The Baltimore Ravens will relax over the next week and wait to see who will advance to the Divisional Round of the playoffs and be their next opponent on Sunday, January 15th at 1pm. Of the five other teams in the AFC playoffs, only the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos or the Pittsburgh Steelers could be the sacrificial lamb to come to M&T Bank Stadium.
The Texans host the Cincinnati Bengals and the Broncos host the Steelers to determine who goes on to face the New England Patriots and who comes to Baltimore the following weekend. The Ravens swept the AFC North this season and combined with their win over the Houston Texans, have beaten the teams in the AFC playoffs five times and if you include the NFC's San Francisco 49ers, they won six of their 12 games against teams who made the post season this year.
Click on the 'Jump' to see the NFL Preview for the Texans-Bengals and Broncos-Steelers games this weekend. As far as Ravens fans rooting interests go, the best results would be for Denver to beat Pittsburgh, which would then mean either the Broncos or the Texans would be coming here the following week. So this weekend, we should all become fans of the Denver Broncos and the Houston Texans!
(Also check out Red Turtle's FanPost titled "A Guide To Bye Week Cheering")
CINCINNATI BENGALS (9-7) at HOUSTON TEXANS (10-6) (Saturday, NBC, 4:30 PM ET)
The 2011 postseason starts on Saturday when the Bengals visit the Texans. The game can be the first postseason game in the Super Bowl era in which two rookie quarterbacks – Cincinnati’s ANDY DALTON and Houston’s T.J. YATES – start against each other.
The Bengals, led by head coach MARVIN LEWIS, have qualified for the postseason twice in the past three seasons. Quarterback Dalton (3,398 yards), a native of Katy, Texas, and wide receiver A.J. GREEN (1,057) teamed to become the first rookie tandem in NFL history with a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard receiver.
"We’re one of the 12 teams left," says Cincinnati defensive tackle DOMATA PEKO. "Now that we’re in the playoffs, we have to prove that we belong. We want to hold that trophy up at the end of the year. It starts this week in Houston."
The Texans qualified for the postseason for the first time in franchise history and claimed the team’s first division title. Houston boasted one of the league’s top defenses, ranking second in total defense (285.7 yards per game), third in pass defense (189.7) and fourth in rush defense (96.0). The Texans and Baltimore Ravens were the only teams to rank in the top five in all three categories.
"The Bengals are a heck of a team," says Houston head coach GARY KUBIAK. "They’re a lot like us. They’ve been playing a young quarterback, they run the ball well and they play good defense. This is going to be a heck of a game."
The teams met in Cincinnati in Week 14 when Yates threw a six-yard touchdown pass to KEVIN WALTER with two seconds remaining in the Texans’ 20-19 come-from-behind victory. Yates can be the first rookie quarterback drafted in the fifth round or later to start a postseason game in the era of the common draft.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (12-4) at DENVER BRONCOS (8-8) (Sunday, CBS, 4:30 PM ET)
The Steelers and Broncos have met six times in the postseason with the teams splitting the series 3-3. The winner has advanced to the Super Bowl in five of those meetings, including Super Bowl wins in the past two (1997 and 2005).
The Steelers enter the postseason having won 10 of their final 12 games, including six of their past seven. Quarterback BEN ROETHLISBERGER had 4,077 passing yards and has recorded the only two 4,000-yard seasons in franchise history. Defensively, Pittsburgh led the NFL in total defense (271.8 yards per game) and passing defense (171.9).
"Any time you’re in the postseason, you’re happy to be there," says Steelers tight end HEATH MILLER. "We have a good core group of guys who have been there before. We know what to expect. We’ll be up to the challenge."
The Broncos went from worst-to-first in the AFC West, winning the division after finishing in last place a season ago. Denver, which used a six-game winning streak to get back in the race, is the fifth team in NFL history to reach the postseason after starting 2-5 or worse after seven games. Second-year quarterback TIM TEBOW won seven of his 11 starts for the Broncos, including all six wins during the club’s winning streak.
"We’re AFC West champions," says Broncos head coach JOHN FOX. "Once you get into the dance, they can’t kick you out, so what we do with it will be determined next weekend."