NFL AFC Divisional Round Playoff Preview

Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos

Demaryius and Decker are a large parts of Denver’s offensive success.

The Denver Bronco’s offense underneath Peyton Manning is one of the most formidable units in the entire league. While Eric Decker often goes under-covered, he posted a 1,000 yard, 13 touchdown season. In the red zone, Decker has become a maneuverable chest piece that Manning uses to his advantage. Demaryius Thomas on the other hand is on the tips of everyone’s tongue when it comes to discussing. He is a tall, physical and fast receiver in the mold of Calvin Johnson who preceded him at Georgia Tech. These two wide receivers allow the rest of the bit players in the Bronco’s offense to fulfill their roles to perfect. While before Peyton had Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, the two Broncos receivers are probably the most physically talented pass catchers that Manning has ever played with. While they didn’t play great competition during the last strcech of the regular season, it was beyond impressive how the 2 wideouts and Manning produced consistently week after week. Despite being called No-Show Moreno for the last 2 years, Moreno has actually been a productive cog behind Manning; because Manning runs such a quick, no-huddle offense, the lead back rarely leaves the field. Moreno has proven up to this challenge. It is the job of the aging Baltimore Ravens defense to attempt to stop this finely tuned machine.

With the slowing down of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and other aging members of that defense, Baltimore’s defensive strength is much more reputation than actuality. In the absence of an elite corner to match up with Thomas, the Ravens defense is going to have to employ a variety of schemes to contain the ultra-talented receiver; that isn’t easy to do. That means that it is on Joe Flacco to match Peyton Manning. Put those two in a boxing ring, and maybe you would choose Flacco. On a football field, it is Manning and it isn’t close. Despite an otherworldly game by Anquan Boldin last week against the Colts, the Ravens offense is blah at best. Most thought when Cam Cameron got fired that there would be a real commitment to giving Ray Rice the ball. Instead, the Ravens whimpered out of the regular season before beating an over-matched Colts team. The formula for the Ravens to win this game is alot of Ray Rice, around 25 or 30 touches, with some deep play action shots to Torrey Smith while working the middle of the field with Dennis Pitta. I have no faith in new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to put together such a gameplan effectively. This discussion of the offense leaves out the incredible performance of Von Miller and the Denver defense over the last two months. Despite an easy schedule, the team was absolutely suffocating to opposing offenses. The Ravens simply don’t have the firepower to hang with the Broncos. Final Score: Broncos 38, Ravens 21.

Houston Texans At New England Patriots

With both Gronkowski and Hernandez finally healthy, the Patriots offense is truly lethal.

Well, I won’t go as far as saying that the Texans have no chance at winning like a certain Boston Globe columnist. However, the Patriots are the heavy favorites and they should be. With Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both finally healthy, the Patriots will finally be able to run the offense the way they wanted too all season long. With those two healthy, an effective Wes Welker and a bruising running game, this is possibly the best offense that Bill Belichick has ever put together. Having Gronkowski on the field is a matchup nightmare for a team that lost its’ best linebacker, Brian Cushing, to an ACL injury. While the Texans run defense has fared okay, over their recent collapse, the pass defense has lost every single bit of its luster. Tom Brady will be targeting the tight ends and Welker in the intermediate game and definitely throw a couple deep strikes to Brandon Lloyd. With Stevan Ridley finally becoming the bell-cow running back that a Belichick offense needs to be incredibly successful, this is the most complete and lethal Patriots offense since 2007. There is no way to construct a defense to fully combat the Patriots offense and the Texans are a distinct disadvantage. Much like the Broncos-Ravens game, that means that the opposing quarterback is going to have much more responsibility than the average game script would call for.

Unluckily for the Texans, Matt Schaub has completed devolved. He isn’t making the right reads, the right throws, the right decisions. Quite simply, something is off. After 12 games, the Texans were 11-1. They finished the season 1-3 to lose home field advantage and generally combust. At the heart of this collapse was Schaub’s terrible play. Over the last 3 losses the team had, Schaub did not throw a single touchdown pass and wasn’t able to get over 275 yards passing. His terrible performance, coupled with Arian Foster’s struggles before his resurgence against Cincinnati made it impossible for the Texans to be effective. Against the Patriots, Schaub will not have margin for error. While New England’s pass defense is improved, it still isn’t great. That means that Schaub will have a chance to the get the ball to Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels; if the coaching staff is smart, they will also try to the get the ball to Lestar Jean and Keshawn Martin in space. The Texans whole offense is built on the Arian Foster stretch play; if the Texans aren’t able to make that play effective against the Patriots stout run D, the Texans chances of victory are minimal.

No matter how well Matt Schaub plays, it is hard to imagine a scenario where Tom Brady and Bill Belichick don’t head to a 2nd straight AFC Championship game. Fate demands another Brady versus Manning bowl. Final Score: Patriots 32, Texans 24

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