Everything you need to know as kickoff approaches...
Divisional Round injury reports
Kansas City Chiefs
OUT: G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (concussion), C Mitch Morse (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Tamba Hali (knee, thumb), LB Justin Houston (knee), WR Jeremy Maclin (ankle), RB Spencer Ware (ankle), WR Albert Wilson (hamstring)
PROBABLE: G Jeff Allen (thumb), G Zach Fulton (ankle), TE Travis Kelce (groin), LB Josh Mauga (ankle), T Jah Reid (knee)
The list of questionable players is scary for the Chiefs. Maclin would be a huge loss if he can't go after sitting out practice all week. Hali and Houston didn't look like themselves in last week's win. If either or both of the pass rushers miss the contest, Tom Brady's life will be much easier. Spencer Ware's injury flew under the radar this week. The Chiefs best back down the stretch this season was listed as full-go on Friday, a great sign for his availability.
New England Patriots
OUT: G Tre Jackson (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Danny Amendola (knee), TE Scott Chandler (knee), CB Justin Coleman (concussion), S Nate Ebner (hand), WR Julian Edelman (foot), LB Jonathan Freeny (hand, not injury related), TE Rob Gronkowski (knee, back), LB Dont'a Hightower (knee), DE Chandler Jones (abdomen, toe), DE Rob Ninkovich (shin), T Sebastian Vollmer (ankle), T LaAdrian Waddle (shoulder)
PROBABLE: QB Tom Brady (ankle), G Josh Kline (shoulder), WR Brandon LaFell (foot), S Devin McCourty (ankle)
Gronk is expected to play, per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, despite missing practices this week. Amendola and Edelman are both expected to play. Vollmer's availability could be key against a good Chiefs pass rush.
Green Bay Packers
OUT: WR Davante Adams (knee), TE Andrew Quarless (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Quinten Rollins (quadricep), CB Sam Shields (concussion)
PROBABLE: T David Bakhtiari (ankle), DT Mike Daniels (hamstring), LB Jay Elliott (quadricep), DE Datone Jones (neck), RB Eddie Lacy (rib), G T.J. Lang (calf), LB Mike Neal (hip), TE Justin Perillo (hamstring), TE Richard Rodgers (hip), G Josh Sitton (back)
With Adams out, Jared Abbrederis will be counted on to step up in the Packers' receiving corps. Getting left tackle David Bakhtiari back would be a huge boon for Aaron Rodgers. The blind side blocker did not play in the first meeting against the Cardinals.
QUESTIONABLE: DT Josh Mauro (calf), DT Frostee Rucker (ankle)
PROBABLE: LB Markus Golden (knee), G Mike Iupati (shoulder), QB Carson Palmer (right finger)
The Cards are about as healthy a bunch as you could hope for at this stage of the season.
DOUBTFUL: RB Will Tukuafu (hamstring)
PROBABLE: DE Michael Bennett (toe), RB Marshawn Lynch (abdomen), TE Luke Willson (concussion)
It appears we will finally have all systems go on Beast Mode after the running back missed the past eight games.
Ginn popped up on the injury report Friday, which is usually a bad sign. However, the receiver insisted he plans to play Sunday despite a sore knee.
Brown not playing is a massive, massive, massive loss for the Steelers. On a positive note, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman filled in well for Williams last week -- they'll be called on heavily again. Big Ben, meanwhile, was listed as a full participant in practice on Friday. It should surprise no one when he plays Sunday.
QUESTIONABLE: QB Brock Osweiler (knee)
PROBABLE: TE Owen Daniels (knee, knee), LB Todd Davis (shoulder), G Max Garcia (groin), CB Chris Harris (shoulder), DE Malik Jackson (illness), QB Peyton Manning (foot), LB Brandon Marshall (ankle), LB Von Miller (illness), G Robert Myers (illness), S Darian Stewart (hamstring), RB Juwan Thompson (illness), S T.J. Ward (ankle), LB DeMarcus Ware (knee)
We will update as prognostications drift closer to game times.
