-17 victory over the Ravens on the road in week 15, but he will be guiding the fifth best passing offense against the 17th best pass defense and a team that allowed 21.5 points per game. That defense will certainly have their work cut out for them against Denver’s offense, which averaged more than 30 points per game during the regular season.
Manning has won nine straight against the Ravens and I don’t think that streak will end today. Look for Denver to nab the win and advance to the AFC title game, but look for Baltimore to play an inspired game led by Lewis and cover the +10 point spread.
The second game of the day will feature two representatives of the NFC, as the Green Bay Packers will invade the Bay to take on the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers had the luxury of watching the Packers pummel the Vikings last week during their bye, but now they will have the challenge of beating Aaron Rodgers and Co. themselves this week.
Aaron Rodgers and his experienced and playoff-tested offense will face one of the best defenses in the league in a hostile environment, but that’s a scenario he’s become pretty adept in dealing with in recent years.
“…it’ll be fun to go back to the West Coast, a lot of people in the area, hopefully get a lot of cheeseheads from Chico coming down to the game and it’ll be a good test,” Rodgers said via ESPN.com.
On the other side of the ball will be the very effective, but vastly inexperienced Colin Kaepernick, who will be under center for the first time during the NFL playoffs. Kaepernick has torn apart inferior defenses during the regular season, but this will be something quite different. Although Green Bay doesn’t boast the best defensive squad in the league, you better believe they will be fired up and ready to play.
Odds makers like the Niners at home, where they are 6-1-1 this season, by three points, but I think the Pack can get this done on the road. Not only do they have the experience, but they have more firepower on offense and have playmakers on defense, like Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson, who can change the course of a game. Take Green Bay to cover +3 and win outright.