Andy Dalton and the Bengals put on a dreadfully dull offensive show. The Colts rolled up 419 yards but didn’t reach the end zone. The Vikings’ starting quarterback couldn’t play. RG III of the Redskins was hobbled.
Wild-card weekend in the National Football League was so anticlimactic it almost made you yearn for the excitement of the preseason. Will the divisional round of the playoffs, which starts today, also be a dud?
This is when the advantage of the bye week is supposed to come into play in the National Football League playoffs. The rationale is: Not only are the top two seeds playing at home, they are more rested, too.
However, the bye is not as great an advantage as it seems. Over the last 10 years, home teams have a 25-15 advantage in the divisional round, but it’s only 11-9 over the last five years and often (twice in the last five years and five in the last 10) visiting teams get an even split in the second week of postseason play.
Some of the most memorable upsets in the NFL postseason in recent years have come in the Divisional Round - the Jets at Patriots in 2010, the Jets at Chargers in ‘09, Colts over the Chiefs in ‘03.
Today, the Broncos are heavy favorites over Ray Lewis and the Ravens in Denver in the AFC and the 49ers are favored by a narrower margin over Green Bay in San Francisco, but who knows?
A look at today’s games:
Ravens (11-6) at Broncos (13-3)
TV: Ch. 4, 4:30 p.m.
The line: Broncos (-9½)
The scoop on the Ravens: Indianapolis marched up and down the field in Baltimore a week ago but the Ravens’ limited them to three field goals in a 24-9 victory. Baltimore got big plays from QB Joe Flacco, WR Anquan Boldin and RBs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce while Lewis put on a show - on the field and off - in his final home game before retirement. Boldin averaged 29.0 yards on five receptions. Pierce ran for 103 yards, and Rice had 70 in between his two lost fumbles. Defensively, the Ravens had only one sack but never let Colts QB Andrew Luck get comfortable. ... The Ravens are 1-3 overall in Denver, including a win in the 2001 playoffs. ... Flacco has been an inconsistent performer, but he’s 6-4 in the postseason with a 104 passer rating for the last three games. Not surprisingly, the Ravens are 30-3 when Flacco has a rating of 100 or better.
The scoop on the Broncos: Denver’s mile-high altitude probably is a huge reason for its 13-3 home record in postseason play. Last home loss in the playoffs was to the Steelers (34-17) in 2005. They have won the last two, including their 29-23 upset of the Steelers in overtime on Tim Tebow’s throw to Demaryius Thomas last season. ... The Broncos come into the game on an 11-game winning streak, the NFL’s longest. Last loss was more than three months ago, at New England (31-21) on Oct. 7. No team has gotten within seven points since -- home or away. They defeated the Ravens in Baltimore, 34-17, on Dec. 16 when Knowshon Moreno ran for 115 yards and Eric Decker had 131 yards worth of pass receptions. ... Besides the addition of QB Peyton Manning, who was second in the league with 37 TD passes and second in passer rating (105.8), defense is the reason behind the Broncos’ surge. Denver ranks in the top three in total defense, rushing defense, passing defense and leads in third-down defense (30.6 percent). Also, the Broncos tied for the league lead with 52 sacks, including 18.5 by LB Von Miller and 11 by DE Elvis Dumervil. ... Denver has hardly missed RB Willis McGahee, who is on IR, because Moreno and Ronnie Hillman have filled in nicely.
Outlook: If Flacco keeps his poise, Ravens can make it close. Broncos, 30-23.
Packers (12-5) at 49ers (11-4-1)
TV: Ch. 29, 8 p.m.
The line: 49ers (-3)
The scoop on the Packers: A Minnesota offense without Christian Ponder was no match against the Packers and QB Aaron Rodgers a week ago. ... Green Bay lacks a strong running game, but former practice squad member Dujuan Harris, a 5-7, 197-pound fireplug from Troy University, had 100 scrimmage yards and a rushing TD against Minnesota. Will he be enough of a threat to keep the Niners’ pass rush off Rodgers, who was sacked more than any NFL quarterback in the regular season? ... Harris or not, the Pack’s chances ride almost totally on Rodgers, who led the league with a 108.0 passer rating, and the deepest corps of receivers in the NFL. ... Packers fans will get nervous when Mason Crosby lines up for a field goal in Candlestick. He was last in league in field goal percentage (21 of 33).
The scoop on the 49ers: At times San Francisco has looked like the class of the league -- a 30-22 road win at Green Bay, a 31-21 win at New Orleans and, particularly, a 41-34 win at New England. But the Niners also lost at home to the Giants (26-3) and were manhandled at Seattle (42-13) in Week 16. ... Aside from Seattle, the Niners may have the most physical defense in the league. They allowed the fewest touchdowns (29) and only 3.7 yards per rushing attempt. San Francisco was third in total defense (294.4 ypg). DE Alden Smith led the NFC with 19.5 sacks, but the pass rush may miss Justin Smith (triceps), who is questionable. ... Colin Kaepernick, who moved in effectively as the starter at QB when Alex Smith suffered a concussion at midseason, will face his most important game yet. He will be in the sights of Packers LB Clay Matthews, who had a pair of sacks last week. ... Frank Gore, the leading rusher in 49ers history, averaged 4.7 yards per attempt and scored eight touchdowns in the regular season. WR Michael Crabtree led with 85 pass receptions for a 13.0 average and nine touchdowns, but TE Vernon Davis, who has been a huge playoff performer for the 49ers, may turn out to be more important.
The outlook: Rodgers capable of doing the job, even under heavy pass rush. Packers, 35-30.
Last week’s results: 3-1 outright, 3-1 versus spread. Season’s record: 144-94-1 outright, 108-114-6 versus spread.