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Here come the big boys

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Here come the big boys

Here come the big boys.

The NFL's wild-card weekend is over, with nary an upset. Moving on are division winners Green Bay, Houston and Baltimore, along with NFC West runner-up Seattle and the only rookie quarterback still standing: Russell Wilson.

Ahead are some daunting challenges as the Ravens visit Denver, the Texans go to New England, the Packers head to San Francisco and the Seahawks journey to Atlanta.

Only the Seahawks-Falcons isn't a rematch.

Seattle isn't intimidated one bit about facing the NFC's top seed.

``Despite the fact that we have a `nobody' team,'' Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said after Sunday's convincing 24-14 comeback win at Washington, ``a team not full of first-rounders and things like that, we have a lot of guys that play at a high level.''

Of course, so do the Falcons (13-3), Broncos (13-3), Patriots (12-4) and 49ers (11-4-1).

``They have a great coach and a great quarterback and they have great role players on their team,'' Texans running back Arian Foster said of the Patriots, who routed Houston 42-14 last month. ``I have a lot of respect for them, but we can play ball, too.''

The Texans beat Cincinnati 19-13 on Saturday, then Green Bay took out Minnesota 24-10. In Sunday's other game, Baltimore eliminated Indianapolis 24-9.

The playoffs continue next Saturday with Baltimore (11-6) at Denver, followed by Green Bay (12-5) at San Francisco. The Broncos beat the Ravens 34-17 three weeks ago, while the 49ers knocked off the Packers 30-22 in the season opener.

On Sunday, it's Seattle (12-5) at Atlanta, followed by Houston (13-4) visiting New England.

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Ravens at Broncos

Not only is Baltimore thrilled to keep playing and keep star linebacker Ray Lewis' career going, but the Ravens got the opponent they sought for the divisional round.

``I wanted Denver,'' said Anquan Boldin, who set a franchise record with 145 yards receiving, including the clinching touchdown against Indianapolis (11-6). ``Because they beat us. We'll make it different.''

Lewis made 13 tackles in his first game back in nearly three months. He ended his last home game in Baltimore before his impending retirement by lining up at fullback for the final kneel-down. Then Lewis went into a short version of his trademark dance before being mobbed by teammates. He followed with a victory lap, his right triceps, covered by a brace, held high in salute to the fans.

Joe Flacco became the first quarterback to win a postseason game in each of his first five seasons and John Harbaugh is the first coach to do so.

``I love our team,'' Lewis said, ``and I'm really looking forward to going out there and playing them next week.''

The loss ended the Colts' turnaround season in which they went from 2-14 to the playoffs in coach Chuck Pagano's first year in Indianapolis. Pagano missed 12 weeks while undergoing treatment for leukemia and returned last week.

Andrew Luck completed 28 of 54 passes, the most attempts by a rookie in a playoff game, for 288 yards.

Packers at 49ers

It's been a long time since these teams met on kickoff weekend, and much has changed.

Green Bay has become a bit more balanced on offense and somewhat stingier on defense than it was back in September. San Francisco has second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick instead of Alex Smith, and receiver Michael Crabtree finally has developed into a threat.

The Packers held league rushing king Adrian Peterson to 99 yards in beating the Vikings (10-7), 100 yards less than he got on them the previous week.

``I don't think we had our identity at that point,'' QB Aaron Rodgers said of the Packers team San Francisco beat. ``We were trying a lot of different things.''

Seahawks at Falcons

Atlanta has flopped in its last three playoff games, including losing at home to Green Bay two years ago in a similar scenario.

Seattle won't bring as high-powered an offense as the Packers did to Atlanta, but it's versatile enough with the creative Wilson, bulldozing halfback Marshawn Lynch and a deep group of receivers.

The most significant challenge for the Falcons, though, will be a defense that completely shut down the Redskins and a hobbling Robert Griffin III for the final three quarters of their wild-card game.

Washington (10-7) had 129 yards in the first quarter and 74 for the rest of the game.

``Seventy yards in 3 1/2 quarters is ridiculously good defense,'' coach Pete Carroll said after his Seahawks won their sixth straight and snapped Washington's seven-game winning streak.

