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January 4, 2011

NFL Wild Card Weekend Preview


(UPDATE 1/1/2012: CLICK HERE TO SEE THIS YEAR'S SCHEDULE)


NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (11-5) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (7-9) 
(Saturday, NBC, 4:30 PM ET)      

The defending Super Bowl champions will head to Seattle’s Qwest Field to begin their title defense against the Seahawks, who captured the NFC West. 

“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” says Saints head coach SEAN PAYTON. “We know it’s going to be a tough place to play. The crowd noise is as loud as it is in this league for an outdoor venue. For us, it’s all about playing your best football at the right time, and that time is right now.  Clearly, everyone recognizes that you have to win to advance.”   

Leading the way for New Orleans is Pro Bowl quarterback DREW BREES, who has completed 66.7 percent of his passes (150 of 225) in the playoffs, an NFL record. Brees’ 103.7 postseason passer rating is second all-time behind Pro Football Hall of Famer BART STARR (104.8). 


The Seahawks advanced to the playoffs for the fifth time in the past seven seasons with a 16-6 win last week over the St. Louis Rams in front of a raucous home crowd. 

“Our fans are incredible,” says Seattle head coach PETE CARROLL. “They rocked the house on Sunday night and I’m grateful we could give back to them.  Not only that, we get to come back and play here again on Saturday.” 

“Getting into the playoffs, that’s all you want,” says Seahawks linebacker WILL HERRING.  “You just want to have a shot.”

  

NEW YORK JETS (11-5) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (10-6)
(Saturday, NBC, 8:00 PM ET)      

It will be a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game when the Jets visit the Colts on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.  New York will look to avenge the Colts’ 30-17 victory that sent Indianapolis to Super Bowl XLIV a year ago. 

“It’s an opportunity to get back at them,” says Jets tight end DUSTIN KELLER, who led the club with 55 catches. “We owe them one. They got us last year.”

New York quarterback MARK SANCHEZ, who is the second youngest Jet to pass for 3,000 yards (Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE NAMATH), has guided his team to the postseason for the second consecutive year.  Last year, he became only the second rookie QB to start and win two playoff games (JOE FLACCO). 

“We are not going to Indianapolis to lose, we are going there to win,” says Jets head coach REX RYAN.  “That’s our mentality and always will be.  I believe in our football team.  I know that’s an excellent football team we’re going to play but they’re getting our best shot.  This will be a great game and as long as the Jets win, I’ll sign up for it.”

The Colts, the defending AFC champions, return to the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season, tying the Dallas Cowboys (1975-83) for the most postseason appearances in a row. 

“You’ve got to earn your right to play in the playoffs,” says Indianapolis head coach JIM CALDWELL.  “This is what you work for.  It’s the beginning of the second season.  Now you feel everything kind of kicks up a notch or two.” 

Colts Pro Bowl quarterback PEYTON MANNING set a league record with 450 completions and passed for 4,700 yards, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers DAN FOUTS (1980-81) and WARREN MOON (1990-91) as the only players in NFL history to have consecutive seasons with at least 4,500 passing yards. 



BALTIMORE RAVENS (12-4) at K.C. CHIEFS (10-6)  
(Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET)      

The Ravens enter the playoffs having won four in a row and six of their past seven games. 

“Not many teams can say they won 12 games,” says Baltimore running back RAY RICE, who had a team postseason record 159 rushing yards in last year’s Wild Card game.  “And we had to win 12 games just to get the No. 5 seed.” 

Ravens quarterback JOE FLACCO has won 32 games in his first three seasons, the third-most by a QB in his first three NFL seasons since the 1970 merger (Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO and MATT RYAN, 33). 

“We have exactly what it takes to win a championship,” says Ravens wide receiver ANQUAN BOLDIN. 

The Chiefs won the AFC West, becoming the latest team to go from “worst-to-first” in its division.  This marked the eighth consecutive season that a team went from “worst-to-first” in its division, an NFL record. 

“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done,” says Kansas City head coach TODD HALEY.  “It’s what you’re going to do now.”

Igniting the offense this year has been Pro Bowl running back JAMAAL CHARLES, who rushed for 1,467 yards and averaged 6.38 yards per carry, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer JIM BROWN as the only running backs in NFL history to rush for at least 1,400 yards and average at least 6.30 yards per carry in a season. 


GREEN BAY PACKERS (10-6) at PHIL. EAGLES (10-6) 
(Sunday, FOX, 4:30 PM ET)      

The Packers and Eagles meet again at Lincoln Financial Field.  The two teams opened the season on Kickoff Weekend in Philadelphia with Green Bay pulling out a 27-20 victory. 

“Both teams are better than they were at the time,” says Eagles head coach ANDY REID.  “We look forward to the challenge.  They have a good football team and we have a good football team.  It should be a heck of a game.”

Philadelphia has won both postseason meetings between the teams – the 1960 NFL Championship (17-13) and a 2003 NFC Divisional Playoff (20-17, OT).  Green Bay leads the all-time series 24-15, including the playoffs. 

The game features the NFC’s top two quarterbacks – the Packers’ AARON RODGERS led the conference with a 101.2 passer rating and the Eagles’ MICHAEL VICK was second at 100.2.  In last year’s Wild Card round, Rodgers passed for a franchise postseason record 423 yards, the second-most ever by a QB in his first playoff start (KELLY HOLCOMB, 429).  Vick, who beat the Packers in the 2002 postseason (with Atlanta), became the first player in NFL history with at least 3,000 passing yards (3,018), 20 touchdowns passes (21), 500 rushing yards (676) and seven rushing touchdowns (nine).

Last week, the Packers beat the Chicago Bears 10-3 at Lambeau Field to clinch a playoff spot in a game Green Bay had to win. 

“I’m just proud of this team,” says Packers head coach MIKE MC CARTHY.  “We’ve had a difficult road we traveled this year and we’ve met every challenge.  We’re at 10 wins and one of the six teams in the NFC playoffs.  We’re excited as a football team.  We’re really looking forward to preparing this week and competing against Philadelphia in this tournament.”

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