The divisional round is scheduled to get underway this weekend, and should be much more unpredictable. Six of the eight teams that are still in the hunt to make the Super Bowl were still alive at this point in 2012.
Even though all of the higher seeds advanced, the betting odds indicate that a few of the matchups won’t be close. By the time the AFC games start, the betting lines at Las Vegas casinos might move up to double-digits for both games.
Below is the schedule for the second round of the playoffs, as well as an early preview and prediction for each game.
Saturday, Jan. 12
Baltimore Ravens (+9) at Denver Broncos, 45.5 (4:30 p.m. ET on CBS)
It’s a rematch of the Week 15 game between the two clubs. The Broncos dominated the contest, winning 34-17, and leading 31-3 at halftime.
Peyton Manning and Denver’s offense has been one of the league’s best since their last loss in Week 5. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker both ended the season with over 1,000 receiving yards, and the team didn’t miss a beat when Willis McGahee went down with an injury.
The Ravens defense looked sharp on Sunday, allowing no touchdowns to Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. The return of Ray Lewis may have rejuvenated the defense that didn’t play like an elite unit during the regular season.
Joe Flacco limited his mistakes this year, throwing just 10 interceptions. However, he did not take the next step in becoming an upper echelon quarterback. The gap between Manning and him might be the difference in this contest.
Denver hasn’t just won its last 11 games, but they’ve prevented most games from being close. None of their victories have come by less than a touchdown, and they’ve shown no indication of slowing down.
Prediction: Denver 30, Baltimore 20
Green Bay Packers (+3) at San Francisco 49ers, 45 (8 p.m. ET on FOX)
The 49ers opened up the regular season with a convincing win at Lambeau Field. Eighteen weeks later, the teams are set to meet for a chance to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
This time around, Colin Kaepernick will be under center for San Francisco, instead of Alex Smith. In his first ever playoff start, Kaepernick will go head-to-head with Aaron Rodgers, who has played in seven postseason games and won a Super Bowl.
Rodgers continued his dominant season with a 23-for-33 performance against the Minnesota Vikings in the wild card round. Now, he’ll have to lead a shaky Packers offensive line against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Rodgers faced constant pressure in Week 1, and will have to deal with Aldon Smith and his 19.5 sacks.
For most of the regular season, the 49ers have been considered the favorites by oddsmakers to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. However, Green Bay’s recent surge has them even with the 49ers on a neutral field.
The Packers defense is healthier than it has been for most of the year. Along with the best quarterback in the league, they should be able to advance to the next round.
Prediction: Green Bay 27, San Francisco 24
Sunday, Jan. 13
Seattle Seahawks (+2.5) at Atlanta Falcons, 45.5 (1:00 p.m. ET on FOX)
The second NFC game is the only contest of the weekend that isn’t a rematch from the regular season.
Atlanta had the best record in the NFC for the entire season, but hasn’t been getting the respect of most No.1 seeds. The 2.5-point betting line indicates that the Seahawks would be favored on a neutral field.
Seattle has played as well as any team in the second half of the season. They haven’t lost since Week 12, winning by an average of over three touchdowns per contest. The Seahawks also sport the league’s best defense.
The Falcons had a bye in the first round, and haven’t played a meaningful game in a few weeks. Despite their 14-2 record, Atlanta has come close to losing to several teams under .500. They also lost two of their last four, leading many to believe that their good luck is running out.
Matt Ryan and Atlanta also have a recent history of coming up short in the postseason. The quarterback has made the playoffs in three of his four years, failing to win a game. Now, he will have to go up against the best defense in football.
Russell Wilson is just a rookie, but proved in the team’s win against the Washington Redskins that he is ready to play in big games. Look for him to have another impressive performance on the road, leading to an upset.
Prediction: Seattle 24, Atlanta 23
Houston Texans (-9.5) at New England Patriots, 49 (4:30 p.m. ET on CBS)
The Patriots and Texans were once considered the two best teams in the AFC. That quickly changed when New England blew out Houston by four touchdowns on Monday Night Football. The game is what ultimately gave the Patriots a first-round bye and forced the Texans to play on Saturday.
Houston’s loss was one of three defeats that they suffered in their last four games. The Texans offense has sputtered, scoring an average of 12 points in the losses. Even in their wild card weekend victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, Houston scored just one touchdown.
New England had one of the best offensive seasons in NFL history in 2012. They put up 42 points against the Texans and averaged 34.8 during the year.
The Texans will need a big day from Arian Foster. He ran for 140 yards on Saturday and was the source of most of the team’s offense.
Giving Houston close to 10 points is a lot for a team that won 12 games. New England has proven they can score on most teams, but the Texans can slow the game down with their rushing attack. In the end, Tom Brady and New England will likely be victorious, but it might be closer than most think.
Prediction: New England 23, Houston 17