In order, we have:
- Peyton Manning vs. Ray Lewis for the final time.
- The Packers (26 victories the past two seasons) heading to San Francisco to face the 49ers (24 victories).
- Seattle at Atlanta — the Seahawks’ DBs facing off against the Falcons’ receivers. Wow.
- The Texans and Patriots in New England. Think Arian Foster’s fired up for this one?
- Not a bad slate of games. But some players know they need to step up.
We’re not worried about Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady being ready for the playoffs because they almost always are in top form this time of year. Lewis is sure to go out guns blazing, Jim Harbaugh’s team will have two weeks’ worth of tricks up its sleeve, and the Seahawks showed what they are made of by coming back from down 14 points on the road last week.
But the pressure is rising on a few individuals. Joe Flacco needs a big performance. Colin Kaepernick’s performance — good or bad — will lead to a discussion of Harbaugh and his decision to bench Alex Smith.
Russell Wilson is playing with house money right now, but Matt Ryan has built up some debt with an 0-3 postseason mark. He and Falcons head coach Mike Smith know how much this one means to the franchise.
Let’s take a look at the 12 biggest story lines in the divisional matchups in this Playoff 12-pack: