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Be careful, Broncos

End Zone



You could hear the whooping up and down the Front Range last Saturday as the Baltimore Ravens swaggered into Pittsburgh and whipped the Steelers in their first-round NFL playoff game.

Perfect, many fans said — and some Colorado media, including the Gazette, openly agreed. They felt Baltimore's victory was the best scenario for Denver, because now the Ravens can take their confidence and momentum to New England this weekend and perhaps knock off the top-seeded Patriots on Saturday in the divisional round (aka conference semifinals).

Denver fans, be careful what you wish for. It might be the Broncos' undoing.

What the legions of Orange Nation should have been wanting, and my guess is that the Broncos and their coaches actually did, was exactly the opposite. Denver should have been hoping for Pittsburgh to beat Baltimore, which would have meant the Steelers coming to Denver this Sunday.

Instead, the Broncos face Indianapolis and its rising-star quarterback, Andrew Luck. Rest assured the Colts and Luck will be inspired to the max, facing Denver and Peyton Manning.

Yes, both the Patriots and Broncos are favored by a touchdown to put away the Ravens and Colts, setting up another Manning vs. Tom Brady battle in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18.

But while Denver's fans may think they have the easier draw, don't be surprised if it goes the other way. This rested New England team wants its own revenge against Baltimore, which stunned the Patriots two years ago, a week after its shocking overtime win at Denver. And the Patriots have a much better defense now, not to mention more offensive weapons at Brady's disposal, than in January 2013.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis and Luck already know they can hang with the Broncos, going back to when they whipped Denver at Indy in October 2013. Then the Colts came to Colorado to open this season, and after spotting Denver a 24-0 lead, they nearly came all the way back before falling just short, 31-24.

This rematch between the Colts and Broncos feels very similar to another game this past Sunday, when Detroit and its quarterback Matthew Stafford invaded Dallas and very nearly ruined the Cowboys' turnaround season.

What the Broncos must do against Indianapolis is strike quickly, just like in September, and pound away with runner C.J. Anderson to keep the ball away from Luck and to stop the Colts from blitzing Manning. But don't count on it.

Denver might've fared much better facing Pittsburgh, with its plethora of injuries and not-so-mobile quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. That also would have meant Luck and the Colts going to New England and perhaps being able to outscore the Patriots.

Meanwhile, the top seeds also look vulnerable in the National Conference, as Seattle hosts Carolina on Saturday and Dallas goes to Green Bay on Sunday. Carolina, despite its 8-8-1 overall record, has won five straight with a fast-improving defense and with multi-talented quarterback Cam Newton recovering quickly from a December auto accident. Dallas, meanwhile, went a perfect 8-0 on the road this season and has to feel invincible now after its comeback against Detroit.

With that, here are some predictions, in chronological order:

• New England 24, Baltimore 13. Patriots want to win for Brady and will know how to stop the Ravens, which should be more than enough.

• Seattle 23, Carolina 19. Closer than many expect, and don't be shocked if the Panthers pull the upset Saturday night.

• Dallas 34, Green Bay 31. Cowboys look like the latest team of destiny, as Tony Romo outduels Aaron Rodgers on Sunday afternoon.

• Indianapolis 37, Denver 34. Luck ruins Manning's dream of one more title, as Denver's defense also comes up short in Sunday's finale.

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