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Fearless Rick's NFL Week division Picks - Early Games

Rick Gagliano | January 12-13, 2013

All times Eastern - Click here for late games.

Saturday, January 12

4:30 pm Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (-9 1/2, 46) - Denver comes into the playoffs as the representative of the AFC West, riding an 11-game winning streak, while Baltimore arrives in Denver off last week's dynamic 24-9 victory over the upstart Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round.

The game breaks down pretty simply as Peyton Manning against a rejuvenated, healthy Baltimore defense that gave Colts' QB Andrew Luck absolutely nothing in last week's stomping.

Ray Lewis, who has already played his last game in Baltimore, having announced his retirement after this season - wherever it ends for the Colts - brings leadership and tenacity to a defense that struggled through the second half of the regular season, but now seems to have found its old ways.

The Ravens will make life for Manning difficult, if not impossible, but Manning is likely the best ever at reading defense and reacting to blitzes, which is normally a mistake whenever Peyton is behind center.

When roles are reverse - the Ravens with the ball against Denver's defense - is how this game becomes more interesting. Baltimore doesn't have the most potent offense (24.9 points per game), but they do have formidable weapons in mobile QB Joe Flacco, RB Ray Rice and wideout Anquan Boldin, who lit the Colts up repeatedly in the second half.

If Flacco is able to maintain his poise under pressure, the Ravens should experience some success against the Denver secondary, though that is predicated on Rice putting them in second and third-and-short situations.

These two teams met just about a month ago, in Denver, and the Broncos dominated a 34-17 win. Manning had his way against the depleted defense, though that should not be the case in this game. It will be tougher for Denver to move the ball effectively and it is doubtful that Denver will ever command a large lead, unless turnovers or penalties give them an upper hand and short fields.

The line would lead one to believe that the Broncos will repeat their December 16 victory march, but the Ravens will come better prepared for this contest. It's a big step for Baltimore, and especially Ray Lewis, to advance here

Though the Colts didn't finish the regular season all that well, they appear - as of last week - to be more than ready to face Manning and put his receivers in a vice. That's easier said than done, and Manning will find ways to move the ball, though the red zone will entail a high degree of difficulty, as the Raven defense compresses.

Alternately, the Ravens need to keep the Broncos guessing on defense, though eventually, they may run out of options and finally succumb, though by less than the posted line. Broncos advance... barely.

Prediction: Broncos 27 Ravens 21


--- Story continues below ---


8:00 pm Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (-2 1/2, 44 1/2) - The big question here is whether second year QB Colin Kaepernick, who has only a handful of starts on his 49er resume, is ready for playoff pressure.

Replacing the less-mobile Alex Smith midseason, Kaepernick brings a bit of the option look and better awareness to the San Francisco offense, which all-too-often relied upon their defense and the hard running of Frank Gore to win low-scoring games.

That's changed with Kaepernick at the helm, as demonstrated in their 41-34 win at New England on December 16, though their schemes are no secret, as shown hen the 49ers backed that game up with a full flop in a 42-13 loss at Seattle the following week.

San Francisco finished up the regular season as NFC West champs, with an 11-4-1 record, to the Packers' - winners of the NFC North - 11-5 mark, thus earning the bye last week and will be rested and ready to take on the Packers on the lawn of Candlestick Park.

How Green Bay will attack the 49er defense (second in the league in points allowed, at 17.1) is no secret. Aaron Rodgers will be winging the ball downfield to his choice of receivers, probably the best group of ball-catchers in the league. Green Bay's running game has also recently been revived with the addition of veteran Ryan Grant, who running tends to open things up for the Packers.

The 49ers have a pretty healthy arsenal on the receiving corps as well, with Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree flanked on the outside, and All-Pro tight end Vernon Davis working out of the slot. At issue is whether Kaepernick, who figures to be under pressure from the Green bay front and especially linebacker Clay Matthews - who figures to be shadowing him throughout - can make the connections to his receivers.

The Packers aren't exactly slouches on defense, especially now that Charles Woodson is recovered from a broken collarbone that sidelined him for nine weeks.

Though this will almost surely be a close call, Rodgers experience over Kaepernick's should carry the day for Green bay and allow them to advance, reversing the score from the two teams' opening week battle, won by the 49ers in Green Bay, 30-22.

Prediction: Packers 24 49ers 20

All times Eastern - Click here for late games

Copyright 2012, 2013, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.

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