|Paul Connors / Associated Press|
|Charles Woodson helped contain Larry Fitzgerald last week, and he'll have to do it again if Green Bay is to advance.|
The interesting thing about looking at the key matchups in the first round of the playoffs is that these matchups have all taken place at least once already this season. With all four games being rematches of regular-season games -- including three games that took place just a few days ago and one, Philadelphia at Dallas, that will be the third go-round -- these are familiar foes.
An interesting note about home-field advantage in the first round of the postseason: It is not what it used to be. From 1999-2003, home teams in the first round of the playoffs were 16-4. But from 2004-2008, the home teams in this round are 10-10.
With only four games to examine, here are two key matchups per game:
N.Y. Jets (9-7) at Cincinnati (10-6)
These teams have met once before in the playoffs, when the Jets beat the Bengals, 44-17, after the strike-shortened 1982 season. The Jets made it to the AFC title game that season, losing to the Dolphins.
Jets CB Darrelle Revis vs.
Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco
Revis was selected as a starting corner for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, and deservedly so. No receiver has more than 35 yards against him this season. Receivers have a very hard time getting separation from him, and he is one of the NFL's leaders in passes defensed. He is a very good tackler, who plays with lots of toughness.
Ochocinco came out of last week's game because of injury, but he'll be ready to play Saturday. He has good height for the position, and plays much faster than his combine 40 speed of 4.56. He has long arms, big hands and great body control, allowing him to make unbelievable catches. He is a very good runner after the catch. Ochocinco is really the only receiving threat Cincinnati has, so he is constantly fighting double-teams. Still, he had 72 catches in 2009 for 1,047 yards and nine TDs. He's a six-time Pro Bowler.
Jets LB David Harris vs.
Bengals RB Ced Benson
Harris is battling an ankle injury, but the Jets need him to play and play well against Cincinnati's ninth-ranked rushing attack. Harris leads the Jets in tackles with 127, adding 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions for the season. He has outstanding instincts, is active and very aggressive. He is an exceptional tackler.
Benson did not play in Sunday's loss to the Jets, so he enters this game rested. He leads the team with 1,251 rushing yards (4.2 yards per carry), and has six TDs, and 17 receptions. He has been running hard all season and doing a much better job as a blocker in pass protection. He seems to be enjoying football more now than in previous years.
Philadelphia (11-5) at Dallas (11-5)
Having swept the Eagles in the regular season, history favors the Cowboys here. This will be the 20th time that teams are playing in the postseason after one team swept the other; in the previous 19 games, the team that was 2-0 during the season is 12-7.
These bitter NFC East rivals have met three times in the playoffs. Dallas leads, 2-1; the Eagles' win came in the 1980 NFC title game.
Eagles OLB Trent Cole vs.
Cowboys OT Flozell Adams
This is always a marquee matchup between two players who have been to the Pro Bowl. Cole is a relentless player both against the pass and run. He has 12.5 sacks. Cole has outstanding first-step quickness to go with good overall speed and strength. He loves to loop inside on his pass rush.
Adams has started 182 games for the Cowboys and has been known as Flozell the Hotel because of his massive frame. He is a very good athlete for his size, though, earning five trips to the Pro Bowl. He can be a dominant pass protector. He does have a slight hearing problem, which can lead to occasional false starts.
You can bet this will be a giant chess match between two smart young coaches. It's hard to figure out how much of the game plan will change in a short week, but I'm sure there will be some new wrinkles on both sides.
McDermott is in his first year as defensive coordinator for the Eagles, but he has been on the staff since 2000. He is one of the brightest young defensive coaches in the NFL. His job this week: Stop a Dallas offense that ran up 474 yards and held the ball for 40-plus minutes on his unit Sunday. The Eagles did not blitz a lot in last week's game, especially in the first half.
Under Garrett, the Cowboys average 399 yards per game on offense, second in the NFL. While Dallas had a lot on the line entering last week's game, it will be interesting to see if Garrett held back any plays once the Cowboys starting pulling away in the second half.
Baltimore (9-7) at New England (10-6)
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs.
Patriots LB Jerod Mayo
Rice is a second-year player, who has emerged as a matchup problem because of his speed and quickness. He's the leading rusher on the Ravens with 1,339 yards (5.3 yards per carry), and he is going to his first Pro Bowl. He also leads the team in receptions. He is a lot like Eagles RB Brian Westbrook in what he can do, creating havoc on draws and screens. He is very strong and does not go down easily. He has unbelievable quickness, will pass protect and can break a long play at any time. A runner with great vision, he had 11 carries for 103 yards earlier this season against New England.
Mayo is the leading tackler on a defense that ranks No. 5 in fewest points allowed. He put on a clinic two weeks ago vs. Jacksonville with 15 tackles, holding Maurice Jones-Drew to 3.5 yards per carry. He has good recognition and power. Mayo went through a slump after returning earlier this season from injury. He needs to stop Rice from making home-run plays.
Ravens S Ed Reed vs.
Patriots QB Tom Brady
After missing four games with an injury, Reed returned to action in Week 17 against the Raiders and had five tackles. Going to his sixth Pro Bowl, he is a dynamic free safety and one of the best safeties in the NFL when healthy. He sets the tone for Baltimore's defense. He is strong, makes big plays, has great anticipation and presents a terrific challenge to the Patriots passing attack.
Brady will be without main target Wes Welker, making this an even bigger challenge. The Ravens are a blitzing team and Brady does well vs. the blitz. He throws the deep ball with great accuracy. He's not real fast, has confidence in his ability to make big plays.
Green Bay (11-5) at Arizona (10-6)
Packers CB Charles Woodson vs.
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald
Woodson is having an All-Pro year and was named to his sixth Pro Bowl. He leads the NFL with nine interceptions, to go along with two sacks, four forced fumbles, and 18 passes defended. He has a very strong upper body and is very good at stripping the ball. He is the third-leading tackler on the NFL's second-ranked defense. It will be interesting to see what defensive coordinator Dom Capers saved for this week's rematch in terms of blitzes and coverages.
Fitzgerald leads the Cardinals with 97 receptions for 1,092 yards and 13 TDs. He has not made as many long plays as he has in previous years -- he is averaging almost 4 yards less per catch than his career average -- but don't forget what he did in the playoffs last year. He set a postseason record with 30 catches for 546 yards and seven touchdowns. The Cards need a big game from Fitzgerald, who was held to three catches for 17 yards in last week's loss. Fitzgerald has long arms, huge hands and ideal height for the position. He has great hand-eye coordination, helping him to make spectacular catches.
Packers TE Jermichael Finley vs.
Cardinals S Adrian Wilson
Finley is a second-year player, who is a matchup nightmare because of his size and speed and how they use him. Finley will line up tight or flexed out. The 22-year-old has 55 catches for five TDs, with a long play of 62 yards. He missed three full games this season, of which Green Bay lost two. He has the speed to run away from people, possesses very good hands and adjusts well to the ball on bad passes. He's also a good blocker. At 260 pounds, he just needs to gain more strength. He is getting better every week.
Wilson is a big, strong, physical safety. He has good speed and range for coverage. Selected for his third Pro Bowl as a strong safety, he is very good vs. the run and is an outstanding blitzer with great jumping ability. He has 74 tackles and five interceptions this season.