Re­matches light up NFL di­vi­sional round

Falcons, Tex­ans, Chiefs, Packers seek­ing re­venge

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Tom Pelis­sero @ TomPelis­sero USA TO­DAY Sports

We’re down to eight teams af­ter four di­vi­sion win­ners ad­vanced through the wild- card round of the NFL play­offs.

Here are quick thoughts on story lines to watch in next week­end’s four di­vi­sional play­off matchups, all re­matches of games played in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE

Led by NFL MVP can­di­date Matt Ryan, the At­lanta Falcons scored 71 points more than any other team this sea­son. ( Con­text: the Falcons’ 540 points matched the St. Louis Rams’ high mark when they had “The Great­est Show on Turf.”) The Seat­tle Seahawks still have one the NFL’s best and most tal­ented de­fenses, as they showed in Satur­day’s 26- 6 shut­down of the Detroit Lions. The first matchup went back and forth Oct. 16, with Seat­tle ral­ly­ing to beat the Falcons 26- 24 in the fi­nal min­utes. The last play­off meet­ing was wild, too: a 30- 28 Falcons vic­tory Jan. 13, 2013. At­lanta lost the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game the next week to the San Fran­cisco 49ers and missed the play­offs for three sea­sons; the Seahawks won the Su­per Bowl the next year and have be­come a peren­nial con­tender. Falcons coach Dan Quinn is in his sec­ond sea­son af­ter a stint as de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for the Seahawks un­der coach Pete Car­roll.

TWO BILLS

An­other men­tor- mentee matchup: Bill Belichick’s New Eng­land Patriots vs. Bill O’Brien’s Hous­ton Tex­ans, whose top- ranked de­fense led a 27- 14 romp Satur­day against the quar­ter­back- chal- lenged Oak­land Raiders. The Tex­ans are 1- 7 against the Patriots and haven’t re­ally been com­pet­i­tive in two matchups since former Patriots as­sis­tant O’Brien ar­rived: a 27- 6 loss last sea­son and a 27- 0 de­feat Sept. 22 in which Patriots rookie quar­ter­back Ja­coby Bris­sett made his first NFL start. Tom Brady is back to op­pose Brock Osweiler, who was a spec­ta­tor for the Den­ver Broncos’ AFC Cham­pi­onship Game win against the Patriots last Jan­uary af­ter los­ing his job to Pey­ton Man­ning. That didn’t stop Osweiler from get­ting $ 37 mil­lion guar­an­teed from the Tex­ans as a free agent, and he’ll sure need to earn his money in this one.

BANGED- UP BEN?

Pitts­burgh Steelers quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger was in a walk­ing boot af­ter Sun­day’s 30- 12 wild- card rout of the Mi­ami Dol­phins. He’ll play through just about any­thing. But it’ll be worth mon­i­tor­ing how much ( if at all) Roeth­lis­berger’s foot and an­kle bother him against the Kansas City Chiefs, who are one win at Ar­row­head Sta­dium away from their first AFC Cham­pi­onship Game since the 1993 sea­son. Chiefs fans surely re­mem­ber be­ing in this spot: af­ter the 1995 sea­son and in 1997 and 2003. They had a first- round bye each of those years be­fore los­ing in the di­vi­sional round, a streak coach Andy Reid’s crew will try to end. The Chiefs will need to start a lot faster than they did in the first meet­ing: a 43- 14 Steelers rout Oct. 2 in Pitts­burgh in which Kansas City trailed 29- 0 at half­time and Roeth­lis­berger threw five touch­down passes, in­clud­ing two to wide­out An­to­nio Brown.

MVP STUFF

The Dal­las Cowboys haven’t got­ten past the di­vi­sional round since the 1995 sea­son. Their most re­cent play­off trip ended in the fa­mous “Dez caught it” game against the Green Bay Packers two years ago. The Cowboys’ run to a 13- 3 record and the NFC’s No. 1 over­all seed has seemed spe­cial, spurred by rookie sen­sa­tions Ezekiel El­liott and Dak Prescott. But what hap­pens when the Dal­las de­fense has to take on red- hot Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who just throt­tled the New York Gi­ants 38- 13 for their sev­enth win in a row? This isn’t the same out­fit the Cowboys han­dled 30- 16 on Oct. 16 at Lam­beau Field. It’s quite a test for young Prescott, mak­ing his first play­off start op­po­site a two- time NFL MVP play­ing at as high a level as Rodgers. Prescott has an­swered most every test, though, and he has a lot of help around him. Keep an eye on the sta­tus of Packers star re­ceiver Jordy Nel­son ( ribs).

BILL STREICHER, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Rookie quar­ter­back Dak Prescott led the Cowboys to a 13- 3 reg­u­lar- sea­son record and the NFC’s top play­off seed.

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