Texans at Patriots

Both teams say the Monday night romp by New England on Dec. 10 is not an indicator of what's ahead. For their sake, the Texans better hope that is true.

``We didn't play our best football up there and we hurt ourselves with penalties and mistakes,'' said Foster, who rushed for 140 yards and a TD against the Bengals (10-7). ``Anytime you give (the Patriots) opportunities, they'll take advantage of them. But we'll play our best up there.''

They have no choice, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick fully expects a tighter game.

``When you play a team twice during the season, the games are totally different. They never go the same way,'' Belichick said. ``We'll be able to certainly look at some of the matchups individually, guys that faced each (other) in the game. As far as plays and calls and things like that matching up, I'm sure they'll have some new wrinkles. I'm sure we'll have some, too. It will be totally different.''

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

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Ravens make stadium lights red, white and blue to honor front-line workers

Ravens make stadium lights red, white and blue to honor front-line workers

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Ravens shifted from their signature purple stadium lights to show the front-line workers how much they appreciate what they're doing.

The incredible gesture is just one of many by the organization.

The Ravens and The Stephen and Renee Bisciotti Foundation combined to support four non-profits and have donated $1 million to help aid the fight against coronavirus, the team revealed in a statement on March 20. 

The four organizations are the Fund for Educational Excellence, the United Way of Central Maryland, the Baltimore Community Foundation and the Maryland Food Bank.

"We want to help those in our community who are most affected by the COVID-19 crisis," Ravens president Dick Cass said, according to a statement through the team. "We chose to donate through these four organizations because we are confident they will apply our funds quickly and directly to people in need.”

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Derek Wolfe always wanted to be a Raven — now he gets his chance

Derek Wolfe always wanted to be a Raven — now he gets his chance

New Ravens defensive lineman Derek Wolfe has wanted to be a Raven at three separate times during his career. 

The first time was before he was drafted in 2012 when he thought the Ravens might pick him. The second time was before the trade deadline in the 2019 season, when he debated asking Broncos general manager John Elway for a trade to Baltimore. 

The third time was the charm. After the Ravens’ signing of Michael Brockers fell through, they moved quickly to sign Wolfe to a one-year contract. 

“I'm extremely happy,” Wolfe said. “Everything happens for a reason. When things are supposed to happen, they do, and I always felt like I would fit into that organization really well.”

Wolfe thought he’d missed his chance to be a Raven when the signing of Brocks was announced at the beginning of free agency. After the deal wasn’t completed, though, he and his agent moved quickly to get him to Baltimore. 

Once a deal looked possible with the Ravens, Wolfe’s only focus was to get to Baltimore by any means necessary.

“I said, ‘I really don't care about the money,’” Wolfe said he told his agent. “‘At this point, I just want to get on that team. That's the team I want to get on, I want to be on.’

Wolfe’s contract is worth $3 million guaranteed, though he’s eying a bit longer of a stay in Baltimore.

“I feel like if I can come in there and prove myself, then they'll extend me for a few years, and I could be a part of the organization for more than just one year,” Wolfe said. “I'm just going to stick to the plan and trust the process and hope that it all works out for me,” Wolfe said. “I really would love to bring another ring to the city – help bring a ring to the city.”

He’s coming off a career season in Denver where he registered seven sacks in 12 games — a year that was cut short because of a dislocated elbow. 

Injuries have been a bit of a bugaboo for Wolfe, who has played 16 games in a season just three times in his eight-year career and just once in the last five years. While the past isn’t kind to Wolfe’s injury history, he’s confident he’s turned a corner when it comes to health. 

“It's been a bumpy road, but for the most part I've actually been pretty healthy,” Wolfe explained. “These injuries just come...It was the same injury that was nagging, and I finally got that surgery that cleared it up. I dislocated my elbow, obviously, having the best season of my career, showing that I have a ton of football left, and then I go out there and dislocate my elbow. And I think that hurt me.”

Not only confident about his health, but he’s also got high hopes for his new defensive line, too. 

“It was just like, ‘You know what, man? I think we can have the best defensive line in the league, for sure, and we could break records,” Wolfe said. “We could break the rushing record – yards per rush, stuff like that.’ Those are the kind of goals that I like to set.”

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