Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.
Baltimore @ Denver (-9 1/2)
Ray Lewis will face Peyton Manning for the final time as the Broncos host the Ravens, who vanquished Manning's former team, Indianapolis, 24-9 last Sunday in the wildcard round. Manning is 9-0 in his career versus Baltimore, including a 2-0 record in the playoffs.
"I've announced a Ravens' 'retirement' way more times than Ray Lewis," Manning said.
"I think Lewis' retirement announcement was just what the Ravens needed. It worked. Ray will certainly go down in history, not only as the greatest linebacker, but as the only player in history to announce his retirement twice in the span of one week. Ray loves to be the ???center' of attention, which is what one would expect from the greatest ???middle' linebacker of all time.
"As for Sunday's game, Lewis may intend to ???raise hell.' I intend to make it ???Ray's Hell."
John Harbaugh and the Ravens hope for a better outcome than their week 15 34-17 loss to Denver. As always, the key to stopping a Manning-led team is confusing Manning with shifting defensive schemes.
"Did you say shifty?" Harbaugh said. "By definition, shifty is defined as ???deceitful, evasive, or untrustworthy.' My defense is anything but, but that certainly describes my brother's handling of the Alex Smith situation perfectly.
"We like our chances in Denver. Manning is far from unbeatable in the playoffs. He's had a knife to his neck four times, and a rope to it even more. We won't back down. We have to get into Manning's head, and the best way to do that is to ask him, ???How the heck does your idiot brother have more Super Bowl wins than you?'"
Lewis riles the "Broncs' Zoo" crowd at Invesco Field with his signature pre-game dance. Manning counters not with a signature dance, but with his signature, as he kindly autographs mementoes for a number of star-struck opponents on the Ravens' sideline. Ray Rice has "His Mile High-ness" sign a football, which Rice promptly drops.
After a slow start, Manning shakes off the rust, not from the pins in his neck, but from a two-week layoff. After an early interception, Manning returns to form, throwing for 271 yards and two touchdowns. It's Denver's Von Miller, and not Ray Lewis, who impacts the game from the linebacker position. Miller sacks Joe Flacco twice and recovers a fumble, then wonders why telephone service giant Vonage hasn't tapped him for an endorsement deal.
Denver wins 30-24.
Green Bay @ San Francisco (-3)
After a bye week, the second-seeded 49ers host the third-seeded Packers at Candlestick Park. It's a rematch of a week 1 contest in which the visiting 49ers took down Green Bay 30-22 at Lambeau Field. Colin Kaepernick, who took over for Alex Smith in week 11, will get his first playoff start.
"Alex is still wondering why he was benched," Kaepernick said. "In fact, he's quite irritated by it. That's why we call him ???Alexander The Grate.' Interestingly enough, if Alex were our kicker, he'd still have his job. Despite doing about everything wrong, apparently, David Akers can do no wrong.
"But I'm looking to build my legacy, much like 49er legend Joe Montana. It remains to be seen which ???Montana' I become: the four-time Super Bowl champion, or the Skechers Shape-Ups pitchman."
Green Bay slowed Adrian Peterson and shut down quarterback Joe Webb, who started in place of the injured Christian Ponder, in the Packers' 24-10 wildcard win over the Vikings last Saturday.
"The Vikings are in a unique position at quarterback," Aaron Rodgers said. "They have two ???Average Joe's' at the position.
"Luckily, the QB situation in Green Bay is stable. Honestly, I don't even know who my backup is. I think his name may be Lynn Dickey. In any case, an important statistic to know is that my backup has been sacked 54 fewer times than I have this season. I've put this team on my back all year. My offensive line has put me on my back all year. My O-line so many ???protection' issues, they've been offered their own series on TLC."
The 49ers know they have to get pressure on Rodgers, and they will be successful. Unfortunately, pressure on Rodgers means he will be flushed from the pocket, and he is the NFL's best at throwing on the run.
Rodgers tosses two touchdown passes, runs for another, and plays turnover-free, while Kaepernick commits two costly giveaways.
