Final eight teams set for playoff battle

Wed Jan 9, 2013 7:30pm EST
 

By Larry Fine

(Reuters) - The National Football League's (NFL) four top-rated teams join the fray this weekend by hosting divisional round playoff games that will set the stage for the Super Bowl semi-finals.

Following first-round byes, the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers should all be rested and well-prepared to do battle with last week's wild-card playoff winners.

Quarterbacking kings Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are a win away from a tantalizing AFC championship duel, with top-seeded Denver big favorites over the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday and the Patriots expected to beat the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Manning, riding an 11-game winning streak with the Broncos, steered them to a 34-17 victory last month over Baltimore, while Brady led his Patriots to a 42-14 thumping against Houston.

"We understand the challenge that we have," said Houston head coach Gary Kubiak. "The Patriots have been at this level for a long time. We had a rough trip up there last time, but we've earned our right to go back."

Arian Foster helped the Texans book the rematch by rushing for 140 yards in last week's 19-13 win over Cincinnati.

Vince Wilfork, New England's huge defensive tackle, said the Patriots expect a tougher test this time from the Texans.

"They didn't play their best game. They know that and we know that," said Wilfork. "Come Sunday we are expecting their best. It's all or nothing from here on out."   Continued...