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All 12 playoff teams have flaws to fix

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All 12 playoff teams have flaws to fix

The NFL's dandy dozen is set - and truth be told, a little scared.

Nobody's perfect, and all the teams that made the playoffs face potential pitfalls that could derail their dreams of partying down Bourbon Street in February.

The Denver Broncos are riding a league-best 11-game winning streak as Peyton Manning seeks to cap his incredible comeback with another championship.

Manning insists the Broncos remain a work in progress, lacking enough time together to suit the perfectionist in him, ``but I think we've done the best job of being the best we can possibly be in a short period of time.''

Like the rest of the field, the Broncos could end up being the NFL's best without being at their best.

The Broncos, Patriots, Falcons and 49ers all get a little more time to fix their flaws after earning first-round byes, although they'll also have to make sure all that R&R they get this weekend doesn't turn into rust and ruin when they suit up again.

Here's a look at the Achilles' heel of each of the 12 teams still hoping to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans on Feb. 3:

AFC:

-Denver: Odd as it sounds, the ball just hasn't bounced the Broncos' way this season. They're minus-1 in turnover differential. Trindon Holliday has two return TDs but five fumbles. Knowshon Moreno was deactivated for two months after coughing up the ball before replacing an injured Willis McGahee in November. And rookie Ronnie Hillman didn't see the field after his fumble Sunday led to the scary sight of Manning chasing down a cornerback to save a TD.

``Me, I'm telling him to get out of the way,'' Champ Bailey said. ``But the competitive nature of him is telling him to make the tackle. He stuck his neck out there.'' His four-time surgically repaired neck, by the way.

-New England: The Pats are as close to perfect as there is, but they, too, have blemishes, including RB Stevan Ridley's fumbles. Despite rushing for a career-high 1,263 yards and 12 TDs in his second season, Ridley fumbled four times, putting him in line for one of coach Bill Belichick's notorious rants.

``We're trying to play perfect football. That's impossible, of course,'' Ridley said. ``But when you make a mistake, you best believe that this is one place it's not going to slide.''

-Houston: The Texans lost three of their last four and the main culprit is third down travails. They've converted just 15 of 49 third-down attempts in their last four games and their defense has been unable to make stops. Andrew Luck threw a 70-yard touchdown pass on third-and-23 in the fourth quarter Sunday to put the game out of reach.

``Hopefully, being at home, the noise, all those things, we can do a better job,'' said coach Gary Kubiak.

-Baltimore: Surprisingly, the Ravens' weakness is their defense. Baltimore has long relied upon this unit to win, but this season they've battled injuries (Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb and Bernard Pollard), and Ed Reed is having an average year. And Lewis will pull off his No. 52 jersey for the last time after the Ravens lose or claim their second title.

``Everything that starts has an end,'' Lewis said Wednesday in announcing his retirement.

-Indianapolis: Youth. The Colts hit the road with the worst turnover margin of any team in the playoffs (minus 12), the fewest takeaways (15) and the least experienced team. More than two dozen players, including Luck, will get their first taste of the playoffs Sunday at Baltimore. They've also been much better at home than on the road.

``We'll play in the parking lot,'' linebacker Dwight Freeney said. ``We just want to go out there and play football and be in this dance.''

-Cincinnati: Andy Dalton. The young QB has made it in Cincinnati. Now, can he make it in his hometown? As a rookie last season, he took the Bengals to the playoffs and faced the Texans back in Houston - he grew up in suburban Katy. He had one of his worst games with three interceptions, including one that J.J. Watt returned 29 yards for a TD.

``He's a guy that's grown,'' offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said of Dalton. ``He's matured. I think he's ready for his opportunity.''

NFC:

-Atlanta: Ground(ed) game. The Falcons earned the top seed in the NFC despite ranking 29th running the ball. They made up for that lack of success and a 23rd-ranked defense thanks to QB Matt Ryan, who threw for 4,719 yards and 34 TDs even with spotty protection. Their loss to Tampa on Sunday, though, snapped an 11-game home winning streak.

``We really thought we were going to pull it off,'' cornerback Asante Samuel said. ``But we have bigger fish to fry.''

-San Francisco: The 49ers' kicking game is suddenly a big question mark for the two-time defending NFC West champions after David Akers' prolonged funk a year after his near-perfect season. Akers was just 29 for 42 this season and found himself in a competition with Billy Cundiff this week to see who will be kicking in the playoffs.