Chiefs at Patriots -- 42 degrees / Rain (93 percent chance) winds up to 16 MPH
Packers at Cardinals (retractable roof) -- 61 degrees
Seahawks at Panthers -- 43 degrees / Slight chance of rain (23 percent)
Steelers at Broncos -- 40 degrees / Slight chance of rain (14 percent)
*Forecasts courtesy of AccuWeather.com
Matchups that intrigue
The Cardinals blitzed on 44.5 percent of opponents' passing plays in 2015, the highest frequency in the league. Employing sticky corners who can win man-to-man battles, Arizona is fearless in bringing extra men after the quarterback. In the first meeting versus the Packers, the Cards blitzed often and walloped Rodgers to the tune of eight sacks. Expect more of the same Saturday night. The Packers didn't just struggle against the blitz versus Arizona this year, it's been a chronic problem. Rodgers' 82.4 passer rating versus the blitz this season was the lowest of his career and ranked 24th in the NFL. With one of the slowest group of pass catchers in the NFL struggling to get separation, it could be another struggle for the Pack versus heavy pressure.
The Patriots sorely missed Edelman's presence the final seven weeks of the season. With the receiver in the lineup in the first nine games, New England scored 33.7 points per contest. Sans Edelman, that number dropped to 23.1 points per game. With the wideout expected to return, it gives Tom Brady a pass catcher on the outside who can consistently win one-on-one matchups. The perception that Edelman is primarily a slot receiver is faulty. Pro Football Focus charted the receiver lining up in the slot on just 51.2 percent of his routes this season. When Edelman is lined up on the outside against rookie Marcus Peters -- who defended the slot just 4.6 percent of the time -- we could be in for fireworks. Peters enjoyed a phenomenal rookie season (and should win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award), but Edelman is a master off the line of scrimmage. Peters has been susceptible to getting beat deep, but if he plays off Edelman too much Saturday, the Pats wideout could eat him alive.
Carolina boasts the most diverse set of run schemes in the NFL to pound defenses into submission. With Jonathan Stewart returning, the Panthers ground attack -- which owns a streak of 27 straight games with 100-plus rushing yards -- will be a full force. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula does a masterful job using Cam Newton's ability to run between the tackles to keep defenses off balance and the Panthers' zone-read is a pick-your-poison menace. Sunday they face the NFL's No. 1 ranked run defense. The Seahawks allow just 81.5 yards per game on the ground. In the first meeting this season, Seattle held Stewart to 78 yards on 20 carries and Newton to just 30 yards on the ground. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril have wrecked havoc on offensive lines this season, ruining run plays from the snaps. If the Seahawks are in the backfield often against a good Panthers offensive line, if will discombobulate Carolina's potent rush assault.
In the first meeting against the Steelers, Anderson and Hillman combined for just 62 rushing yards. Expect that to change Sunday. We still don't know how well Peyton Manning will be able to throw the ball -- he had just nine attempts in his Week 17 appearance -- meaning the Broncos will need to rely on the ground game early. Anderson had just four carries in the Week 15 matchup with Pittsburgh. That needs to change Sunday. When C.J. is plowing downhill, it opens up Denver's entire offense and takes pressure of Manning. It won't be easy sledding against a stout Steelers defensive front, led by Cameron Heyward. Pittsburgh allowed just 91.2 rush yards per game this season (5th in the NFL) and only 88.5 rush yards per game in their last two contests -- including just 78 combined rushing yards to the Bengals' top two backs last weekend. With questions at quarterback on both sides in this matchup, the team that wins the rushing battle will have the upper hand in what could be a slugfest.
Did You Know?
Two of the 13 teams that have never won a Super Bowl are still alive in the playoffs this season: Cardinals, Panthers.
Five of the eight teams playing in the Divisional Round this season were also in the divisional round last season: CAR, DEN, GB, NE, SEA
- Seven of the eight teams playing in the Divisional Round this season were also in the playoffs last season: ARI, CAR, DEN, GB, NE, PIT, SEA. Kansas City was the only team not in the 2014 playoffs.
