Last week's wild-card round in the NFL playoffs was not a good one for home teams -- well, except for the Seattle Seahawks who were not expected to win but confounded nearly everyone with an upset victory over the defending champion, New Orleans Saints.
This weekend brings the divisional round of games, and each one is a rematch. The AFC games feature intradivisional rivals, while the NFC's contests are straight rematches from the regular season.
New York Jets (#6 AFC seed) at New England Patriots (#1 AFC seed) -- The Jets and Patriots split their previous meetings, with each team holding serve at home. However, the Patriots' home game was a thorough blowout for New England, who won 45-3. The Patriots are strong nine-point favorites going in.
While the Jets have a strong defensive unit, and a solid ground game featuring LaDainian Tomlinson, their aerial attack has not been as successful. The Patriots have been extremely hot for most of the season, their only real clunker being an inexplicable loss to the Browns in Cleveland. Their offense has been well-balanced between the run and the pass, and is strong enough to cover the defensive weaknesses (ranked 30th in the league in pass defense).
Baltimore Ravens (#5 AFC seed) at Pittsburgh Steelers (#2 AFC seed) -- This physical confrontation between two very defensive-minded squads was quite close, as both games were decided by three points, with the visitors claiming victory each time. This weekend, the Steelers are favored, again by just three points.
The Ravens got their playoff run off to a good start in Kansas City, holding the Chiefs to a single touchdown. Both the Ravens and Steelers feature run-stifling defensive units; the Steelers led the entire league while the Ravens were fifth. If the Steelers have any advantage, it is in pass defense, where their unit is ranked 12th overall to Baltimore's 20th; this should bode well for an outstanding signal-caller like the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger.
Green Bay Packers (#6 NFC seed) at Atlanta Falcons (#1 NFC seed) -- These two teams met in Atlanta in Week 12 of the season, with the Falcons claiming a three-point win. This game is also expected to be close, as Atlanta is a three-point favorite.
The Packers survived a tough test over Philadelphia in their opening playoff game, while the Falcons come into the game having won nine of their last 10 regular-season contests in locking up the NFC's top seed. Falcons QB Matt Ryan has been stellar in leading the Falcons' balanced attack, while Aaron Rodgers has helped Green Bay become a top-five passing team, albeit with a weak ground game.
Seattle Seahawks (#4 NFC seed) at Chicago Bears (#2 NFC seed) -- Ahh, those Seahawks. They came into the playoffs very lightly regarded; after all, they won the NFC West with a losing mark. But wait! One of those Seahawk wins was against these same Bears, and in Chicago to boot! However, the Bears are strong 10-point favorites in this weekend's rematch.
The Bears will struggle to move the football; their offensive numbers are well into the lower third of the league's teams. But, Seattle's defense also struggles to stop opponents. If the Seahawks expect to pull off another stunning upset, they will have to be effective in the air, as their second-to-worst running game will not fare well against the Bears' second-best run defense.