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Here come the big boys

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Here come the big boys

The records are gaudy. The star power is high.

Here come the NFL's big boys.

Denver, Atlanta, New England and San Francisco host divisional playoff games this weekend. They're a combined 49-14-1, and their rosters are filled with such headline grabbers as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Tony Gonzalez and Patrick Willis.

Their home-field advantages could be formidable, too. The Broncos, who have won 11 straight games, and Falcons each went 7-1; the 49ers were 6-1-1 and the Patriots 6-2.

None of which makes the Ravens, Seahawks, Texans or Packers quake in their cleats.

``That's not in my mind at all going up to Denver,'' said the Ravens' Joe Flacco, the only quarterback to win a playoff game in his first five seasons. ``We feel confident, and I think we should.''

Baltimore at Denver opens the weekend's action, followed by Green Bay at San Francisco on Saturday night.

Sunday, Seattle is at Atlanta, then Houston goes to New England.

Ravens (11-6) at Broncos (13-3)

For all those impressive numbers, here's a baffling one: four-time league Manning is a mere 9-10 in postseason games. Those wins and losses were compiled with the Colts, with whom he never had a defense like the one the Broncos possess.

That defense made a big difference when Denver won 34-17 at Baltimore in Week 15. A 98-yard interception return by Chris Harris at the end of the first half turned it into a rout.

``I really haven't made a whole lot of comparisons, but our defense has been outstanding all year,'' Manning said. ``Our offense has fed off of our defense. I think that's one of the best things this team has done. If the offense was in a rut, defense picked us up. The defense was bending a little bit, the offense picked them up. That's what you've got to have, to me, as a team.''

The Manning-Ray Lewis matchups through the years have been intriguing, and this will be the final one. Baltimore's emotional leader announced his retirement days before he had 13 tackles in his last home game, a 24-9 wild-card victory over Indianapolis.

``They are always classic,'' Lewis said. ``It's just one of those chess matches. He knows me very well. I know him very well. ... But at the end of the day, it's not about me and me and Peyton. It's about their team against our team. I love our team right now.''

Packers (12-5) at 49ers (11-4-1)

Another rematch, but from so long ago: San Francisco won 30-22 in the opener, at Lambeau Field.

The Packers have the edge in this postseason series, 4-1. They would seem to have the edge on offense with top-rated passer Aaron Rodgers and a deep crew of receivers.

And the Niners would have the advantage on defense, having yielded 63 fewer points in the regular season.

A key will be whether Green Bay, which beat Minnesota 24-10 last week, can protect Rodgers after allowing 51 sacks. The 49ers' Aldon Smith had 19 1-2 himself.

``We understand that it's going to be up to us to keep Aaron clean, let him make some plays back there in the pocket,'' left guard T.J Lang said. ``That's going to be a huge factor in how this game turns out.''

Seahawks (12-5) at Falcons (13-3)

Those road woes that plagued the Seahawks can be forgotten. They've won three in a row away from home, including the 24-14 wild-card victory at Washington that was their first on the road in the playoffs since 1983.

With six straight wins overall, they're a confident bunch as they head to the Georgia Dome.

``We've grown and become more together and more in tune with our QB and what he can do and all that,'' Carroll said, referring to rookie Russell Wilson. ``We're a pretty hard team to beat right now.''

Atlanta has been easy to beat in its last three playoff appearances, something quarterback Matt Ryan dismisses as a factor for this game.

``We've proven we can go out there and be successful. You have to buy into that. You have to believe in that. I feel more comfortable with the guys around me.''

Texans (13-4) at Patriots (12-4)

Yet another rematch, this from Dec. 10 when the Texans flopped in Foxborough, 42-10. That was the beginning of a fade in which they dropped three of four and sank from top AFC seed to No. 3.

Houston recovered somewhat last week in a 19-13 wild-card victory over Cincinnati. This is a much tougher task.

``If you want to move on, you've got to bring a sense of attitude and nastiness with you to go out and dominate your opponent on every play,'' said QB Matt Schaub, who got his first postseason win last week.

Tom Brady has 16 postseason wins and needs one win to break a tie with Joe Montana.

``He's won a lot of regular-season games, won a lot of playoff games,'' coach Bill Belichick said. ``What he does on a day-to-day basis, how he performs on the practice field, how he performs in games - whether they're preseason, regular season, postseason, whatever it is - he's pretty consistent. I think you see that during the week, so it shows up on Sunday.''

