Newyorkjets.com will profile each playoff game in this NFL postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Today: the two Divisional Round games to be played Saturday:
(5) JACKSONVILLE (12-5) at (1) NEW ENGLAND (16-0), 8 p.m., CBS
In the What Have You Done For Me Lately? Department, the Patriots open defense of their stellar regular season with their first appearance of the postseason. A popular opinion is that 16-0 won't mean a thing if the Pats don't win that thing with the football on top — the Lombardi Trophy.
Another line of thought is that it will take only a perfect effort to derail the Patriots' bid to become only the NFL's first 19-0 team and to join the Steelers as the only teams in NFL history to win four Super Bowls in a seven-season span.
Leading the way is, of course, "Super Tom" Brady, who capped a season of accolades and achievements by being named the NFL's Most Valuable Player and the AP Offensive Player of the Year.
"It's been a fun season," said Brady, "there's no doubt about it."
Something else heard occasionally is that Jacksonville could give New England all it can handle in the playoffs. We'll find that out Saturday in primetime.
"It will be history," Jaguars LB Justin Durant said. "You'll either be on the losing side or the winning side. You'll be known as the team that was part of their undefeated season or the team that stopped it. That's a big challenge."
New England had many high rankings that go hand-in-hand with its spotless record: first in overall, passing and scoring offense, fourth in overall and scoring defense, 10th in rushing defense and sixth in passing D.
Jacksonville finished the regular season with top-10 rankings in total offense (seventh), rushing offense (second), scoring offense (sixth) and scoring defense (10th).
The Patriots fashioned a plus-19 turnover margin through 14 games before settling at plus-16, third-best in the NFL behind San Diego's plus-24 and Indianapolis' plus-18. The Jaguars have a plus-11 margin in their 17 games.
Brady finished first in any number of QB categories, among them completion percentage (68.9), yards (4,806), TD passes (50), TD drive percentage (42.3) and passer rating (117.2). Garrard was third with a 102.2 rating. Interestingly, Garrard outdid Super Tom in third-down rating, 128.8-115.6.
In conjunction with Brady's season is WR Randy Moss' reemergence, quantified by his NFL-record 23 touchdown receptions. While Moss was second in the NFL with 1,493 receiving yards, Wes Welker was tied for first with 112 receptions.
Jacksonville counters with one of the league's best rushing attacks, led by Fred Taylor, who finished ninth with 1,202 yards and just found out this week he'll be playing in the first Pro Bowl game of his career, and Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Patriots' all-time playoff record is 19-12, but under head coach Bill Belichick and Brady they are 12-2 since 2001 and prevailed in Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII and XXXIX.
Jacksonville, in the sixth playoff appearance in its 13 seasons of existence, is 5-5, including last week's wild-card win at Pittsburgh, when they overcame the largest fourth-quarter blown lead in NFL playoff history (a 28-10 advantage) to edge the Steelers on Garrard's 32-yard scramble and Josh Scobee's 25-yard field goal, 31-29.
The teams have met three previous times in the postseason. Most recently, Jacksonville lost to New England by 28-3 to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the 2005 Wild Card Round, and in the 1996 AFC Championship game at Foxboro Stadium, the Pats prevailed, 20-6. In between, the Jags prevailed, 25-10, at home in the 1998 Wild Card Round.
Including the playoffs, the Patriots lead this rivalry overall, 6-1, and at home by 4-0.
The Jets have been trying and — except for 2002 — coming up short of New England in the AFC East standings, but the last few years they've given the Patriots something to think about. There was last season's 17-14 win and this year's 20-10 loss, both at Foxboro. The Pats nevertheless have won 12 of the last 14 meetings, all with Brady at QB.
The Jets defeated Jacksonville, 34-24, in the Meadowlands in a 1998 Divisional Round playoff game. But overall they have won just three of eight in the series. The most recent game was the 41-0 loss at Jacksonville in 2006 Week 5.
On the New England roster are several former Jets: TE Kyle Brady (first-round draft choice, 1996), DL Rashad Moore (2006) and S Raymond Ventrone (September final cut). Besides Belichick, former Jets players and coaches on the coaching staff include Pepper Johnson (defensive line) and Brad Seely (special teams)
Jacksonville has a pair of former Jets first-round draft choices on its "team." Aaron Glenn (12th overall, 1994) is now a quality backup on the Jaguars' left corner. And Jeff Lageman (14th overall, 1989) is the Jags' radio analyst. Green & White fans may also remember Jaguars DL coach Ray Hamilton, who coached the Jets' DL from 1994-96.