Green Bay wins 27-23.
Seattle @ Atlanta (-3)
After spotting the Redskins a 14-0 first quarter lead, the Seahawks stormed back last Sunday to take a 24-14 win in Washington, earning a divisional date with the top-seeded Falcons.
"The Redskins' fortunes folded like Robert Griffin's knee," Pete Carroll said. "Some called it the ???Belt(way) Buckle.' Others called it ???Capitol Punishment.' Still others likened it to the Redskins' offense and called it ???3 And Out.' For the ???Skins 2013 opener, RG3 is listed as ???questionable,' as are Mike Shanahan's intentions in last week's game.
"As for Sunday's game, Atlanta is favored, and deservedly so. The Falcons are the NFL's oldest team, which naturally gives them an edge in experience. We are the NFL's youngest team, which naturally makes us Lawrence Taylor's favorite team. But for us this year, youth has been served, particularly with subpoenas for urine samples."
The Falcons are 0-3 in playoff games under Mike Smith, including a divisional loss as the NFC's top seed in the 2010 playoffs. A loss to the Seahawks would be devastating to the franchise and the city of Atlanta.
"Until we win a playoff game," Mike Smith said, "we can't expect our due respect. Only in Atlanta is a playoff game also called a ???must-win game.'
"The 0-3 playoff record fall squarely on my shoulders, and I accept that. Hey, I'm not afraid to look in the mirror, especially since ???0-3' looks almost like ???3-0' in the mirror.
"But let's not be so quick to assume the Seahawks will beat us. Sure, they bring a lot of ???positives' to the table, not to mention the PED-testing lab, but you have to question Seattle's consistency. Yes, they beat Arizona 58-0 in December, but lost to them 20-16 in September. That's inconsistent. We, on the other hand, are as consistent as consistent can be, particularly where playoff outcomes are concerned."
The Seahawks are a confident bunch, particularly cornerback Richard Sherman. They call him the "General," because he's vowed the "burn" Atlanta. And, as a special gift to the Falcons, Sherman and the Seahawks bring a famous Seattle band for a pre-game mini-concert. Matt Ryan and crew, who have had their heart questioned for three years, are thrilled to see Seattle rockers Heart take the stage, but not-so-thrilled when the band performs "Heartless."
Seattle wins 31-29.
Houston @ New England (-9 1/2)
Like the Packers-49ers contest, Sunday's Houston-New England clash is a rematch of a regular season game. In week 14, the Patriots handed the Texans a crushing 42-14 defeat, which started a Houston slide that cost them home-field advantage.
"The Patriots sent us ???packing,' twice," Arian Foster said. "They whipped us back in December. I was surprised when I saw the line was only 9 ??; I was even more surprised when I realized that was 9 ?? points and not touchdowns.
"Not many people are giving us much of a chance to win in New England. But at least we know we have one advantage over the Patriots, and that's in bulletin board material."
With a win over Houston, Tom Brady and the Patriots could either host a rematch of last year's AFC title game versus the Ravens, or travel to Denver for another Brady-Peyton Manning showdown.
"I'm no bisexual," Brady said, "but I'll answer like one: I'm good either way.
"I like our chances to go all the way. Especially since there's no chance we'll face the Giants. Of course, I expect a different game from the Texans. I'll prepare for them as if they beat us 42-14. I didn't win three Super Bowls taking opponents lightly. I'm where I am because of three things, with hard work being number 1. The other two are the ???Tuck Rule,' and Drew Bledsoe's innards getting turned inside out."
Foster is the NFL's most well-known vegetarian, but the Texans' only hope may lie in J.J. Watt knocking Brady into a "vegetative" state. That and 150 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Foster, who would love to "bow to the Mass.'s." Unfortunately, as much as Foster wants to take the ball out of Matt Schaub's hands, the Patriots want to put it in his hands.
Brady throws for three touchdowns, including one to Rob Gronkowski, while the Patriots' defense stymies Schaub, sacking him four times and forcing two turnovers. The Texans keep it close, relative to a 28-point losing margin.