One more week and one game closer to the Super Bowl, the AFC Playoffs enter the Divisional Championship stage of the bracket (via CBSSports.com) with the top four seeded teams set to go against each other. And right now, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Denver, with a secondary accessway set up in Foxboro should the No. 1 seeded Broncos fall on Saturday (Jan. 12). Because leading off the Divisional Championship weekend will be Denver, who will play host to the visiting Baltimore Ravens, the second AFC game to follow 24 hours later.
Baltimore moves into the game the No. 4 seed, having knocked off the upstart Indianapolis Colts and their rookie quarterback Andrew Luck in a decisive victory, 24-9. It was an emotional game as defensive standout Ray Lewis played his last home game before the Baltimore crowd. The Ravens might hope to have kept some spillover enthusiasm as they get set to play in the Mile High City against the team with the best record in the NFL (tied with the Atlanta Falcons at 13-3) and the longest winning streak as well (11 games).
The Ravens will also have to contend against the top-rated quarterback (via ESPN) in the League (Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is tops) in Peyton Manning. The Colts' loss was certainly the Broncos gain in 2012, and Manning could very well pick up his fifth NFL MVP of the Year award after the comeback he's made off of several surgeries and sitting out a year.
The advantage is certainly with the Broncos -- a bye week giving them two weeks to rest, recuperate, and prepare. And then there's that thin high-altitude air that most often has an adverse effect on visiting teams...
On the other side of the converging AFC Playoffs bracket is the match-up between the No. 3 seeded Houston Texans and the No. 2 seeded New England Patriots. The Texans might have lost three of their last four regular season games but they didn't seem to let that affect their overall play against the Cincinnati Bengals, knocking them off 19-13 in the Wild Card game. But they'll face the No. 1 offense in the NFL in the game in Foxboro. Good thing they have the No. 7-rated defense in the League.
Still, the teams met earlier in the year and the Texans defense didn't seem to matter, nor did New England's lowly rated defense against Houston's highly ranked offense. (In fact, the Texans finished No. 7 at the end of the regular season in total offense and total defense.) The Patriots simply rolled over the Texans, 42-14, holding the NFL's No. 1 rusher to 46 yards and quarterback Matt Schaub, the League's fourteenth-rated quarterback (overall), to just 232 yards passing.
Unfortunately for the Texans, that was only five weeks ago and the beginning of that skid the team experienced at season's end...
Look for Tom Brady, the NFL's second-best quarterback, to take his Patriots one step closer to the Super Bowl.
AFC Playoffs Divisional Championship Games TV Schedule
Saturday, Jan. 12, 4:30 p.m. on CBS Television
(4) Baltimore Ravens vs. (1) Denver Broncos
Sunday, Jan. 13, 4:30 p.m. on CBS Television
(3) Houston Texans vs. (2) New England Patriots
****** Both games Eastern Standard Time.