Playoffs Preview- AFC Divisional Round
After a typically dramatic wildcard weekend, the Playoffs continue this week with the divisional games just around the corner.
The first of two AFC divisional games takes place on Saturday night as the Baltimore Ravens travel to Denver to tackle the Broncos.
The second game is on Sunday with an intriguing matchup in store as the Houston Texans go on the road to New England to take on Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Now without further ado, here are my previews and predictions for the games.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
Keys to the Game
When the Ravens have the ball…
Ray Rice and the Ravens Run Game
- Running back Ray Rice has seen his role in the Ravens offense reduced this season after he had only 257 carries which was his lowest total since the 2009 season. He wasn’t much of a factor in their wildcard win last week against the Colts either and he rushed for just 68 yards.
The Ravens will be looking for Rice to step up in this game against a solid Broncos defense. Joe Flacco can’t do it all by himself and so he needs help from Rice and rookie Bernard Pierce to provided solid support on the ground.
When the Broncos have the ball…
Peyton Manning vs Ravens Veterans
- Peyton Manning may be the league’s best veteran offensive player but the NFL’s probable MVP is going up against two of the best veteran defensive players in this one. Two names immediately jump out from the Ravens and those are star linebacker Ray Lewis and playmaking safety Ed Reed.
Both players are Future Hall of Famers and Lewis is coming off an emotional game last week when he led the team with 13 total tackles in his final home game. Manning will have to be at his best going up aganist these two leaders in what will be a football version of a chess game featuring some of the smartest players in the game.
The Colts beat the Ravens 34-17 back in week 15 on the road in Baltimore and as the number one seed, they will be the favorites in this game at home in Denver.
However, I see the Ravens pulling off an upset led by star linebacker Ray Lewis on defense along with help from Joe Flacco and the offense.
Ravens 20 Broncos 17
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Keys to the Game
When the Texans have the ball…
Matt Schaub and the Texans Passing Game vs Patriots Pass Defense
- It’s no secret that the Patriots pass defense is the team’s biggest weakness and it has been for a number of seasons now. They ranked as the 4th worst team vs the pass this year after giving up over 270 yards to opponents per game.
- The Texans offense is led by star running back Arian Foster and so they can beat opponents both on the ground and through the air. However, if Foster and the rest of the Texans running game struggles, the pressure will be on Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and co. in the passing game to step up against a poor Pats pass defense.
When the Patriots have the ball…
Tom Brady vs Texans Pass Rush
- When the Patriots have the ball we will see two of the best players at their respective positions going up against each other. The headline may say Tom Brady vs the Texans pass rush but it will most likely be a battle of Tom Brady vs J.J. Watt as the Pats quarterback and the league leader in sacks go head-to-head.
- Watt had 5 tackles and 1 sack last week in the Texans win last against the Bengals and the second year player is coming off a season in which he had an incredible 20.5 sacks. Tom Brady will need to keep a close eye on pressure coming from Watt off the edge every time he drops back to pass.
The Texans are back in the Playoff divisional round for the second year in a row but question marks still remain about their ability to take the next step into the Playoffs.
As for the Patriots, playing at home after a first-round bye and Tom Brady and co. will certainly be well prepared for this one by head coach Bill Belichick.
In a high-scoring game, I’m picking Tom Brady and the Pats to come out on top and advance to the AFC Championship Game.
Texans 21 Patriots 31
So those are your previews and predictions.
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