Eight teams remain in the 2015 NFL playoffs, and all eight will be in action over the weekend for the Divisional round of the playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts all won their Wild Card games and will face the top seeds in the AFC and the NFC. It promises to be an exciting weekend of games, though the top seeds are all favored.
Each game is interesting in a lot of ways -- no one team seems to have a clear-cut edge over the other. The biggest disparity in regular season wins is obviously the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Panthers. Carolina finished the regular season at 7-8-1, but got to host a playoff game in the Wild Card round. The Panthers took advantage of that, beating the Arizona Cardinals.
Now they've got to play the Seahawks, the top seed in the NFC. The AFC's top-seeded New England Patriots will be hosting the No. 6 seed Ravens, who beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round. We're going to take a quick look at each game and one important question or matchup each.
(1) New England Patriots vs. (6) Baltimore Ravens
Playing in Foxboro hasn't been an issue for Baltimore in the past
The Ravens have played the Patriots on the road in the playoffs three times since 2009, and they've won two of those games. They beat the Patriots in the 2009 Wild Card game, and won the 2012 AFC Championship there as well. They did lose one of the games, when Billy Cundiff missed a field goal in the 2011 AFC Championship. That field goal would have sent the game into overtime.
Neither New England nor Baltimore is at the top of the league in any important statistical categories. The Patriots in particular are middling in a couple key stats, but they managed to win 12 games in the regular season en route to snaring the top seed and home-field advantage. They've clearly got an advantage, but home field won't count for much over the weekend.
(1) Seattle Seahawks vs. (4) Carolina Panthers
Jonathan Stewart will face his toughest test yet
We've already talked about the fact that the Panthers finished the regular season with a losing record, at 7-8-1. They were awful for a large part of the season, but they earned the NFC South crown with four consecutive wins to end the season, and then took down the Cardinals in the Wild Card round. Carolina's offense was playing particularly well over the final weeks of the regular season, and that has a lot to do with running back Jonathan Stewart.
Stewart's resurgence is the big reason Carolina has found recent success, and he looked great against the Cardinals, finishing with 24 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown. Stewart will need to be in top form against the Seahawks, who hold the league's No. 3 rush defense. Seattle allows just 81.5 rushing yards per game on average, and they held Stewart to 79 yards and no scores earlier in the season when Seattle won, 13-9.
(2) Green Bay Packers vs. (3) Dallas Cowboys
Rodgers and Romo were the top two quarterbacks in QBR this season
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has his ups and downs in big games, but over the course of the regular season, no quarterback graded out better when it came to quarterback rating. One quarterback came close though: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Romo completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 3,705 yards with 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions this year. Rodgers threw for 4,381 yards with 38 touchdowns and five interceptions. But the last time Romo took on the Packers, he threw a pair of interceptions in the final four minutes of the game, giving Green Bay the victory. That ultimately kept Dallas out of the playoffs that season. This game will be decided by which quarterback can make fewer mistakes, and that's typically Rodgers.
(2) Denver Broncos vs. (4) Indianapolis Colts
Can Luck keep it up?
The Colts aren't good at running the ball. Sometimes, they don't even try. In the final two weeks of the regular season, the Colts ran for 64 yards and 1 yard, respectively. The 64 yards came off of 30 rushing attempts, and the 1 yard came off of 10 rushing attempts. Denver also boasts the No. 2 rushing defense in the league, allowing just 79.8 rushing yards per game.
In other words, this game comes down to Andrew Luck for the Colts and nothing else. He's been excellent all year, and put up 376 yards and a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round. The Colts attempted 44 passes in that game -- the game plan against Denver will not exactly be a secret. If the Broncos can stop Luck early, then this game is theirs for the taking.