``Kickers go through, at times, slumps. You see a guy go through it and sometimes he'll come out of it quickly and sometimes it lingers a little bit,'' coach Jim Harbaugh said.

-Green Bay: The Packers also have problems putting the ball through the uprights, but coach Mike McCarthy has steadfastly stuck with Mason Crosby, who was a less-than-impressive 21 for 33 this season. During one stretch he missed 12 of 24, including all seven tries from 50 yards or longer. But he has made his last four, including two from 50-plus.

``These last two weeks I've been putting them through the uprights and that's what I've got to keep doing,'' Crosby said.

-Washington: The Redskins' bend-but-don't-break defense has been bowing so much it's bound to snap, right? Opponents converted third downs an NFL-high 44.2 percent of the time against the Redskins, who finished 28th in total defense and 30th in pass defense and had to rely on Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris to make up for all these defensive doldrums.

``We're good enough, right?'' defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. ``Good enough to get to the playoffs. Good enough to win seven games in a row.''

-Seattle: The Seahawks were the only team in the league to go 8-0 at home. The problem is they're hitting the road in the playoffs, where they were 3-5. They won't have their ear-piercing crowd nor will they have history on their side Sunday at Washington. The Seahawks haven't won a road playoff game since upsetting Dan Marino in Miami after the `83 season.

``If you want to be a good team you definitely got to be able to win on the road,'' pass-rusher Red Bryant said.

-Minnesota: Yes, the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, but their passing game is putrid. They were next-to-last in the league in total yards passing and in yards per pass attempt, and until Christian Ponder completed a 65-yard pass on Sunday, they had just one completion longer than 45 yards all season, a 54-yarder on Nov. 11 against Detroit.

``He's definitely playing more consistent,'' Peterson said of Ponder. ``He's playing faster football, not thinking as much as much.''

When it's all said and done, one team will be left standing and celebrating, warts and all.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Contributing were AP National Writer Nancy Armour, AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writers Joe Kay, David Ginsburg, Howard Ulman, Kristie Rieken, Mike Marot, Janie McCauley, Joseph White, Tim Booth, and Associated Press Writer George Henry.

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Follow Arnie Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Ravens at Seahawks Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

Ravens at Seahawks Week 7: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

The Ravens have four wins already this season, but none stand out as a signature victory.

The Ravens blew the doors of future 0-16 Miami Dolphins, then got past Arizona, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati by six, three and six points, respectively. The combined record for those three? 4-13-1.

Now, two of those games weren't really as close as the final score made it look. But for a team with designs on contending in the AFC, it's a little concerning that Baltimore's point-differential would be negative-15 if you take out the 59-0 win in Miami that, frankly, shouldn't count.

All that came against a pretty light schedule. The Ravens have only face two non-terrible teams, but they lost to both. Now? Their schedule takes another step up in difficulty, and the first stage comes in Seattle.

The Ravens are traveling across the country to face the 5-1 Seahawks, who are flying high thanks to their quarterback, Russell Wilson. Wilson would be something close to the consensus MVP if the season ended today, thanks to his 1,704 yards, 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The Seahawks own one of the most fearsome home field advantages in football, making this one of the toughest tests of the Ravens' season. 

This battle looks especially important, considering the gauntlet awaiting Baltimore after their Week 8 bye. Five of their next six games beginning in Week 9 are vs. New England, vs. Houston, at Los Angeles (Rams), vs. San Francisco, and at Buffalo. Those teams are a ridiculous 22-6 this season, so the Ravens need to stock up on as many wins as possible during the rest of their schedule.

They'll look to enter their bye with some momentum behind an MVP candidate of their own, albeit not one quite on Wilson's level just yet, in Lamar Jackson.

Jackson continued his own stellar start to the season in Week 6, becoming the first quarterback to ever pass for 200 yards and rush for 150 in a regular season game. He also became the first player in NFL history to earn both the FedEx Air Player of the Week and Ground Player of the Week in the same season.

His dual-threat dominance has keyed a resurgent Ravens offense, forced to carry a surprisingly-struggling defense. The Ravens are hoping their in-season acquisition of cornerback Marcus Peters will provide a jolt to their injured secondary.

Speaking of the secondary, safety Earl Thomas is making his long-anticipated return to Seattle on Sunday, a reunion you don't want to miss.

This is one of the biggest games on the slate in the NFL this weekend, and it's one of the biggest swing games for the Ravens' season. Two franchises defined by their defenses will be carried by their high-octane offenses in what should be a terrific atmosphere.

