Both of the Saturday games are rematches of regular season contests. Baltimore hosted Denver week 15, losing, 34-17. San Francisco visited Green Bay week 1, defeating the Packers, 30-22.
All eight of the remaining playoff teams in the NFL finished in the top 12 in Scoring Defense as well as the top 11 in Scoring Offense. All other stats support those two facts.
Of course, the winner of any game is still the team that has more points than their opponent at the end of the game.
Baltimore @ Denver:
The formula for the Ravens is pretty simple: keep Peyton Manning off the field by controlling the ball while scoring on offense, and never give Manning an accurate pre-snap read when on defense. This combo is easier said than done.
Baltimore must give Ray Rice the ball. Wide receiver Anquan Bolden and tight end Dennis Pitta must play a huge role. The Ravens will probably spread the field with three wide receivers and run ball with a single back. In this way, Baltimore can try to run against the Bronco nickel personnel instead of their base 3-4.
However, Denver does have the second-rated defense in the league in yardage allowed and fourth in scoring defense. As much as Peyton Manning has done for this team, the defense has contributed its fair share.
The Ravens must make Denver kick field goals in the red zone. If they can get Peyton off the field early and hold the Broncos to 60 plays or less, Baltimore can stay in it.
Weather will be a factor since it will be 20 degrees or less in Denver at game time. Manning will wear a glove for the first time in the playoffs. His record in cold weather is not good, but most of those games were on the road usually at New England.
The Ravens are probably on 'E' in the emotional tank. They had a very emotional time last week before and after their Wild Card game win against the Colts. Their aging defense was on the field for 84 plays. They have to travel 1,700 miles across two time zones with a short week to play at altitude. This does not bode well for the men in Purple & Black since you have to bring your own energy with you when you travel.
The previous game between these two teams in the regular season was closer than it appeared. The game turned around right before the half on a Broncos red zone interception returned for a touchdown. That one play changed an about-to-be-reduced 10-0 Denver lead into a 17-point advantage.
Green Bay @ San Francisco:
This is a battle of former New Orleans Saints coaches at Defensive Coordinator: Dom Capers for the Packers and Vic Fangio for the Forty-Niners. Both worked together on the staff of Head Coach Jim Mora and Defensive Coordinator Steve Sidwell.
The 49ers want to control the clock with running back Frank Gore utilizing multiple tight ends. They are perhaps the best team in the league at creating an edge for the running game through the use of various personnel groupings, formations, shifting and motions.
If second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, making his first playoff start, throws the ball more than 30 times, the Niners lose.
Defensive tackle Justin Smith is a big factor; he has to be healthy. The San Francisco defense was not as effective when he was out at the end of the season with a torn triceps. While he will be in effect playing with one arm, Smith's presence allows outside linebacker Aldon Smith to run free.
Expect to see San Francisco pressure Green Bay up the middle, attacking inexperienced center Evan Dietrich-Smith. The third-year player from Idaho State has only started three games since replacing veteran Jeff Saturday.
The Packers defense improved greatly with the return of defensive back Charles Woodson to the lineup last week in their Wild Card win over Minnesota. The 15-year veteran makes everyone around him play better. It was no coincidence that Adrian Peterson's production was cut in half upon Woodson's return.
Green Bay has to force Kaepernick to win the game. If the Packers can make him have to make plays, they gain an advantage. If he can play without pressure, the Niners are difficult to beat.
Another factor is the late season slump of Niners place kicker David Akers. Last season, he was one of the most reliable kickers in the league at 85 percent. This year he is only 29 of 42 attempts or 69 percent. The last half of the year, Akers has been completely unreliable. Although San Francisco brought in former Saints, Ravens and Redskins kicker Billy Cundiff to compete, Akers will be active for this game.
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