Nine of the last 14 Super Bowls were won by a QB currently in the playoffs this season:
2014 PatriotsTom Brady*
2013 SeahawksRussell Wilson*
2012 RavensJoe Flacco
2011 GiantsEli Manning
2010 PackersAaron Rodgers*
2009 SaintsDrew Brees
2008 SteelersBen Roethlisberger*
2007 GiantsEli Manning
2006 ColtsPeyton Manning*
2005 SteelersBen Roethlisberger*
2004 PatriotsTom Brady*
2003 PatriotsTom Brady*
2002 Buccaneers Brad Johnson
2001 PatriotsTom Brady*
*Still in playoffs
The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs has the most meaningful home field advantage of any round of the postseason of the four major US sports (in current playoff formats): NFL Divisional Playoffs 73-27 .730; NBA Conference Semifinals 482-242 .666; MLB World Series 68-46 .596; NHL Stanley Cup Finals 72-50 .590.
Fewest 1,000-plus Yard Rushers In Divisional Round, Since 1970 (excludes strike-shortened seasons
6 Seasons Tied 3
The Chiefs have won 11 straight overall. Since Week 12, the Patriots are 2-4. The Chiefs defense is allowing 12.7 PPG in its last seven games, while the Patriots are allowing 22.2 PPG since Week 12. Only one team in NFL history has won the Super Bowl after finishing 2-4 in its final 6 games: the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.
Kansas City has outscored their opponents 308-128 during the 11-game winning streak, with a +20 turnover differential in that span.
The Chiefs offense ranked 9th in PPG (25.3) during the 2015 season, but only 27th in total YPG (331.2). Chiefs had 15 giveaways this season (2nd-fewest in NFL) and 19 rush TD this season (T-most in NFL with BUF and CAR). Chiefs were 10-3 when rushing for 100-plus yards this season. Ranked 6th in the NFL in rushing YPG (127.8) and 30th in pass YPG (203.4).
Alex Smith has 10 TD and 1 INT in his playoff career. Among all players to throw at least 125-plus passes in the playoffs, Smith has the highest passer rating in NFL history (107.0). He ranks ahead of Bart Starr (104.8), Kurt Warner (102.8) and Drew Brees (100.7).
Smith averaged 6.7 air yards per attempt this season, the second fewest in NFL (Matthew Stafford, 6.5). 84.0 percent of Smith's pass attempts were less than 15 air yards this season - second highest percent in NFL (Matthew Stafford, 84.5 percent). 19.6 percent of Smith's pass attempts have been behind the line of scrimmage this season -- 2nd-highest percent in NFL (Nick Foles, 23.4 percent)
Spencer Ware, Season: 72 rush, 403 yards, 6 TD (5.6 yards per rush). Wild Card: 16 carries, 67 yards, 1 TD.
Charcandrick West, Season: 160 carries, 634 yards, 4 TD (4.0 yards per rush). Wild Card: 8 carries, 26 yards; 1 reception, 9 yards.
Jeremy Maclin (Questionable, ankle) had more receiving yards (1,088) and TDs (8) than all other Chiefs WR combined (909 yards and 4 TDs) this season. Maclin accounted for 31.2 percent of all Chiefs receiving yards this season and accounted for 54.5 percent of all receiving yards this season by all Chiefs WRs.
Chris Conley, Wild Card: 1 reception, 9 yards, TD -- 2nd receiving touchdown this season (Week 7 vs PIT).
Travis Kelce gobbled up 128 receiving yards in the Chiefs' Wild Card win at Houston. That's the 3rd-most for a Chiefs player in a playoff game, behind only Dwayne Bowe (150 in 2013 vs IND) and Stephone Paige (142 in 1990 vs MIA). Chiefs great Tony Gonzalez never had more than 55 receiving yards in a playoff game with KC. Alex Smith had a 107.9 passer rating when targeting Kelce this season -- 4th-best among TEs.
KC has not allowed more than 22 points in a game since Week 4 at CIN -- 13 straight games allowing 22 points or less.
Chiefs defensive ranks since Week 7 (including playoffs): 1st in the NFL in PPG (11.6); T-1st in takeaways (28); 2nd in pass YPG (195.5); 4th in total YPG (296.2).