Here's everything you need to know about the game. 

RAVENS AT SEAHAWKS WEEK 7:

Who: Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks

What: Week 7 of the regular season

When: Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, 4:25 p.m. ET

Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA

TV Channel: FOX

Live Stream: FOX Sports, FuboTV

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090, 98Rock and 101.5 FM

Weather: High of 53 degrees, 5-10 mph winds, strong chance of rain (80 percent)

RAVENS 2019 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1: Sun., 9/8 at Dolphins, 1:00 p.m. (W, 59-10)

Week 2: Sun., 9/15 vs. Cardinals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 23-17)

Week 3: Sun., 9/22 at Chiefs. 1:00 p.m. (L, 33-28)

Week 4: Sun., 9/29 vs. Browns, 1:00 p.m. (L, 40-25)

Week 5: Sun., 10/6 at Steelers, 1:00 p.m. (W (OT), 26-23)

Week 6: Sun., 10/13 vs. Bengals, 1:00 p.m. (W, 23-17)

Week 7: Sun., 10/20 at Seahawks, 4:25 p.m.

Week 8: BYE week

Week 9: Sun., 11/3 vs. Patriots, 8:20 p.m.

Week 10:  Sun., 11/10 at Bengals, 1:00 p.m.

Week 11: Sun., 11/17 vs. Texans, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12: Mon., 11/25 at Rams, 8:15 p.m.

Week 13: Sun., 12/1 vs. 49ers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: Sun., 12/8 at Bills, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Thu., 12/12 vs. Jets, 8:20 p.m.

Week 16: Sun., 12/22 at Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 17: Sun., 12/29 vs. Steelers, 1:00 p.m.

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Ravens look for more AFC North separation, 5-2 record headed into bye week

Ravens look for more AFC North separation, 5-2 record headed into bye week

The Ravens have their toughest individual test of the season on Sunday.

Against MVP favorite Russell Wilson, the Ravens will need their best performance of the year. And if they’re able to get that, they’d be three games over .500 headed into their bye week with the Patriots looming. 

The rest of the division aside, the opportunity is there for the Ravens to pull ahead in the NFC North and the potential playoff race.

“It won’t make or break us, but it will go a long way in setting us up for where we’re headed down the road and what kind of season we’re going to have,” head coach John Harbaugh said. 

The Ravens currently have a two-game lead in the division with the Browns and Steelers on a bye week. With a win, their lead would move to two and a half games ahead of their bye next week. 

After that, the Patriots come to Baltimore for Sunday Night Football.

First, however, the Ravens are focused on the Seahawks, no matter how boring that may sound.

“I’m going to give you the cliché, but it’s the truth,” Harbaugh said bluntly. “We just have to focus on Seattle. So, how the schedule fell or how we fit...It’s better to be 4-2 than 3-3 or 2-4, but not as good as 6-0 or 5-1. That’s my thought on it. And 5-2 would be a lot better than 4-3.”

In order to get to 5-2, the Ravens will need to go through Wilson and his excellent season thus far. He hasn’t thrown an interception, has 17 total touchdowns and is on pace for nearly 5,000 yards from scrimmage. 

“He’s playing at an MVP level, and I agree with that,” defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “It’s sort of like playing against Steph Curry in basketball, if you will. You can pick him up from half court, and he’s going to try to drive by you when you’re saying ‘keep him in the pocket,’ or you can slack off, and he’s going to pull up and hit a three.”

Baltimore will get new addition Marcus Peters into the fold to help with a growingly injured secondary. He’s already played Seattle this season, so the Ravens are hoping he’ll be able to draw on that knowledge to face Wilson and the rest of the Seahawks offense.

But perhaps the biggest story of the secondary is the return of Earl Thomas to the Seattle. 

The last time he was in a Seahawks uniform, he was carted off with a broken leg and flipped off his own sideline. He’ll return to his former team of nine years on Sunday.

“Hopefully they (the fans) respect what I've done, and I'll get a couple cheers, not too many boos,” Thomas said. “And whatever happens, happens, but hopefully it's love."

Aside from all of that, the Ravens say they’re not focused on 5-2 or what could come with a win over one of the NFL’s best teams and quarterbacks.

“We need to be 1-0 this week,” Harbaugh said. “We need to play our best football of the year in Seattle to win the game, and that’s what we’re planning on doing. And that’s what we’re going to work for.”

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