New Orleans Saints (13-3) vs. San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
Saints - 1st
49ers - 26th
Saints - 24th
49ers - 4th
If you're expecting the Saints offense to continue their high scoring ways, think again. The 49ers defense is superb and they've been waiting for a true test this season. New Orleans will have to run the ball effectively if they want to put the Niners away, but that will be difficult to do. QB Drew Brees will most likely have to throw a lot of screen passes to replace their running game, but how long they can do that is up for debate. It will be the Saints most daunting task to date if they are to win another Super Bowl.
San Francisco hasn't been in a playoff game since 2002. This group of players wants to re-create what was once a dynasty in the bay area. To do that they'll have to play lights out on defense. That has been their strong suit this season. If they can keep Saints QB Drew Brees contained, that will give the Niners offense time to work on the Saints defense. New Orleans has been successful mainly because they've kept their defense off the field for extended periods of time. That's where 49ers RB Frank Gore comes in handy.
Matchup to watch for: Saints QB Drew Brees vs. 49ers Defense
Denver Broncos (8-8) vs. New England Patriots (13-3)
Broncos - 23rd
Patriots - 2nd
Broncos - 20th
Patriots - 31st
All the talk will be focused on the quarterbacks in this matchup. Broncos QB Tim Tebow has his doubters and he has proven a lot of them wrong. He will have to do better this week in a hostile environment. Their previous matchup was a bit one-sided after the 1st quarter was over. The one thing that has been said over and over again is that the Broncos must not turn the ball over if they are to beat the Patriots. New England's defense is bad, but they look great if they cause turnovers.
This game is just as important for Patriots QB Tom Brady as it is for Broncos QB Tim Tebow. Brady is actually on a losing streak in the playoffs. Now that's not to say that it will continue this year, but he must play his game and not let it get close. In pressure situations Brady has looked uptight at times. Now if the Patriots get out to a big lead, there will be no emphasis to continue to pass the ball when you're up by 3 touchdowns.
Matchup to watch for: Broncos Defense vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady
Houston Texans (10-6) vs. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
Texans - 13th
Ravens - 15th
Texans - 2nd
Ravens - 3rd
This is the classic trap game for the Baltimore Ravens. Houston has no business winning this game, but with RB Arian Foster on fire from his performance in the Wild Card against Cincinnati, the Texans can win. Of course like with any rookie quarterback, T.J Yates has to be the perfect complement. He has WR Andre Johnson and TE Owen Daniels to throw the ball too at crucial moments in the game. But they will need Foster to be even better and their defense to stop Ravens RB Ray Rice.
Baltimore needs Ray Rice to win, but they also need QB Joe Flacco to be their franchise quarterback. He has shown that he can win in the playoffs before, but this year is his time to shine. If he can't do it this year than the Ravens will have to start over. He has a healthy Anquan Boldin to throw to, but rookie WR Torrey Smith must be that deep threat that the Ravens have missed. All the pressure is on Flacco to perform. The Ravens defense must be able to stop RB Arian Foster too.
Matchup to watch for: Texans RB Arian Foster vs. Ravens Defense
New York Giants (9-7) vs. Green Bay Packers (15-1)
Giants - 8th
Packers - 3rd
Giants - 27th
Packers - 32nd
The Giants are riding high right now. Everyone is expecting them to make the Green Bay Packers have to play from behind. Now the Giants need to have RB Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw run through gaping holes at the line for that to happen. That will make QB Eli Manning's job a lot easier. WR Victor Cruz was an after thought against Atlanta, but he will find openings in the Packers defense.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers hasn't been the topic of conversation in these playoffs. But he will be if the Giants pass rush doesn't get to him. If he has time to throw, the Packers will pick apart the Giants secondary with WR Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and TE Jermichael Finley to catch passes. Green Bay's running game will be better suited to show up at this time as well. Just like last year they were able to make a run at the Super Bowl because of RB James Starks.
Matchup to watch for: Giants Defense vs. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
49ers over Saints
Patriots over Broncos
Ravens over Texans
Packers over Giants