Newyorkjets.com is profiling each playoff game in this NFL postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Today: the NFL's Divisional Round games to be played Sunday afternoon:
(5) SEATTLE (12-5) at (1) ATLANTA (13-3), 1 p.m. ET, FOX
On the road against the NFC East-champion Redskins last Sunday, the Seahawks faced adversity, trailing, 14-0, just 12½ minutes into their NFC Wild Card Game. Never losing their composure, they scored 24 unanswered points to earn their 24-14 victory.
"It was only two touchdowns, but it's still a big comeback, and in this setting and the crowd, it's a marvelous statement about the guys' resolve and what is going on," coach Pete Carroll said. "It's not about how you start but how you finish."
Seattle's next challenge: the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons.
The Seahawks will have to find a way to win without DE Chris Clemons, their leader with 11.5 sacks this season who tore his ACL against the Redskins. Rookie DE Bruce Irvin will start in his place.
"It's a big loss for us in a lot of ways," Carroll said early this week. "Chris has been a great football player and just a symbol of consistency in the years that we've had him."
Seattle also will be without K Steven Hauschka, placed on IR after suffering a strained calf Sunday. To replace him the Seahawks signed 15-year veteran Ryan Longwell, who was born in Seattle and previously kicked with Green Bay and Minnesota.
This isn't the first time Atlanta has earned the NFC's top seed. The Falcons also did it in 2010, but were upset in the divisional round by the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers.
"We're a much more mature team because of our experiences," said head coach Mike Smith, whose Falcons won their first eight this season but dropped two of their last four. "I think you learn from your previous experiences in the playoffs. This is a team that has been very focused from the very beginning of the season and we've got a lot of guys who have experienced the playoff atmosphere."
Fifth-year QB Matt Ryan, 27, had the best regular season of his career, completing nearly 69 percent of his passes for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns. As Atlanta's starter, Ryan has 56 wins, the most in a player's first five NFL seasons. However, he's still aiming for his first playoff victory.
"Matt's had a great regular season for us," Smith said. "He's gotten the individual accolades. He's led our team through some tough ballgames and been able to pull them out. I think those experiences will help us in the postseason."
Ryan isn't the only talented Atlanta offensive playmaker. WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones are dangerous and so is 13-time Pro Bowl TE Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons offense ranked sixth in the NFL in yards and seventh in scoring (26.2 points/game). They'll match up against the league's fourth-ranked defense in Seattle, which features standout CBs Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.
Less than a week ago there were three rookie QBs in the playoffs. Now the only one left standing is Seattle's 5'11" Russell Wilson. The third-rounder out of Wisconsin threw his 27th touchdown pass in the wild-card game, breaking a tie with Peyton Manning for most TDs in a single season, including playoffs, by a rookie. Speaking with Atlanta reporters on a conference call this week, Wilson said he had high expectations for himself before the season began.
"I've always believed in myself," Wilson said. "That's what has allowed me to be successful and be where I am today. If I listened to everybody who said I can't do it, I can't play quarterback, I can't be a starting quarterback, I wouldn't be here."
The Seahawks will enter Sunday as winners of six straight and eight of their last nine. They began the season 1-5 away from CenturyLink Field, but have now won three straight on the road, rushing for an average of 223.3 yards in those contests. RB Marshawn Lynch, despite a lingering foot injury, has topped 100 yards in the Seahawks' last five games and tied the franchise playoff record with 132 rushing yards in the win over Washington.
"We haven't been as solid as we are now," Carroll said. "We're much more solid in our thinking and mentality and just the resolve about everything we're doing."
Seattle leads the all-time series between the teams, 8-5. The Falcons, however, have won the three most recent meetings (2011, 2010 and 2007). Sunday will mark the first time the franchises have ever faced off in the playoffs.
Atlanta was knocked out of the playoffs in the wild-card round a season ago by the eventual Super Bowl-champion Giants. Their last playoff victory came in the 2004 divisional round when they defeated the Rams, 47-17.
