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Sunday, January 6, 2013
AFC's final four has familiar feel

By Field Yates

The final four teams in the AFC playoff field are set as the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Indianapolis Colts 24-9. That means that the same four teams who made it to the AFC's semifinals in 2012 will take the stage next weekend, and that the top four seeds in the conference will be in play.

The action will begin next Saturday afternoon in Denver (CBS; 4:30 p.m. EST) when Peyton Manning and the top-seeded Denver Broncos play host to the Ravens in a rematch of a Week 15 game that was even more lopsided than the 34-17 final in Denver's favor would indicate.

For the Ravens, it will require an excellent effort to slow down the Broncos, who have won 11 straight games and possess one of the best offenses in football. Baltimore had its "core four" defensive players on the field today (linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Terrell Suggs), but top cornerback Lardarius Webb is out for the season and the secondary remains thin on cover cornerbacks. The best medicine for slowing the Broncos down might be controlling the game on offense with a steady dose of Ray Rice, who had an uncharacteristic pair of fumbles today but is one of the best running backs in the NFL.

From a Patriots perspective, a win for Baltimore would open the door to New England for hosting the AFC Championship. Of course that would require the Patriots to take care of business against the Texans, whom they'll face next Sunday at 4:30 p.m. EST (CBS).

AFC DIVISIONAL ROUND SCHEDULE
Saturday: Denver (1) vs. Baltimore (4), 4:30 p.m. EST (CBS)
Sunday: New England (2) vs. Houston (3), 4:30 p.m. EST (CBS)