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Proposed NFL rule change would eliminate Ravens' intentional holding strategy

Proposed NFL rule change would eliminate Ravens' intentional holding strategy

BY TYLER BYRUM, @theTylerByrum

It made everyone do a double-take, then it made perfect sense to non-Cincinnati and non-Pittsburgh fans.

Back in Week 12 when the Baltimore Ravens held off the Cincinnati Bengals 19-14, it wasn't a single touchdown that made national headlines. Rather it was a game ending safety that cut a seven-point deficit to only five. 

On the final play, numerous Ravens players held the opposing Bengals, who were setting up to receive punt, with 11 seconds left on the clock. Punter Sam Koch, just sat back, draining the clock before finally running out the back of the end zone with the clock at zero. 

SEE LINK FOR FULL RULE EXPLANATION

Thursday it was proposed to the NFL's Competition Committee to make plays like this illegal. 

While it may be considered unfair to some, making this new rule would simply add to an already expanding rule book and only be used for a select handful of plays a year, maybe. 

Eliminating cleverness of coaches that are well versed in the NFL rule book, should not be the approach of the of rule adaptations. There is no impact on player safety nor does it make the game 'more watchable' (like the extra-point rule).

Not only that, but the new proposed rule just leaves another set of loopholes for coaches to take advantage of at the end of a game. What if team trying to score on the last play commits two offensive penalties just to get another shot at the endzone?

But before making a massive overhaul to fix all of the loopholes in the NFL rule book, can we establish what a catch is first?

MORE RAVENS: Tony Jefferson used Madden to make free agency decision

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Ravens mock draft roundup: Mike Williams continues to pop up

Ravens mock draft roundup: Mike Williams continues to pop up

Just over a month away from the NFL Draft, mock drafts across sport media sites are beginning to narrow in on players that fit specifically into blaring holes on a team's roster.

As the first wave of free agency has come through, a majority of the top names at each position has been snatched up. While the Baltimore Ravens can still sign a handful of free agents on the open market, getting backup or a young star in a key position can be a the primary goal. 

Here's a look at who some of the various analysts have the Ravens taking with their No. 16 pick in the first round. The general consensus is help in the defensive secondary and at the wide receiver position.

DE Taco Charlton, Michigan, Ben Standig, CSN-Mid Atlantic

Standing: At some point the Ravens must find an edge pass rushing replacement for Terrell Suggs. Charlton might be better stopping the run than rushing the passer right now and yet he had nine sacks in 10 regular season games.  

SEE STANDIG'S FULL 2017 MOCK DRAFT

SS Jabrill Peppers, Michigan, Rob Rang, CBS Sports

Rang: With starting safety Matt Elam a pending free agent and Eric Weddle poised to enter his 11th NFL season, the Ravens may very well be looking for help in the secondary in the 2017 draft. Peppers starred as a linebacker in 2016 but possesses the agility and speed to handle coverage.

WR Mike Williams, Clemson, Dane Brugler, CBS Sports

Brugler: The Ravens have plenty of speed at receiver, but only average size. Williams has only average speed, but his body control, catch radius and overall size are where he shines.

WR John Ross, Washington, Bucky Brooks, NFL.com

Brooks: An electric playmaker with speed to burn would be a welcome addition to an offense that wants to play long ball with Joe Flacco at quarterback.

DE Charles Harris, Missouri, Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com

Jeremiah: Harris is a very productive edge rusher who is plenty athletic enough to drop in coverage if needed.

WR Mike Williams, Clemson, Chris Burke, SI.com

Burke: Baltimore has two receivers, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, who can scorch defenses deep. They need a physical, intermediate threat. Check.

CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama, Peter Schragers, FOX Sports

Schragers: I seem to be a lot higher on Humphrey than other mock draft pundits. Oh well. I’ll ride with the star of the Alabama defensive backfield from last season. The son of NFL running back Bobby Humphrey, he was a stud at the well-known Hoover High and a prime recruit of Nick Saban’s. An opportunistic player who started for two seasons in Tuscaloosa, Humphrey forced three fumbles and intercepted two passes in 2016. Baltimore already has added Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson to its defensive backfield but might not be done.

RELATED: REDSKINS MOCK DRAFT ROUNDUP