This is Seattle's first playoff appearance since 2010. That year the Seahawks upended the defending Super Bowl-champion Saints in the wild-card round. Their season came to an end the following week when they were eliminated by the Bears.
With Seattle's road win Sunday, they erased a streak of eight straight road playoff losses dating to 1983, when they defeated the Dolphins at Miami.
"It's pretty amazing to still be playing football right now," Seahawks FB Michael Robinson said. "It's not many teams that are doing it. We feel really honored to be in the position that we're in."
Both teams' all-time playoff records are below .500 and neither has ever won a Super Bowl. Seattle is 9-11 all-time in the postseason, while Atlanta is 6-11. The Seahawks advanced to SB XL but were defeated by Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. The Falcons reached SB XXXIII yet couldn't overcome QB John Elway and Denver.
Atlanta DE John Abraham was the Jets' first-round selection in 2000. He played five seasons with the Green & White and earned two Pro Bowl trips (2001, 2002). He tied the franchise record held by Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau with four sacks against the Saints on Nov. 4, 2001.
Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was the Jets' DC in 2000. D-line coach Ray Hamilton had two stints with the Green & White, in 1995-96 and again in 2000 as a member of Nolan's defensive staff.
Carroll was the Jets' defensive coordinator for four seasons (1990-93), then served as head coach in 1994. The Green & White got off to a 6-5 start that year but wouldn't win a game the rest of the way and after just one season Carroll was fired. Seahawks WRs coach Kippy Brown was the Jets' RBs coach for three seasons (1990-92).
Seattle RB Leon Washington was selected by the Jets in the fourth round in 2006 and spent his first four years in the league with the Green & White, setting three franchise records along the way — most kickoff return touchdowns in a career and in a season and most all-purpose yards in a season. He was traded to Seattle in April 2010 and has earned his second Pro Bowl invitation this season.
CB Marcus Trufant's brother Isaiah is a member of the Jets. The siblings faced off briefly against each other during Week 10 (Isaiah was hurt early in the Jets' 28-7 loss).
(3) HOUSTON (13-4) at (2) NEW ENGLAND (12-4), 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS
It would be heartening to Texans fans to note that the Patriots have not won a Super Bowl in VII seasons, that they lost home playoff games in 2009 and '10, that they still appear to be vulnerable to a top passer such as Matt Schaub, a top WR in Andre Johnson and a top RB in Arian Foster with the 25th-ranked defense in total yardage allowed and the No. 29 pass defense around.
But the Texans aren't kidding themselves. That fat 42-14 enchilada from five weeks ago is still deep in their gut, giving them and their followers lingering indigestion.
"We understand the challenge that we have," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. "That's what is awesome about this league — it's the ultimate challenge. The Patriots have been at this level for a long time. We had a rough trip up there last time, but we've earned our right to go back. We want to go back and play a lot better than we did last time."
Bill Belichick's and Tom Brady's Patriots rarely let their hair down about what they really think of an opponent. This one remains all about the business of getting back to the Big Dance, this time down in the Big Easy, and this time taking home one more pelt for the wall at One Patriot Place.
"It's meaningful for our whole team, what we're trying to accomplish," said Brady, who threw four touchdown passes in that Week 14 win. "You don't take these things for granted. It's a privilege to be in this position and to be one of the teams to have played well enough over the course of the year to deserve the first-round bye."
This section could be all about Super Tom. Brady completed 400-plus passes for the second straight season, had a 63.0%-plus accuracy for the sixth straight year, cleared 4,800 passing yards for the third time, and fired 34-plus TD passes for the fourth straight year and fifth all-time.
He led all NFL quarterbacks in the following drive categories: plays/drive (6.50), yards/drive (39.1), TDs/drive (33.3%), punts/drive (32.2%), 3-and-outs/drive (11.7%) and plays/offensive point (2.31).
He's one of five players to be named Super Bowl MVP multiple times (XXXVI and XXXVIII). His .727 postseason winning percentage (16-6) is third-best in league history behind Terry Bradshaw's .737 and Troy Aikman's .733, and he would at least temporarily climb over both to .739 with a win over the Texans.
