The New England Patriots insist their playoff rematch with the Houston Texans won't be the cakewalk it was a month ago. The Denver Broncos -- set to play a Baltimore Ravens team they scattered in Week 15 -- are singing the same tune.
"I think it's going to be a lot harder than when we faced them the first time," Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley told The Denver Post on Sunday night. "They had a lot of injuries, especially defensively. I think a lot of those guys are back now. When they've got all their guys, they've got a great defense, especially in the red zone. And that's what hurt (the Indianapolis Colts in a 24-9 loss on Sunday)."
The Ravens were anything but a challenge to Denver in a 34-17 defeat in December. Baltimore's defense has improved down the stretch, but the Broncos haven't lost a game since facing the New England Patriots in Week 5.
We've seen plenty of Good Ravens/Bad Ravens this season, and the inferior version usually bubbles up on the road, when quarterback Joe Flacco is bounced off his rhythm and the offense gets away from Ray Rice and the ground game.
The Ravens did a fine job of pacing Flacco against the Colts on Sunday. He wound up with sensational numbers, and he'll need to repeat that performance for a chance against the Broncos. Not unlike the Texans going into New England, the Ravens -- if they trip up -- could serve as the appetizer before Tom Brady and Peyton Manning deliver a main course to die for in the AFC title game.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.