Justin Houston, Season: 7.5 sacks, 2 INT, 13 QB hits (Missed 5 games, knee). Wild Card: 3 tackles, 1 QB hit -- returned for playoffs after missing the final five games of the season with a knee injury.
Since their 27-point loss at K.C. last season, the Patriots have a league-best 25-6 record, including their playoff run to Super Bowl XLIX, while averaging 31.0 PPG.
When Tom Brady takes the field Saturday, he will tie Adam Vinatieri for the most postseason games played in NFL history with 30. He is currently tied with Jerry Rice for second, with 29 games played. Brady has won 21 playoff games in his career -- five more than any other quarterback. Joe Montana is second on the list with 16 playoff wins. Brady also has the most passing yards (7,345) and TD passes (53) in NFL postseason history.
Tom Brady: 64.4 comp pct, 4,770 yards, 36 TD, 7 INT, 102.2 passer rating. Brady led the NFL with 36 TD passes this season -- 4th season of his career with 35-plus pass TD.
The Patriots offense has suffered since Julian Edelman broke his foot in Week 10 against the Giants. New England scored 33.7 PPG in its first nine games, which has dropped to 23.1 PPG in its final seven games. The Patriots averaged more passing YPG (325.9) in their first nine games than total YPG in their final seven contests (317.6).
Brady's numbers have also gone down since Edelman left the lineup with his broken foot. Brady threw 24 TD and 3 INT in the Patriots' first nine games this season, but had just 12 TD with 4 INT in his final seven. His passer rating was 111.1 during the first nine games, but has dropped to 89.1 in the final seven games.
New England has started 13 different offensive line combinations this season, five more than any other team in the NFL. In fact, the Patriots' 13 starting offensive line combinations are the most of any team since at least 1993 (as far back as STATS can check).
Brady was hit more times (95) and hurried more times (96) than in any other season since returning from his knee injury in 2009.
Rob Gronkowski was responsible for the fourth-highest passer rating of any player when targeted this season (120.0). The only players he was behind were Doug Baldwin (139.9), Jordan Reed (129.0) and Sammy Watkins (122.2).
Gronk has 37 receptions for 527 yards and 6 TDs in his eight career playoff games. All six of his TD have come in the Patriots two Super Bowl runs (3 in 2011, 3 in 2014).
Steven Jackson: 21 rush, 50 yards, TD (2 games). First time appearing in playoffs since rookie season of 2004 with Rams. Two career playoff games: 19 rush, 68 yards, 0 TD (3.6 yards per rush). Jackson is the 18th leading rusher in NFL history (11,438 yards).
Patriots notable 2015 defensive ranks: 9th in total YPG (339.4); 9th in rush YPG (98.8); 10th in PPG (19.7); 17th in pass YPG (240.7).
Chandler Jones (12.5) and Jabaal Sheard combined for 20.5 sacks this season. That was good for the fourth-highest total among teammates this season.
Stephen Gostkowski has nine career game-winning FGs in 4th quarter/OT (including playoffs), the most among all remaining kickers in playoffs (CAR Graham Gano 2nd with 8).
Under the radar players to watch:
Chiefs WR Chris Conley: With Maclin and Wilson both questionable, Conley should play a key role. The 6-foot-2 rookie had a touchdown snag in the Wild Card win. Even if Maclin plays, Bill Belichick is the best at taking away an offense's No. 1 option, meaning Conley will be counted on if the Chiefs are to move the ball through the air.
Patriots DE Jabaal Sheard: It feels like no Pats player truly flies under the radar, but Sheard is a good bet to wreck havoc Saturday. The pass rusher compiled eight sacks on the season. One of the best offseason signings of 2015 will play a huge role corralling the elusive Alex Smith.
Saturday's tussle is a rematch from Week 16, when the Cardinals handed Aaron Rodgers the worst loss of his career -- a 38-8 drubbing. The Cardinals sacked Rodgers eight times and the Packers generated just 178 yards of offense in the loss.
