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Divisional Round Sees Pair of AFC Rematches

Following a not-so-wild wild-card weekend, the divisional round of the AFC playoffs sees a pair of rematches to decide which sides advance to the conference championship game.

Just one month after handing Houston its most lopsided loss of the season, New England will again entertain the Texans at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. Ahead of that game, Baltimore and Denver will hook-up for a second time this season, this time in the Mile High City.

Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (Sat. 4:30 PM ET)

Denver and Baltimore will clash for a second time this season on Saturday, as the Broncos host the first of this weekend's four divisional playoff games.

With a comfortable win over Indianapolis last Sunday, Baltimore (11-6, 4-4 road) booked a trip to Colorado to face the best team in the AFC, Denver (13-3, 7-1 home). Arguments can be made that the Broncos are not only the best team in the conference, but also the best team in football.

The Ravens will arrive in the Mile High City all too aware of its shortcomings against the Broncos last month. Denver traveled to Maryland on Dec. 16 and delivered a 34-17 thrashing. That loss marked a third straight for the Ravens, who would go on to finish the season with four losses from the last five.

The Broncos’ return to the apex of the NFL may not lie entirely on the shoulders of Peyton Manning, but there’s no denying those shoulders have made a huge impact. Denver ranks fifth in the league in passing yards (283.4 YPG) this season, a huge improvement on a team that recorded just 152.1 passing yards per game last year, finishing ahead of only the Jacksonville Jaguars.

This improvement has shown on the scoreboard also. Having averaged 19.3 points per game last year (25th), Denver is second only to New England in scoring this season, averaging 30.1 points per game.

Complimenting Peyton Manning’s gunslinging offense is a defense that ranked no lower than fourth in opponents’ total yards (290.8 YPG), passing yards (199.6), rushing yards (91.1), and points (18.1 PPG). This is the sort of defense we’ve come to expect of Baltimore.

But the Ravens had their share of woes defensively this season, corresponding with a lengthy list of high-profile injuries. Baltimore’s defense but ranked in the middle of the league in both pass and rush defense as well as points allowed.

Baltimore’s offense was not much better, and will face a tough challenge against Denver’s dominant defense. Joe Flacco and the offense averaged 233.7 yards per game (15th) through the air, whilst the Ravens running attack averaged 118.9 yards per game (11th). The side may nearly have broken the top 10 in running but there’s no doubt the Ravens could have made much more of Ray Rice and the rushing game.

Despite the jubilant return of defensive talisman Ray Lewis last weekend, few expect Baltimore to escape the Mile High City with a win. Denver has won 11 straight games, with Baltimore being victim No. 9 during that streak. Understandably, the Broncos are heavy favorites leading into this one.

The point spread opened at 9.5 following Baltimore’s win over Indianapolis on Sunday. Already that number has been bumped up to 10 with some bookmakers.

Denver (11-4-1 ATS) is the best team in the league this year when it comes to covering the spread. Baltimore (7-9-1 ATS) will surely have its work cut out.

The total opened at 44.5. The total went over in 10 of Denver’s games this season, while Baltimore was involved in eight games that saw the total go over. Last weekend’s game against Indianapolis saw the total go under, as was the case in all four wild-card fixtures.

Houston Texans at New England Patriots (Sun. 4:30 PM ET)

Houston stalled against New England on Dec. 10; Matt Schaub and Co. will be looking for a different result on Sunday afternoon.

Few liked the Texans’ chances last weekend against Cincinnati. Even fewer will like the team’s chances this weekend.

Houston (13-4, 6-2 road) kick-started wild-card weekend with an uninspiring 19-13 win over the Bengals that did little to steady any nerves the Texas side might be feeling as a result of a late season meltdown. Things are about to get even tougher as the Texans face the side that set them on a one win from four slide.

New England (12-4, 6-2 home) only need look back to Dec. 10 to gain confidence. The Patriots pummeled the Texans 42-14 that day, in a game that pitted the league’s best offense against its best defense at that time. The Patriots slipped up the following week against San Francisco, but that loss marks the only blemish in the record books over a 10 game period.

Whilst Houston’s defense has slipped from the top spot, New England’s offense certainly hasn’t. Tom Brady and Co. averaged 34.8 points per game this season to lead the league, ranking No. 1 in total yards gained also.

The Texans provided a solid defense of their own, averaging 26.0 points per game (8th) but that final four-game stretch saw Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, et al, score just 16.3 points per game. That average is barely helped by Saturday’s 19-point performance.

New England’s Monday Night Football beat down of the Texans, as well as the Texas side’s troubled form, has few people believing that Houston can get anything out of this game. New England is favored to move on to the AFC Championship Game.

The point spread opened at 9.5. Houston (10-6-1 ATS) fared better against the spread this season than New England (9-6-1 ATS), and will be hoping to bump that first column on Sunday afternoon.

The total opened at 48. New England was involved in more games with the total going over (11) than any other team in the league this season. Houston meanwhile saw the total go over just seven times, including last week’s win over Cincinnati.

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