Originally posted on Sportsnaut  |  Last updated 1/9/15

Containing Russell Wilson's legs will be vital to Carolina's chances against the Seahawks. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

By Vincent Frank

Eight NFL teams will battle for four spots in their respective conference’s title game. Each game features one key that will inch one team closer to that dream of a Super Bowl title next month in Arizona. The other team in each of these key matchups will join the rest of the NFL in picking up the pieces and attempting to rebuild and retool in the offseason.

The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. Each signal-caller featured here has what it takes to lead his respective team to championship weekend. Of the eight teams remaining, five are led by quarterbacks with a Super Bowl ring—that’s a record. Now add into account that all four quarterbacks who are hosting games this weekend have won it all, and the road teams find themselves behind the proverbial eight-ball.

Here are the biggest keys to Divisional Weekend.

Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots

Key: Can Joe Flacco go head-to-head with Tom Brady Again?

How good is Joe Flacco? The former first-round pick out of Delaware has teetered between game-manager and elite throughout his entire seven-year career. But of late, he has been closer to the latter than the former when the calendar flips to January.

Among quarterbacks who have started at least four playoff games and have attempted 100-plus passes since 2010, Flacco has the highest passer rating in the league in the postseason.

In his career, Baltimore has played Brady’s Patriots three times in the postseason. Two of the primary reasons that Flacco isn’t 3-0 in his playoff career against New England’s signal caller was a dropped pass by Lee Evans and a missed field goal by Billy Cundiff in the 2011 AFC Championship game.

As it is, Flacco is 2-1 against Brady in his playoff career. Both of those wins have come against the Patriots in New England. If Flacco can perform better than Brady once again on Saturday, Baltimore should be able to move on.

Carolina Panthers vs. Seattle Seahawks

Key: Can Carolina contain Russell Wilson’s legs in the first half?

Seattle’s rush offense led the NFL this season with an average of 5.3 yards per carry. That’s the 10th-highest team average since 1976.

Much of Seattle’s success can obviously be attributed to All-Pro running back Marshawn Lynch, who finished fourth in rushing this season with 1,306 yards. But when breaking down the numbers, quarterback Russell Wilson—not Lynch—had a bigger impact in the run game in 2014. The reason?

Wilson was unstoppable in the first half of Seattle’s 12 wins; in its four losses, he was held in check. Here’s a breakdown of Wilson and Lynch’s rushing totals in wins and losses.

You have to figure inside linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis will take turns spying Wilson throughout the game. That bodes well for Carolina, as the pair are two of the quickest, most athletic linebackers in the NFL.

Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers

Key: Stop a quarterback… Please?

It’s Tony Romo, the most underrated quarterback in the NFL today, against Aaron Rodgers, the league’s best quarterback. In a quarterback-driven league, this is the mecca of all games this weekend.

Rodgers has played out of his mind at home of late, while Romo led his Cowboys to an undefeated road record in 2014 and put the hurt on opposing defenses.

(That’s just ridiculous.)

Now let’s look at Romo’s performance on the road this season compared to what Rodgers has done at home.

Rodgers’ 133.2 home passer rating this season is an NFL record. Romo’s 121.8 road rating is the fourth-highest ever recorded. Something has to give, and it may be the weather.

Here is a breakdown of the quarterbacks in outdoor games featuring temperatures at or below freezing. In case you’re unaware, the forecast for Sunday’s game calls for a high of 21 in Green Bay.

(Has “ridiculous” been mentioned yet?)

Advantage, Rodgers.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Denver Broncos

Key: Who can get more pressure on the opposing quarterback?

It’s difficult to argue against Peyton Manning being the best quarterback of all-time. It can be done, but this is neither the time nor the place to discuss that. It can also be argued Andrew Luck is the best quarterback drafted since Manning.

But again, not the time or place.

What cannot be argued is the fact that these quarterbacks were eerily similar performers in 2014 when comparing statistics under pressure. The stats from the two tables below are courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Note the passer ratings in both instances. Uncanny.

The key to this game will be which defense can pressure the opposing quarterback into making mistakes.

It’s no secret how the Broncos pressure the quarterback. Their two stud defenders on the edge, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and linebacker Von Miller, combined for 24 sacks and 124 total pressures in the regular season. (That’s a lot in case you’re new to the game.)

On the other hand, Indianapolis has put up a pressure-by-committee mentality all season for the simple fact they don’t have a premier edge-rusher. A year after leading the NFL with 19.5 sacks, five-time Pro Bowler Robert Mathis missed all of 2014 thanks, first, to a four-game suspension, and then a torn Achilles tendon he suffered while working out on his own during said suspension.

This article first appeared on Sportsnaut and was syndicated with permission.


Jim Boeheim thinks playing in Detroit hurt Michigan State

Steph Curry hooks UMBC up with new unreleased shoes for big game

Jim Boeheim shuts door on Michigan State with perfect strategy

Rajon Rondo accuses Ray Allen of seeking attention over new book

Tiger Woods ruins chance to win at Bay Hill with tee shot OB


Purdue shouts out Butler’s Kelan Martin for show of sportsmanship after game

Jordan Poole made a nearly identical buzzer-beater in high school

Referees escorted off floor after controversial Raptors-Thunder ending

Twitter reacts to Matt McQuaid's crazy buzzer beater

Watch: Matt McQuaid hits miracle shot to end first half

Report: K-State's leading scorer Dean Wade out Sunday against UMBC

Cavaliers Notes: Lue's illness; Calderon's steadiness; LeBron's health

Sports & Politics Intersect: Presidential sports coverage from coast-to-coast

The 'Braves new world' quiz

NHL Weekender: Kings, Avs pushing their way into the postseason

10 biggest takeaways from Thursday’s NCAA Tournament action

Jamal Murray's heel turn is exactly what the Nuggets need

Top 10 players at every MLB position for the 2018 season

Women discuss breaking barriers in sports and in life at San Jose State University

Why Trae Young will be an NBA star

Teams to watch and avoid in the 2018 tournament

Under-the-radar NCAA Tourney prospects

Why you should watch this year's NCAA Tournament

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

Sports & Politics Intersect: Presidential sports coverage from coast-to-coast

The 'Braves new world' quiz

NHL Weekender: Kings, Avs pushing their way into the postseason

Top 10 players at every MLB position for the 2018 season

Jamal Murray's heel turn is exactly what the Nuggets need

The '30 for #30' quiz

Why you should watch this year's NCAA Tournament

Why you shouldn't watch this year's NCAA Tournament

Marc-Andre Fleury's resurgence in the desert

Top 50 MLB prospects for 2018 and beyond

For Publishers
Company Info
Follow Yardbarker