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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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Ravens' fan-favorite Justin Forsett on the move again; seventh team of his career

Ravens' fan-favorite Justin Forsett on the move again; seventh team of his career

The 2016 NFL season has been an odyssey of sorts for Justin Forsett. 

After a Pro Bowl season in 2014, Forsett saw his numbers decline in 2015.

With the addition of Terrance West and the Ravens selecting Kenneth Dixon in the 2016 NFL Draft, Forsett saw his place with the team dissipate quickly.

After being released, then re-signed, then released again, Forsett latched on with the Lions in early October. But after appearing in just two games, the Lions released Forsett before their Week 13 win over the Saints. But on Monday, Forsett was in a new city, with a new team.

RELATED: GRADING THE RAVENS' OFFENSE IN WEEK 13

Broncos' head coach Gary Kubiak served as the Ravens offensive coordinator in 2014 when Forsett ran for a career-high 1266 yards and 8 touchdowns.

The move comes a day after running back Kapri Bibbs exited their Week 13 game against the Jaguars with an ankle injury. With C.J. Anderson out for the foreseeable future, that leaves rookie Devontae Booker and fullback-tailback Juwan Thompson as the only running backs on the team.

The Broncos will be the seventh team Forsett has played for since joining the NFL in 2008.

 

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Grading the Ravens defense, special teams vs. Dolphins

Grading the Ravens defense, special teams vs. Dolphins

The Ravens put together their most complete game of the season on Sunday with a 38-6 beatdown of the Dolphins, winners of six straight coming in.

The script was a refreshing one for the Ravens offense — four touchdown passes, 24 first-half points, crisp execution — but the defense did what it's done all season, shutting down Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi and making the Dolphins earn every yard.

The only Dolphins points, in fact, came after they began inside the Ravens 10-yard line because of a Dennis Pitta fumble.

We've already handed out report cards to the offense, so now it's time to grade the defense and special teams.

DEFENSIVE LINE: B+

Ajayi averaged 5.1 yards a carry (12-61) but the Ravens' 24-0 halftime lead pretty much eliminated Ajayi as a big factor in the second half.

Although Ajayi slipped some tackles, the Dolphins totaled 1 yard rushing on carries by four other players.

Timmy Jernigan was a force inside again but took a stupid taunting penalty after head-butting a Dolphins player. That type of penalty has been too common in his career, but largely absent this season, which has been Jernigan's best yet.

Brent Urban picked up his second sack of the season.

LINEBACKER: B+

Zach Orr continues to impress. He led all players with 13 tackles.

The Ravens linebackers had just one sack, by rookie Matt Judon, but they were pressuring Ryan Tannehill often. Terrell Suggs and Judon each had two of the Ravens nine quarterback hits. Za'Darius Smith also had a quarterback hit as he returned to action after being benched last week.

The Ravens linebackers did a decent job setting the edge on the run, though Ajayi broke some tackles at the line of scrimmage.

SECONDARY: A-

The secondary might have had its best game of the season, with rangy plays, physical coverage, seven passes defensed and three interceptions.

Lardarius Webb's interception in the end zone was outstanding. He ranged far and made a leaping grab to kill a Dolphins drive. It was easily the best play he's made since converting to safety.

His safety counterpart, Eric Weddle, also had an interception near the end zone to kill another Dolphins drive and returned it 53 yards.

Jerraud Powers tipped the pass that Weddle intercepted and also had an interception of his own.

The Ravens did a great job containing talented Dolphins receivers and showing looks that seemed to confuse Tannehill.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

Another week, another 50-plus bomb from kicker Justin Tucker, who hit from 55  yards to end the half and extend his streak to 35 field goals without a miss. Four of his last five have come from 52 yards or farther.  

Sam Koch had an uneven day punting, shanking one kick for 16 yards. He averaged 31 yards on three punts, but two of them pinned the Dolphins inside their 15-yard line.

Devin Hester, who has said he's finally healthy again, didn't show much. He had one kickoff return for 17 yards and totaled 3 yards on three punt returns.

In a weekly occurrence, the Ravens again had two illegal-block penalties on punt returns  (Shareece Wright, Matt Judon).

MORE: Ravens excited for Monday night matchup against Patriots