Rodgers has a couple of streaks he'd like to break on Saturday night. Rodgers has gone nine straight games without throwing 3-plus TD passes, the longest such drought of his career. He's also gone 11 straight games without posting a passer rating of 100-plus, also the longest such drought of his career. Rodgers has fewer than 275 passing yards in eight straight games (including playoffs).
Aaron Rodgers: 60.7 comp pct, 238.8 YPG, 31 TD, 8 INT, 92.7 passer rating. Rodgers finished the season with his first sub-100 passer rating in a season since 2008, his first year as starter. His 92.7 passer rating in 2015 was the lowest of his career as a starter. His 238.8 YPG is also a career worst as a starter.
Since 2012, Rodgers has 12 TDs on "free plays" due to offsides or encroachment penalties. The next closest quarterbacks have three (4 QBs). The Cardinals committed 11 defensive offside/encroachment penalties in 2015 -- T-11th Most in NFL.
Rodgers was hit 101 times this season (most in season in his career). The Packers allowed 47 sacks this season (28th in NFL). From Week 9-Week 17, no team has allowed more sacks than GB (33); Rodgers has been hit 72 times in that span. GB allowed one sack in Wild Card at WAS.
Rodgers is 7-2 in the postseason when sacked 3-or-fewer times and 0-3 in the postseason when sacked four or more times.
Eddie Lacy, Season: 187 carries, 758 rush yards (4.1 avg.), 3 TDs. Wild Card at WAS: 12 carries, 63 rushing yards, rush TD, Lost fumble -- 1st career postseason rush TD.
James Starks, Season: 148 carries, 601 yards (4.1 avg.), 2 TD. Wild Card at WAS: 12 carries, 53 yards, rush TD; 2 receptions, 12 receiving yards.
Randall Cobb hasn't had a 100-yard receiving game since Week 2. His current drought of 15 games is the longest of his career since his first 21 games. Wild Card at WAS: 3 receptions, 38 yards, TD; 5 carries, 24 yards (career-high rush attempts). Week 16 at ARI: 3 receptions, 15 receiving yards.
James Jones, Season: 50 receptions, 890 yards (career-high), 8 TDs. Five of Aaron Rodgers eight INTs were when targeting Jones this season. Two receiving TD in last 11 games (including postseason). Wild Card at WAS: 7 receptions, 81 yards. Week 16 at ARI: 5 receptions, 46 yards
James Jones with Hoodie (5 games since Week 11): 5.3 receptions per game; 78.2 receiving YPG; 2 TDs; 2 100-yard games
James Jones without Hoodie: 2.3 receptions per game; 45.6 receiving YPG; 6 TDs; 1 100-yard games.
The Green Bay defense allowed 227.6 pass YPG defense in regular season (6th in NFL). Allowed 100-plus rush yards in last six regular season games -- allowed 84 rush yards to WAS in Wild Card.
The Cardinals are 4-0 in home playoff games all-time, making them the only current NFL franchise never to taste a postseason defeat at home.
The Cards are 12-0 this season when they score 23-plus points, and just 1-3 when they score fewer than 23 points. For the running game, the magic number is 115. Arizona is 10-0 when they rush for 115-plus yards this season, and just 3-3 when they rush for fewer than 115 yards. They're 11-0 this season when Carson Palmer posts a passer rating of 100-plus and 2-3 when his passer rating is below 100.
Cardinals offensive ranks: 1st in total YPG (408.3), yards per play (6.3), yards per pass attempt (8.5), 10-plus yard plays (255), three-and-out percent (14.5); 2nd in PPG (30.6), pass YPG (288.5); 3rd in third down percent (47.0).
Carson Palmer: 63.7 comp pct, 291.9 pass YPG, 35 TD, 11 INT, 104.6 passer rating. 0-2 in postseason appearances.
David Johnson: 125 carries, 581 yards, 8 TDs; 36 receptions, 457 yards, 4 TDs. Among all players to make at least four starts, Johnson's 131.6 scrimmage yards per start was tops in the league.