But Brady certainly is in the crosshairs of DE J.J. Watt, whose 20.5 sacks made him only the fourth NFL pass rusher with 20-plus sacks in a season in the last 20 years.
The Patriots, with Brady primarily taking his pick from among WRs Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd and TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, led the league in points, total yards, first downs and third-down efficiency. They also had the NFL's No. 1 red zone offense with a 70.0% touchdown rate on 70 RZ visits. Houston's red zone defense is seventh at a 50.0% TD rate allowed. Their plus-25 is tied for the fifth-highest in the league since the 1970 merger.
However, Schaub, who posted his third 4,000-yard passing season, will be a protected by a Pro Bowl line — T Duane Brown, G Wade Smith and C Chris Myers all were voted to the AFC's all-star roster — to keep the likes of NT Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo at bay.
He'll be handing off to Foster, who achieved some nice milestones in the 19-13 wild-card win over Cincinnati, whose 140 rushing yards made him the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in his first three playoff games and gave him 425 rush yards for his career, most by a player in his first three postseason outings. And he'll be looking for Johnson, who in the 10th year of his distinguished NFL career posted an AFC-leading and career-high 1,598 receiving yards on 112 receptions.
It'll be Stephen Gostkowski vs. Shayne Graham on the kicking front. Gostkowski is 29-for-35 (82.9%) on his FG kicking this season, is 14-for-16 career in the postseason, and is 53-for-56 (94.6%) career in the fourth quarters of all games in his seven-year career. Think about it: Gostkowski's fourth-quarter FG accuracy is as good as some kickers' extra-point accuracy.
The Texans became the latest team to have a sensational season come to die at Gillette Stadium. They were 11-1 when they visited the 9-3 Pats on Monday night, Dec. 10. It wasn't close as New England opened leads of 28-0 in the third quarter and 42-7 in the final frame en route to their 42-14 romp. The Patriots are 3-1 alltime vs. the Texans and are 2-0 with an 80-21 points advantage at home.
The Patriots will be making their fourth straight playoff appearance, their ninth in the last 10 years, and their 10th in 13 seasons under Belichick's guidance. They won Super Bowls after the '01, '03 and '04 seasons and appeared in SB XLII and XLIV last year, losing both games to the Giants. Their playoff record during the Belichick/Brady era is 16-6 and 10-2 at home (the only losses coming against the Ravens in '09 and the Jets in '10). The franchise's alltime postseason record is 23-16.
The Texans, who are 11 years old, reached their first postseason last year and in that time are 2-1 in playoff games with two wild-card wins at their Reliant Stadium home and 0-1 on the road in last year's 20-13 division-round loss at Baltimore.
It hardly remains to be mentioned that Belichick was H.C. of the N.Y.J. for one day in 2000 before resigning, winding up in Foxboro, Mass., and building his dynasty. Among the coaches he brought with him back then were ex-Jets LB Pepper Johnson, who now is in his 26th season in the NFL and his 13th year on Belichick's coaching staff. Pepper is back coaching the New England LBs after eight years working with the D-line.
Danny Woodhead for many will always be the one the Jets let get away. They waived the 5'8" RB after the 2010 opener, the Patriots signed him four days later as a FA, and he's been a 5'8" sparkplug offensive role player ever since. This season he set career highs with 40 receptions, 446 receiving yards, four rushing TDs and seven total TDs. Former Jets CB/ST Marquice Cole played 14 games for the Patriots, starting in Game 15, then sitting out Game 16. He's limited this week with a finger injury.
Smith, Houston's Pro Bowl LG, played 21 games, primarily as a backup tackle, for the Jets in 2006-07. He started against the Jets on Oct. 8 when the Texans defeated the Jets at MetLife Stadium, 23-17, on Monday Night Football, and in fact has started every one of the Texans' 51 games since arriving in 2010 from Kansas City as an unrestricted FA.
Texans DBs coach Vance Joseph began his two-year NFL playing career with the Jets in 1995, when as an undrafted free agent out of Colorado he played in 13 games and started six games at RCB and had two interceptions. This is his second year coaching the Houston secondary. _RANDY LANGE