(3) SEATTLE (11-6) at (2) GREEN BAY (13-3), 4:30 p.m., FOX
The competing themes here are the postseason continuation of the Brett Favre Revival Tour and the return of Seattle's Mike Holmgren to Lambeau Field, where he patrolled the Packers side of the field and helped Favre reach some of his greatest moments in the Nineties. In fact, in the town of Green Bay, Holmgren Way takes you to Lombardi Avenue, which takes you to Lambeau.
"Mike allowed me to flourish and make plays when plays were not there," Favre has said. "It's no secret. My history has shown that I'll take chances, I'll do whatever."
Can Favre do whatever it takes to vanquish Holmgren's current student, Matt Hasselbeck? The Seattle QB has displayed an understated consistency in leading the Seahawks to five straight playoff berths.
And he's making this most recent postseason foray despite hurting his ribs, an oblique muscle and a wrist. Most recently is the hard shot from Washington CB Fred Smoot last weekend that broke not Hasselbeck's thigh but his thigh pad and left him in the trainer's room this week.
"Some guys don't wear thigh pads. I'm glad we do," Hasselbeck said. "It hurt for a little while, but I'm fine."
Green Bay finished the regular season with top-10 rankings in overall offense and passing offense (second), scoring offense (fourth) and scoring defense (tied for sixth with, coincidentally, Seattle).
Seattle finished in the top 10 in overall offense (ninth), pass offense (eighth), scoring offense (tied for ninth) and scoring defense (tied for sixth).
The Seahawks have a plus-10 turnover margin in 17 games while the Packers are plus-4 in 16 games.
Favre finished sixth in the NFL with a 95.7 passer rating while Hasselbeck checked in at eighth (91.4). The featured backs are Ryan Grant for the Pack (188 carries, 956 yards, 5.1 avg., 8 TDs) and Shaun Alexander, who's seen better seasons for the 'Hawks (207-716-3.5-4).
WRs Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Koren Robinson and rookie James Jones have led the "YAC Packers." Green Bay has amassed an unofficial total (according to Stats Inc.) of 2,294 yards after the catch this season, the most in the NFL in the last three years and good for 6.0 yards after each reception. For Seattle, WR Bobby Engram had 94 receptions for 1,147 yards (12.2 per catch, 6 TDs).
Mason Crosby, Green Bay's rookie placekicker, led the NFL in scoring this season with 141 points (48-for-48 PATs, 31-for-39 FGs), three points more than runnerup Randy Moss.
On Seattle's defense, DE Patrick Kerney finished second in the NFL with 14.5 sacks and CB Marcus Trufant was tied for third with seven INTs. For Green Bay, DE Aaron Kampmann had 12 sacks.
These teams met four years earlier in the playoffs on "the Frozen Tundra." In the 2003 Wild Card Round, Green Bay held off Seattle in overtime, 33-27, in a game filled with the 300-yard passing of Favre and Hasselbeck, interspersed by the 1-yard TD runs of the Packers' Ahman Green (two) and the Seahawks' Alexander (three).
The Pack is 0-2 in the playoffs since that game and ready to make its first postseason appearance in three seasons. Of course, taking a longer view, there aren't many franchises more storied than Green Bay, which is 24-14 all-time in the postseason, including 9-5 from 1993-98, with two Super Bowl appearances and the win over New England in XXXI, when Holmgren was the coach.
The Seahawks' all-time playoff record is 7-9 and it's 4-5 in six appearances since 1999 under Holmgren, including the 21-10 loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL.
Green & White fans have had fond recent memories when it comes to these opponents. Since 1995 the Jets have beaten Green Bay three straight (last time: 38-10 at Lambeau in 2006) and Seattle five in a row (last time: 37-14 in 2004).
The Packers' starting SS is Atari Bigby, who was in the Jets' 2005 training camp. McCarthy's Green Bay staff includes secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer, who you might guess is related to Brian Schottenheimer, the Jets' OC. Kurt is Marty's brother and Brian's uncle.
Friday: The two Divisional Round games to be played Sunday