The 2013 NFL playoffs enter the divisional round on Saturday as we are down to the final eight teams vying for glory in Super Bowl XLVII. The divisional round has a history of great games, and provides some great match-ups that could upstage the conference championships and the Super Bowl.
Last week, I ranked the 36 possible Super Bowl XLVII match-ups based on their odds of happening. 49ers-Broncos was the betting favorite, while Colts-Vikings brought up the rear. The elimination of four teams cuts our pool of potential games down to 16. 49ers-Broncos remains the favorite, but there are still plenty of potentially interesting match-ups.
Here is a look at which games could prove to be most entertaining match-ups, with their updated Bovada odds listed. Consider this a 49ers-skewed perspective to counter Andy Hutchins' Packers-based perspective.
1. New England Patriots vs. Green Bay Packers - Odds: 8/1
Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady. That just about sums up the excitement of what would be a potential shootout. Aaron Rodgers has appeared in one game against the Patriots, and that was as an injury replacement for Brett Favre back in 2006. This match-up would feature two of the preeminent quarterbacks of this era in a game that would likely feature minimal defense.
2. Denver Broncos vs. Green Bay Packers - Odds: 7/1
Aaron Rodgers vs. Peyton Manning. These two have met up once in their careers, a 2008 Packers blowout at Lambeau Field. This one could actually provide a bit more entertainment than Patriots vs. Packers if you like great quarterbacks, but also like to see them challenged. The Broncos defense is playing better than anybody right now, while the Packers are finally getting healthy, as they have Charles Woodson back in the secondary. This could be a fun one.
3. New England Patriots vs. San Francisco 49ers - Odds: 13/2
The 49ers and Patriots engaged in a wild Week 15 Sunday Night Football contest that would set the stage for a potentially great Super Bowl. The 49ers jumped out to a huge lead. The Patriots fought back to tie the game. The 49ers won late. Add in the dynamic of Jim Harbaugh and Bill Belichick competing to see who can provide the least amount of useful information during media day, and we're all winners!
4. Denver Broncos vs. San Francisco 49ers - Odds: 11/2
In boxing, they say that styles make match-ups. This game provides two of the best defenses in the league, with two contenders for Defensive Player of the Year in Von Miller and Aldon Smith. On the offensive side of the ball, Peyton Manning is putting together a spectacular throw-back season, while Colin Kaepernick is a dual threat who is scratching the surface of his talent. Oh, and Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers happened to pursue Peyton Manning quite heavily this past off-season. On-field talent plus a solid storyline make for a great match-up.
5. Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks - Odds: 15/2
It is possible the only reason this match-up isn't No. 1 is because I'm a huge 49ers homer. This brings some similarities to the 49ers-Broncos match-ups in rather eerie ways. Strong defense, veteran QB vs. fresh-faced QB. This game features two the more interesting storylines in Peyton Manning's monster comeback and Pete Carroll emerging as a Coach of the Year candidate in Seattle.
6. New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks - Odds: 9/1
How about a rematch of the Seahawks rather thrilling Week 6 win over the Patriots? Seattle put up 14 points in the final 9:21 to secure what at that time was a fairly stunning upset. We now know Seattle is actually a very solid team, and has improved since then.
7. Houston Texans vs. Seattle Seahawks - Odds: 40/1
This is tied for the longest odds, but it is an under-the-radar sneaky-good match-up. Most people love quarterbacks and the passing attack, but this game could get people excited about a pair of strong running games. Arian Foster vs. Marshawn Lynch features two strong personalities. The Seahawks are playing strong defense, while the Texans have the capability of playing strong defense (as long as we forget their December performances).
8. New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons - Odds: 7/1
Matt Ryan and the Falcons get crap for not being able to win playoff games, so if this match-up happens, they'll have gotten two wins under their belt. Both teams have defenses that can show up on occasion, but really this is all about the potential for a track meet at the Superdome.
9. Houston Texans vs. Atlanta Falcons - Odds: 30/1
Andy Hutchins described this game as the "Fraud-Off" and I can't think of a better description. Even though there are games with longer odds, I still view this as both the likeliest and unlikeliest of Super Bowls. You have two teams who were looking like they would be the two No. 1 seeds. The Texans stumbled late while the Falcons used a strong start to secure the top seed early. And yet, we have two potential high profile offenses that could make some noise in New Orleans.
10. Houston Texans vs. Green Bay Packers - Odds: 35/1
Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdowns in Houston back in Week 6. This could be the game to watch to see if Rodgers could set a Super Bowl touchdown record. But I suspect we would get a much better game than their regular season match-up.
11. Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons - Odds: 6/1
The Falcons won their Week 2 match-up, but this Broncos team is playing at a significantly higher level now. It was entertaining then and should be entertaining in New Orleans.
12. Houston Texans vs. San Francisco 49ers - Odds: 30/1
Although the Texans defense has struggled recently, they likely would have gotten hot to get to the Super Bowl. This game features two of the best young defensive players in the league in J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith. The offenses have incredibly upside, but their passing games have not always reached their potential. This could be a really good game, or a pretty bad game. Consider me mildly optimistic.
13. Baltimore Ravens vs. Atlanta Falcons - Odds: 30/1
This features the mildly interesting Matt Ryan vs. Joe Flacco debate as to which 2008 NFL Draft pick is better. Ryan has been better in the regular season, Flacco has had a bit more postseason success. Winner take all? For on-field purposes, you have two defenses that entered the year with high expectations, but have both dealt with injuries that brought them down a significant notch.
14. Baltimore Ravens vs. Green Bay Packers - Odds: 35/1
You're here to see what Aaron Rodgers can do in the Superdome, and not much else. Given that Baltimore likely gets shown the door by Denver, this remains a long-shot.
15. Baltimore Ravens vs. Seattle Seahawks - Odds: 40/1
This is sort of an ushering in of the new guard as the Seahawks defense has become one of the best in the league, while the Ravens defense is running on fumes. The spotlight would be on Ray Lewis and Russell Wilson, and Wilson could put together a fun evening.
16. Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers - Odds: 30/1
Harbowl 2! The brothers Harbaugh squared off on Thanksgiving last year, and this match-up would provide two weeks of insane build-up. There are some intriguing aspects on the field that provide some relief from Harbowl mania, but as I said previously, entertaining games often require the right match-up of styles. This game seems to be lacking it. It really is more about the storylines (Harbaugh brothers, Ray Lewis last game), and less about the game.