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Saturday Playoff Action NFL Saturday Divisional Playoff Preview

BALTIMORE RAVENS (11-6) at DENVER BRONCOS (13-3) Line & Total: Denver -10 (-105) & 46.5
Opening Line & Total: Broncos -9 & 45.5

The Broncos try to extend their win streak to 12 games and earn a berth in the AFC Championship when they host the Ravens on Saturday afternoon in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

In Week 15, the Broncos embarrassed the Ravens in Baltimore, a 34-17 victory in a game that wasn't as close as the final score would indicate (Denver led 31-3 going into the fourth quarter). The Ravens were shorthanded defensively in that game, and last week's Wild Card victory over Indianapolis was the first time this season they've had their four defensive stars (LB Ray Lewis, S Ed Reed, OLB Terrell Suggs, DL Haloti Ngata) in the lineup at the same time. Denver has been on fire of late, winning 11 in a row overall (9-2 ATS). The club also went 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS at home this year. Although the Broncos have won 11 straight, only two of those 11 opponents finished the season with at least a .500 record, the Bengals and Ravens. And although Denver dominated this matchup in Week 15, in the past 10 seasons, underdogs of 3.5 to 10 points are 24-4 ATS (86%) when revenging a loss where the opponent scored 28+ points, with a winning record, in the second half of the year. Peyton Manning has faced the Ravens twice in the playoffs, both since 2007, and has led his team to a total of 35 points in those two wins, posting a paltry 68.3 passer rating with 5.6 YPA, 2 TD and 3 INT. Manning is also 0-3 in playoff games where the game-time temperature is less than 40 degrees, throwing 1 TD and 7 INT in those three defeats. The Ravens have yet to play their best game on both sides of the ball, and since 2000, they are 7-2 ATS against the Broncos.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco has now won at least one playoff game in each of his five NFL seasons, and he's coming off his best postseason game ever with a 125.6 passer rating in last week's 24-9 win over the Colts, as he threw for 282 yards on 12.3 YPA with 2 TD, 0 INT and just one sack taken. The Broncos do boast a fierce pass rush though with 52 sacks (T-1st in NFL), helping them to finish third in the league in both rushing defense (91.1 YPG) and passing defense (199.6 YPG). Flacco was not sharp in the loss to Denver this year (20-for-40, 254 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT), but he's posted three straight solid road playoff games, completing 63-of-100 passes for 696 yards, 5 TD and 2 INT (91.9 rating). And now he's got a more potent ground game to lean on with the emergence of rookie Bernard Pierce who ripped off 103 yards on just 13 carries (7.9 YPC) last week, while Ray Rice had his typical 117 total yards, including 4.7 YPC. But Rice lost two fumbles against the Colts and has just one rushing touchdown in his past six playoff games. The Rice/Pierce duo combined for just 17 carries on 58 yards (3.4 YPC) in the Week 15 loss to Denver though. Top WR Anquan Boldin had an outstanding effort last week with five catches for 145 yards and 1 TD, but he was held without a reception in the loss to Denver, due mostly to the blanket coverage of future Hall of Fame CB Champ Bailey. In that meeting, Ravens TE Dennis Pitta caught seven passes for 125 yards and 2 TD (both in the fourth quarter of garbage time), and the big man also caught a TD pass in last week's win over Indy. Baltimore committed just 16 turnovers during the regular season (tied for 2nd-fewest in NFL), and the Broncos have just seven takeaways in the past six games combined.

Since winning his only Super Bowl, Manning is just 2-4 in his past six playoff games, leading his team to a mere 20.7 PPG. But his numbers have been pretty strong during this stretch with 1,893 passing yards (316 YPG, 7.8 YPA), 11 TD and 4 INT. He didn't fare too well against Baltimore in Jan. 2010 though, throwing for just 5.6 YPA in a 20-3 win. But Manning has otherwise had great success against the Ravens in his career, beating them nine straight times with 2,226 passing yards (247 YPG), 15 TD and 6 INT. And despite the sometimes inclement weather in Denver, Manning has a 112.3 passer rating at home this year with 22 TD passes and just 3 INT at Sports Authority Field. Although WR Demaryius Thomas has been the team's best receiver (94 rec, 1,434 yds, 10 TD), it was Eric Decker who was most outstanding against the Ravens in Week 15 with eight catches for 133 yards and 1 TD. Although Baltimore's 20th-ranked run defense (122.8 YPG) entered the playoffs allowing just 114 rushing yards (3.3 YPC) over its final two games, the team allowed 152 yards to the Colts last week and let RB Knowshon Moreno rumble for 115 yards on 21 carries (5.5 YPC) in Week 15. Moreno will be playing in his first-ever playoff game on Saturday, and he'll try to avoid Ravens LB Ray Lewis, who is trying to prolong his career for one more week. Lewis had 13 tackles (9 solo, 4 assists) against Indy in his first action since Oct. 14.

