Tebow, Broncos only add to NFL's best weekend - NBC Sports

Tebow, Broncos only add to NFL's best weekend
Heavyweight matchups, dynamite offenses and great storylines for divisional round
WhenÿPatriots quarterback Tom Brady matches up Denver quarterback Tim Tebow this Sunday in the divisional playoffs, it'll be just one of four compelling playoff games, writes Gregg Rosenthal.
January 9, 2012, 9:01 am

Demaryius Thomas and Tim Tebow ended an otherwise underwhelming wild-card round in thrilling fashion.

But let's be honest: The real playoffs begin this week.

The divisional round is football's best weekend of the year. We get wall-to-wall football for two days, with the Super Bowl so close you can almost smell the overhype.

In the AFC, we have the Cinderellas against the heavyweights. Nothing about the run of Tim Tebow's Broncos makes sense, so why not add a win in Foxborough to the made-for-TV drama? The Texans just won their first playoff game in franchise history and now have to win in Baltimore with a fifth-round rookie at quarterback.

The NFC is about the heavyweights. The Packers, 49ers, and Saints combined to go 41-7 this year. The Giants are the closest team left to an underdog, but they don't really fit that role.

Image: AFC Championship - Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots

Take a visual tour of the league's top moments from the championship weekend.

Five 12-win teams are still left in the playoffs, which second most in NFL history. Add it all up, and we have a very deep, talented, and intriguing quarterfinal crop.

The worst team left in the field (Denver) is the most interesting. The best team (Green Bay) isn't much better than the rest of their conference.

That should lead to a divisional round that is anything but underwhelming.

Saints at 49ers, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. (FOX)
A contrast in styles
The 49ers and Saints look like they are playing in different eras of football. At times, they look like they are playing different sports.

San Francisco is all about physical play, defense, running, and more defense.

New Orleans is a finesse team based on precision. The offense is insanely explosive, but they play as well outdoors.

This game is a fascinating referendum on current NFL trends. It's also a matchup of perhaps football's two best playcallers: Jim Harbaugh and Sean Payton.

Alex Smith in the spotlight
The 49ers have essentially coached around Smith all season. Can that work in the playoffs?

San Francisco has struggled against the blitz all season and New Orleans' defense is nothing if not aggressive.

Broncos at Patriots, Saturday, 8 p.m. (CBS)
Broncos defense under fire
Tim Tebow will get all the attention, but this game will be a referendum on the Broncos' defense. New England exposed Denver's secondary last time. If the Broncos can't make big time adjustments, the Patriots will score in the 40s.

Belichick better the second time around
Denver faces an uphill struggle. It leaves its homefield for Foxborough on a short week. And it has to face the league's best gameplan specific coach a second time in little more than a month. Belichick and the Patriots acquired a lot of information the first time around he can use against the Broncos.

And it doesn't hurt that the man who drafted Tebow in Denver, Josh McDaniels, is now helping out Belichick.

Texans at Ravens, Sunday, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Which defense rules them all?
Yes, it's the year of the quarterback. Then again, three of the best defenses in football are still playing: Baltimore, Houston, and San Francisco.

Houston may be the best group of them all. They have waves of pass rushers and big-time young talent at every level. To advance another round, the Texans defense will have to dominate.

Ravens vs. Expectations
The gap between the Ravens and Texans is not as big as oddsmakers think, but this is a game the Ravens are expected to win.

Baltimore is undefeated at home. They are facing an inexperienced rookie quarterback. Baltimore's four losses this year came on the road against mediocre competition. Their "A" game doesn't always show up.

Giants at Packers, Sunday, 4:30 p.m. (FOX)
Battle of the lines
Green Bay's banged-up offensive line will welcome back left tackle Chad Clifton. New York's defensive line is as healthy as they've been all year and present a ton of matchup problems.

rightMeanwhile, New York's running game has come together at the right time. Green Bay has struggled to stop the run all year.

Shades of `07
We're going to hear a lot about the 2007 Giants this week. A close loss to the then-undefeated Patriots catapulted that Giants team to a Super Bowl run. A 37-34 loss to the then-undefeated Packers this year preceded New York winning four of five games to make the Divisional Round.

One difference in this Giants team: the back end. Giants have to be concerned that cornerback Aaron Ross suffered a concussion and safety Deion Grant hurt his groin against the Falcons. The secondary was already vulnerable.

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