Ravens, Texans fighting the ‘inevitable’ showdown

Paul Jannace

In sports, things are rarely inevitable.

It might seem like that sometimes, but too often that “stone cold lock” is destroyed by an upset “nobody saw coming” — except for the fact we see big upsets all time.

A 12-4 Houston Texans team knocking off the New England Patriots — a team with the identical record — is hardly a huge upset, but that all depends on who you ask. Same goes for the 10-6 Baltimore Ravens beating the top-seeded Denver Broncos this weekend.

There are many who are already looking forward to the AFC?Championship clash between Tom Brady’s Patriots and Peyton Manning’s Broncos. And, frankly, who could blame them? It figures to be a heck of a game with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line. What football fan wouldn’t love seeing that?

Alright, some Bills fans might be tired of Brady and the Patriots — they’re not alone — and could be ready to see the Texans take their shot at Super Bowl glory.

Whether you like the Patriots and Broncos or not, an AFC title game pitting those two teams and those two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks makes for a very entertaining Sunday evening.

So, is it inevitable that the Broncos and Patriots will meet a week from Sunday in Denver? The oddsmakers say yes, but the Ravens and Texans are going to fight the good fight and make sure that story is ruined.

Both of the AFC Divisional playoff games are rematches from the regular season in which the Patriots and Broncos dominated. The Patriots embarrassed the Texans on national TV, while the Broncos controlled that game from start to finish despite the Ravens making that 34-17 final score seem more respectable than it really was.

Are we in for a couple of more routs as Brady and Manning get ready to do battle again in the playoffs? The two have met three times in the postseason — twice in an AFC Championship game — with the Patriots winning two of the three matchups.

It’s been six years since we’ve seen Brady and Manning hook up in the postseason, but we could be days away from that epic showdown once again.

The Patriots’ offense is the best in the league and the Broncos have been taken to a new level with a rejuvenated Manning under center. While both games should be closer than the regular season matchups between these teams, it’s tough to pick against either Denver or New England right now.

Patriots take care of the Texans, 31-20, and the Broncos put an end to Ray Lewis’ career with a 24-21 victory.

Over in the NFC, the Saturday night game could be the most competitive game of the weekend. Green Bay and San Francisco meet in another rematch from the regular season.

The 49ers got the better of the Packers all the way back in Week 1, but that was with Alex Smith as their quarterback. Now, Colin Kaepernick is the starter and the 49ers’ have won five out of seven. The Packers got off to a sluggish start, but enter winners of nine out of their last 11 games.

These are two best teams in the NFC, with apologies to the No. 1 seed Atlanta Falcons and the red-hot Seattle Seahawks, and in addition to a game prediction I’ll provide one more bonus guess — the winner of this game will win the Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers is a maestro at quarterback and has the advantage over the young Kaepernick, but the 49ers’ defense will make the biggest play of this game and prepare to make up for last season’s disappointing finish in the NFC title game. The 49ers squeeze past the Packers with a 21-17 victory.

Finally, the underappreciated Falcons and everybody’s favorite Seahawks. The easy choice is the Seahawks who have been on a roll and been really fun to watch emerge as one of the NFL’s best teams.

There are many people — myself included — who have waited for the Falcons to crash and burn in the playoffs. They have felt like a paper champion all along, and there is some evidence to support that theory — losses to Carolina and Tampa Bay in the final month of the season. But the Falcons did make a bit of a statement with a thrashing of the New York Giants on Dec. 16, but more often than not they were slipping by against some mediocre teams.

That’s exactly why I like the Falcons — just for this week. The Falcons will play angry for a change and shut a lot of people up with a very strong defensive performance against Seattle.

The Falcons will get by this week, but should be ready for more disappointment a week later ... Falcons 23, Seahawks 16.

NFL?Divisional Playoff Schedule

Saturday’s Games

Baltimore Ravens (10-6) at Denver Broncos (13-3), 4:30 p.m. CBS (Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf, Solomon Wilcots)

Green Bay Packers (11-5) at San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1), 8 p.m. FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver, Erin Andrews)

Sunday’s Games

Seattle Seahawks (12-5) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3), 1 p.m. FOX (Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin, Chris Myers)

Houston Texans (12-4) at New England Patriots (12-4), 4:30 p.m. CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Steve Tasker)