Thursday 22 February 2018 / 12:02 PM

Divisional Playoffs: 12 things to watch for

Apart from the controversial yet thrilling Dallas-Detroit tilt, watching Wild Card Weekend was a lot like “just making out” as an adult. Fun – but not really what we were after.

Thankfully our divisional round match-ups are sure to provide a healthy helping of titillating action.

Here are three storylines to follow for each of this weekend’s big games.

Ravens @ Patriots

1. Since the 2006 AFC Wild Card game Tom Brady is a mediocre (8-8) in the postseason. For all their dominance during the Belichick era, it’s actually been a decade since the the Pats won a Super Bowl – and let’s not forget that the Ravens’ 2012 championship run went through Foxborough.

But Brady’s not having any of this “Baltimore’s got your number” business.

“Everything’s different at this point,” Brady said Monday.

“We can never change anything that’s happened in the past, nor can they. You can’t bring players out of retirement, they can’t either. It’s the guys we’ve got versus the guys they’ve got, which that’s an entirely new team that we have and an entirely new team that they have.”

Nevertheless, Baltimore won’t be intimidated by the prospect of needing to win a big playoff game on the road.

2. Flacco is unshakable in the playoffs and the Ravens aren’t afraid to let the football rip.

He’s like the bizarro Peyton Manning.

3. Baltimore’s offensive line is hurting, creating a huge opportunity for New England to not only rush the passer, but slow down 1,000-yard rusher Justin Forsett. Last week the Ravens beat the Steelers without a good game out of their star back, but they won’t get off so easy with a one-sided attack against the Patriots – not with their secondary.

Panthers @ Seahawks

1. Don’t count Carolina out of this one. All else taken out of the picture, this is a team that has won five straight games.

The last two times these clubs met, Seattle eked out close victories in low-scoring affairs. The Panthers match up surprisingly well against the Hawks in that they feature a strong front seven and limit their opponents to few possessions.

2. Pete Carroll generally gets his team ready, but this one has a trap game written all over it.

Overconfidence kills in the playoffs and it sounds as though some players are already looking forward to the NFC Championship.

3. Out of all the games this weekend, this is the one most likely to end in a blowout, but should the Panthers keep it close Cam Newton’s legs provide an X-factor that could help Carolina pull off the upset in the waning moments.

Cam Newton needs to beat Russell Wilson at his own game, by extending broken plays and picking up big chunks of yardage scrambling.

Cowboys @ Packers

1. Green Bay’s offense has the potential to be the most efficient in the NFL, but ironically, a sub-zero snow-fest would probably favor the Dallas Cowboys.

Eddie Lacy’s no slouch, but DeMarco Murray has been a stud in 2014. Should weather become a factor, it won’t be all that tough of a call to hand the rock off to the dude that beat Emmitt Smith’s rushing record.

2. Both teams’ defenses are less than stellar, meaning that this game could turn into a shootout.

It will be interesting to see which QB-WR tandem is more prolific: Rodgers-Nelson or Romo-Bryant.

3. Here’s a goofy stat:

While I seriously doubt that the Cowboys truly enjoy an away-field advantage, every little confidence booster helps.

Colts @ Broncos

1. Denver is an 8-point favorite at home against Indianapolis. The Broncos already beat the Colts in week 7 and Indy is truly a mediocre team headed by a soon-to-be legendary quarterback.

The thing is, though, both Luck and Manning are prone to throwing INTs in big games – could it be that one of these guys will wind up tossing this game away?

2. Chris Harris could easily be the MVP in this one. All he’s got to do is take T.Y. Hilton out of the game.

Will Andrew Luck be throwing into a #NoFlyZone at Mile High Stadium?

3. Perhaps the biggest question in this one will be whether or not the additional week of rest will add a bit of oomph to Peyton Manning’s arm strength.

As a team the Broncos are far more stacked this season compared to last but even the most ardent Denver fans have got to be nervous about how human Manning looked over the final stretch of the season.

Don’t be surprised to see Coach John Fox rely on the run to control the tempo as opposed to giving Peyton free reign over the offense.

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Michael Airhart

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