We get to see Peyton Manning face his former team. We get to see Andrew Luckplay football for another week. The Patriots get the worst possible matchup for the Divisional Round against a quarterback in Joe Flacco who plays with no fear. You know it's a good-looking slate when Russell Wilson vs. Cam Newton is the worst quarterback matchup we can find. (Also in that game: The two hottest defenses still playing.)
Add it all up, and we have a lot to look forward to. Here are a few quick thoughts on each matchup:
- This is the matchup the Patriots didn't want. Flacco plays playoff football without a conscience, never afraid to push the ball down the field. The ultra-aggressive approach worked in Pittsburgh, and it's worked before in New England for Flacco. The Ravens won't be intimidated, and their running game should travel well.
- New England's pass rush will be huge. Pittsburgh wasn't able to take advantage of Baltimore's banged up offensive line, and the Patriots have had a mediocre pass rush for much of the season. Chandler Jones' return has made a big difference, but don't be surprised to see Bill Belichick cook up more exotic schemes than we've seen in previous Ravens-Patriots tilts. Belichick now has a secondary he can trust to hold up in press coverage, so he can take some risks up front.
- Ben Roethlisberger didn't get enough pass protection to expose the vulnerable Ravens secondary. Tom Brady will try to win before the snap by picking out the best matchups, and getting rid of the ball quickly. This is not a big-play offense and Brady's offensive line did not finish the season on a high note.
- The Colts are coming off their most complete performance in months. They will need their run defense to show up again in Denver because C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman are quietly a dynamic duo at running back. Manning might not be the same quarterback, but he has a supporting cast that rivals any Colts team when you factor in the loaded Broncos defense.
- Yes, this is a mismatch on paper. But the Panthers have the formula to at least keep the game interesting, like they have in narrow defeats to Seattle over the last two seasons. (Those two games were in Carolina.) The Panthers' running game and bend-but-don't break defense is a recipe for few possessions, and a game decided by a few big plays.
- When Carolina needs to win, Cam Newton starts running more. Perhaps the best way to beat a historically good defense in Seattle is to make the plays that no defense can prepare for. The Panthers need Newton to beat Russell Wilson at his own game. Carolina survived a down game from Newton against Arizona, but will need him at his streaky best if they are going to stay competitive.
- It's rare to see a game featuring this many speedy linebackers. Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are playing at an astronomical level. If anyone can stop Marshawn Lynch, they are the guys. Seattle's Bobby Wagner is probably the fastest of the group and is also playing out of his mind. Throw in Bruce Irvin, who has made plays down the stretch, and this game could be decided at the second level.
- The Packers have a huge advantage at home, but could frigid temperatures suit their style of play? These are the two most efficient offenses in the league, but they go about it in different ways. A low-scoring affair based on the running game could play to Dallas' favor.
- The Cowboys defense has held up well most of the season despite their lack of talent. But they did not face many top offenses, and their secondary will have to play better this week against the Packers. Dallas has given up too many big plays after the catch, and there isn't a better duo in football with the ball in their hands than Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.