A lackluster start to the NFL playoffs on Wild Card Weekend has put a lot of pressure on the divisional round matchups to kickstart this postseason.
Fortunately, with better teams playing this weekend, it is going to be hard to envision a scenario where these four games aren't compelling television.
Remember, last year's slate of Wild Card games weren't that great (excluding the Pittsburgh-Denver clash). The next week you had the classic New Orleans-San Francisco clash, Baltimore and Houston battling down to the wire and New York shocking Green Bay at Lambeau.
In anticipation of this weekend's four huge matchups, here is the full schedule, dates and start times for everything.
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos
Saturday, Jan. 12 at 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS
Key Storyline: Peyton Manning's first playoff game with Denver
After leading the Indianapolis Colts to the postseason 11 times, Manning has his first test in the playoffs with the Broncos.
For all the great things he has done throughout his career, Manning has a mediocre 9-10 record in the playoffs. But this might be the best overall team he has led into the postseason.
The Broncos have one of the best offenses in the NFL, but the defense tends to get overlooked because of Manning. They finished second in the league in yards allowed and fourth in points allowed.
If Manning has another early playoff exit, the talk of him being a choker in big spots is likely to creep back into the conversation.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
Saturday, Jan. 12 at 8 p.m. ET on Fox
Key Storyline: How effective will Justin Smith be?
It has become apparent at the end of the season, specifically in the second half against New England and against Seattle, how much Justin Smith's presence on the defensive line changes everything for the 49ers.
Smith suffered a partially torn left triceps in the game against New England, but he returned to practice last week and is expected to play in this game after sitting out the final two weeks of the regular season.
The Packers have had issues on the offensive line all season. When these two teams met in Week 1, the 49ers sacked Aaron Rodgers three times and hit him five times. They need to create that kind of pressure again if they want to keep the 2011 NFL MVP down long enough to win this game.
Rodgers has been on fire for the last four weeks. He has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in that span.
Smith sets up everything the 49ers defense wants to do. He creates opportunities for Aldon Smith to get all those sacks he racks up. If he is inhibited in any way, the 49ers will be in big trouble.
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, Jan. 13 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Key Storyline: Are the Falcons going to stumble in the playoffs again?
Whether it is fair or not, the Falcons are going to take a lot of heat if they lose in their first playoff game for the fourth time in the Matt Ryan era.
It should be noted that the last three times they lost in their first playoff game, the team that beat them went on to play in the Super Bowl. (Green Bay and Atlanta won the Super Bowl, while Arizona lost to Pittsburgh by four points).
This year the Falcons get to play the team that most analysts deem to be the most dangerous in the NFC. Seattle did have issues early against Washington and took advantage of a hobbled Robert Griffin III late to win.
Unlike the terrible field they had to play on, the Seahawks will have no issues with the elements this week. The Georgia Dome will be accommodating for both teams.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Sunday, Jan. 13 at 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS
Key Storyline: Will the Texans show up this time around?
The last time these two teams met, when the Texans were talking about it being the most important game in franchise history, was on Monday Night Football in Week 14. The Patriots ran all over that defense and it was over before it got started.
Even though the final score was 42-14, it was much, much worse for the Texans than that. The Patriots racked up 419 yards, Tom Brady threw four touchdowns and had all the time in the world to throw.
That was the start of the Texans' late-season swoon that cost them the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye.
Last week's win over Cincinnati didn't exactly alleviate any concerns, as the offense, particularly the passing game, looked sluggish. The Texans need to set the tempo for this game and dictate what happens.
If they can't do that, this game will look a lot like that Week 14 Monday night game and the Patriots will be playing in the AFC Championship Game for the second straight season.
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