GREEN BAY PACKERS (12-5) at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (11-4-1) Line & Total: San Francisco -3 (+105) & 45
Opening Line & Total: 49ers -3 & 46

The 49ers try to reach the NFC Championship game for the second year in a row when they host the Packers on Saturday night in the Divisional Playoffs.

The Niners had two dramatic home playoff games a year ago, beating the Saints in a back-and-forth affair and losing to the Giants in overtime in the NFC title game. This year they have a different quarterback under center in Colin Kaepernick. They went 5-2 SU and 4-3 ATS with Kaepernick as their starter, including 3-0 SU and 2-1 ATS at home, outscoring opponents 86-33 in those games. These teams met at Green Bay in Week 1, a convincing 30-22 win for the Niners. They beat up Aaron Rodgers all day in that game, sacking him three times. The Packers continue to have protection problems, as Rodgers has absorbed 54 sacks this season. This is a tough game to call, as Green Bay is 4-4 ATS on the road this year, while San Francisco is 4-4 ATS at home. But the Packers have been a much better wager lately at 5-1 ATS, while the 49ers are 2-3 ATS in their past five games. Green Bay has also dominated this series, going 13-2 SU (10-3-2 ATS) in the past 15 meetings, including 5-1 SU (5-0-1 ATS) when traveling to San Francisco. And although the 49ers are adept at rushing the football, Mike McCarthy is 10-1 ATS versus great rushing teams (4.5+ YPC) in the second half of the season since becoming the Packers head coach.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers wasn't outstanding last week (71.7 passer rating), but he still finished 23-of-33 for 274 yards (8.3 YPA), 1 TD and 0 INT. For his postseason career, he is now 5-2 with a 105.4 passer rating, throwing for 2,055 yards (294 YPG), 16 TD and 4 INT. He's also been quite good in three career starts versus the Niners -- all since 2009 -- completing 70% of his passes for 945 yards (315 YPG), 7 TD and 1 INT. The one problem area has been his offensive line, as Rodgers has suffered 54 sacks this season, including three last week. The Niners had just 38 sacks this year (T-11th in NFL), but nearly half of those sacks (19.5) came from second-year DE Aldon Smith. And the team's star DT, Justin Smith, expects to return to the field after missing the past two games with a partially torn triceps tendon. A big reason why Rodgers hits the turf so much is because Green Bay's rushing offense is so weak (106.4 YPG, 20th in NFL). This number doesn't expect to rise against the Niners' 4th-ranked run defense (94.2 YPG) that limited the Packers to 45 yards on 14 carries (3.2 YPC) in Week 1. DuJuan Harris is the main ball carrier now, but he gained just 47 yards on 17 carries (2.8 YPC) last week. Instead, Green Bay will ask Rodgers to air it out against San Francisco's 4th-ranked passing defense (200.2 YPG). He has many choices in the passing game, targeting WRs Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson each six times last week, but he'll also look for the team's two leading receivers this season in Randall Cobb (954 rec. yds, 8 TD) and James Jones (784 rec. yds, NFL-high 14 TD). These four players combined for 23 catches for 256 yards in the Week 1 loss to the Niners, while TE Jermichael Finley contributed seven grabs for 47 yards and a touchdown.

Kaepernick has been excellent at home this season, completing 67% of his passes for 910 yards (9.2 YPA), 4 TD and 0 INT. He also finished the regular season on a high note with 8.3 YPA, 7 TD and 2 INT in his final three games (99.5 passer rating). His favorite target has been Michael Crabtree (85 rec, 1,105 yds, 9 TD), who has 35 catches for 538 yards in his past five games. TE Vernon Davis has just six catches and zero touchdowns in his past six games with Kaepernick under center, but he had a huge playoff performance last year with 292 receiving yards and 4 TD in the two games. But the 49ers are just 23rd in passing offense this season (206 YPG), mostly because they prefer to run the football with 156 rushing YPG (4th in NFL). Frank Gore has rushed for 1,214 yards (4.7 YPC) and 8 TD this season, and ran for 112 (7.0 YPC) of his team's 186 rushing yards in the Week 1 victory at Green Bay. Gore was excellent in his postseason debut last year, rushing for 163 yards (5.6 YPC) and gaining 83 more through the air over his team's two games. Although the Packers rank 17th in rushing defense (118.5 YPG), they place 11th against the pass (218.3 YPG). They also do a great job pressuring the quarterback (47 sacks, 4th in NFL) and have forced 2+ turnovers in five of the past eight games.

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