Elite eight: NFL playoff matchups aren't quite as easy to pick as they appear

01/10/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Eight teams remain as the countdown to Super Bowl 49 continues. Let's take a look at Saturday's games.
New England vs Baltimore
A rematch of the 2012 AFC Championship game pits the 11 and 6 Ravens against the AFC East champion and 12 and 4 Patriots. New England is the top seed in the AFC and coming off of a bye last week, while the #6 seed Ravens are looking for their second consecutive playoff road win. Baltimore beat AFC North champ and division rival Pittsburgh last week 30 to 17. Joe Flacco led the way for the Ravens, passing for 259 yards and 2 TD's in the win. The Ravens will have to stop a New England passing attack that was potent during the 2014 regular season. Tom Brady passed for 4,109 yards and threw 33 touchdown passes against 9 interceptions. Rob Gronkowski returned to his old form this season, leading the Patriots in receiving yards with 1,124 on 82 catches while scoring 12 touchdowns. Julian Edelman led the team in receptions with 92 for 974 yards and 4 TD's. The Patriots have had a running back by committee approach this season, riding whichever back is hot between Jonas Gray, Shane Vereen, who LaGarrette Blount, who was signed after being released by Pittsburgh in November. This is the fourth time in six years these teams have met in the playoffs. The Ravens won the AFC title matchup in 2012 en route to their second Super Bowl win. New England won the 2011 AFC Championship game, while Baltimore won their wild card game in 2009. The Patriots are 7 and 1 at home this season, while the Ravens are 5 and 4 on the road.

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Carolina at Seattle
For the NFC West champion Seahawks, the path to back to back Super Bowls starts at home again. For the Panthers, the improbable journey that has been their 2014 season continues in a place where visiting teams have struggled mightily. Seattle comes in at 12 and 4, and were 7 and 1 at home, while the 8 and 8 and 1 Panthers will try to pull the upset on the road. Both of these teams come into this matchup on a roll, with the Seahawks winning their final 6 regular season games and 9 of their last 10. Carolina has won 5 games in a row, after looking like the playoffs were a pipe dream when they were 3 and 8 and 1 in November. Seattle boasts the top passing defense (185.6 yards per game) and 3rd best rushing defense (81.5 yards per game) in the NFL. They'll face a Panthers offense that ranked 7th in the league in rushing, averaging over 127 yards per game. The Seahawks also have the NFL's top rushing offense, averaging 172.6 yards per game, led by Marshawn Lynch, who rushed for 1,306 yards and 13 TD's during the regular season. That could be a problem for Carolina, who gives up an average of 112 yards per game on the ground. Carolina was dominant in their wild card round win over Arizona last week. The Panthers held the Cardinals to 78 yards in total offense, while racking up 386 total yards of their own. Jonathan Stewart paced the Panthers with 123 yards rushing, while Cam Newton put up 233 yards in total offense and threw 2 touchdown passes. This is the 2nd meeting of the season between these teams, as Seattle defeated Carolina 13 to 9 in Week 8 of the regular season. Newton was held to 171 yards passing with no touchdowns and an interception. But the Panthers held Lynch to just 62 yards rushing in that game. The only touchdown of the game was a 4th quarter score by Seattle. Seattle has won the past 4 meeting between these teams, with Carolina's last win in the series coming in 2007. These teams last met in the playoffs in the 2005 NFC Championship, with the Seahawks winning by the score of 33 to 14.

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