We gear up for the best football weekend of the year with two matchups that cause everyone to look ahead to next week, one which no one believes in the favorite and the final matchup that makes it unfortunate that it isn't the NFC Championship game. To be fair, this year's Divisional round is better because of the way the game shook down from last week (although we will never be better for RGIII tearing his knee like he did last week). Let's take a look at the games.
Baltimore at Denver: Spread: Broncos by 9
Last week in Baltimore was about Ray Lewis' last home game and the Ravens more or less held off the Colts with timely offense and by keeping the pressure on Andrew Luck. The question for the Ravens is how much of the blowout they suffered in Week 15 against the Broncos is an aberration and how much of it is a trend. One thing we do know about Denver; their defense is a whole lot better than the Colts'. It's also true that while the Ravens are still hurt, their defense is better with Ray Lewis back in (this is where you tell me, thanks Captain Obvious).
One thing that is true though is Peyton Manning has always played well against the Ravens (or more to the point, his teams always beat the Ravens, especially in the playoffs. As a matter of fact, the Ravens haven't scored a touchdown against a Manning-led team (though Peyton has very little to do with that, aside from controlling field position). Of the two AFC matchups, the Ravens are more likely to pull an upset. Doesn't mean that's going to happen.
Broncos will win 31-17
Green Bay at San Francisco: Spread: 49ers by 3
I've been waiting for this game since Joe Webb's third pass from in the grasp of a sack last week. Packers and 49ers have history (their battles in the 1990s), common lineage (Mike Holmgren brought the West Coast offense there; Mike McCarthy was a SF offensive coordinator before going to Green Bay), draft history (49ers picking Alex Smith over hometown guy and Cal grad Aaron Rodgers back in 2005) and a recent result to motivate both sides. The season opener between these two teams, however, feels like it too place forever, especially now that Alex Smith has been replaced by Colin Kaepernick at QB. However, I have a feeling the absence of another Smith will prove to be the difference.
Since losing Justin Smith to injury, the 49ers defense hasn't been nearly as good (coincidentally, neither has Aldon Smith). It started against the Pats in the second half when New England rallied from a 31-3 deficit to tie it up, then the Seahawks put a 40-burger on the Niners the following week. The hope is that a game with the Cards and a bye week are enough to get the defense back to their typical season form. However, facing Aaron Rodgers (who has his first chance at making San Francisco pay for not drafting him) isn't a promising prospect for them. Let's not forget that the Packers defense is basically playing a similar offense to last week's Vikings (aside from Kaepernick waking up to know he's the starter). As long as they don't allow the 49ers to run on them, I don't see how Green Bay doesn't win today, with or without Justin Smith.
Green Bay will win 27-17
Last week: 3-1