Larry Fitzgerald: 109 receptions, 1,215 receiving yards, 9 TDs -- T-5th in NFL in receptions, 9th in NFL in receiving yards. Since 1991, his 105.1 receiving yards per game average in the playoffs is best in the NFL among players with at least five games played. set several single-season postseason records in 2008 with the Cardinals, including most receptions (30), most receiving yards (546), and most TD receptions (7).
Michael Floyd: 52 receptions, 849 receiving yards, 6 TD this season 126. Five 100-yard receiving games in last eight games (6 in previous 55 games). First five games this season: 8 receptions, 104 yards, 0 TD; Last 9 games: 43 receptions, 745 yards, 6 TD. Week 16 vs. GB: 6 receptions, 111 yards.
John Brown: 65 receptions, 1,003 receiving yards, 7 TD -- All career-highs. Week 16 vs. GB: 3 receptions, 25 yards, 1 TD.
Cardinals notable defensive ranks: 2nd in takeaways (33); 5th in total YPG allowed (321.7); 6th in rush YPG (91.3); T-7th in PPG (19.6); 8th in pass YPG (230.4) and third down percent (35.7).
The Cardinals blitz on 44.5 percent of opponents' passing plays, the highest frequency in the league. Rodgers owns an 82.4 passer rating versus the blitz this season, the lowest of his career and ranks 24th in the league.
The Cardinals have only allowed two 100-yard rushers this season: Todd Gurley in Week 4 and Christine Michael in Week 17. The Cardinals lost both of those games.
Patrick Peterson: 2 INT, 1 forced fumble, 8 passed defensed. Peterson allowed a 45.6 passer rating in coverage this season, best in the NFL among all CBs with 40 targets.
Dwight Freeney led team with 8.0 sacks this season -- Signed Oct. 13, did not play for ARI until Week 6. Week 16 vs. GB: 3.0 sacks.
Under the radar players to watch:
Packers WR Jared Abbrederis: Someone has to catch the ball if the Packers are to flip the fortunes of their previous meetings with the Cards. Arizona boasts a sticky group of corners to take away the likes of Jones and Cobb, meaning Abbrederis should see plenty of targets. Plus, we need Al Michaels explaining the wideout's "Magic" nickname in prime time.
Cardinals OLB Markus Golden: The rookie pass rusher will have plenty of opportunities to take down Aaron Rodgers against a middling Packers offensive line. With the focus on Dwight Freeney and Calais Campbell, Golden should exploit one-on-one matchups.
In their five head-to-head meetings since 2012, Seattle and Carolina have averaged a combined total of 33.4 PPG (SEA 19.0, CAR 14.4). Three of the five games were won by a team with less than 20 points.
This game features a matchup of the NFL's No. 1 scoring offense (CAR, 31.3 PPG) against the No. 1 scoring defense (SEA, 17.3 PPG) from the regular season. The No. 1 defense has won eight of 13 such playoff matchups in the Super Bowl era, including seven of the last 10.
A victory on Sunday would give the Seahawks their first back-to-back road playoff wins in franchise history.
The Seahawks were the only team to rank Top 5 in total offense (4th), scoring offense (T-4th), total defense (2nd), and scoring defense (1st) this season.
When facing an opponent for the second or third time within a season (as he will do in the Divisional Round), Russell Wilson has a record of 14-3, with 26 TDs and 12 INTs. Wilson's career-best playoff game came the last time he faced the Panthers in the postseason. Wilson had 3 TD, 0 INT, and a passer rating of 149.2 (all career bests) in the 31-17 Divisional Round victory.
Russell Wilson, season: 68.1 comp pct, 251.5 YPG, 34 TD, 8 INT, 110.1 passer rating; 34.6 rush YPG, 1 rush TD, 5.4 yards/carry. Last 3 playoff games: 4 TDs, 6 INTs, 62.3 passer rating. This season, Wilson led all QBs in pass yards/att, TD passes and passer rating when throwing 10-plus air yard passes. Completed just 3/10 passes of 10-plus air yards with 18.3 passer rating in Wild Card game at MIN
Seahawks allowed 46 sacks this season (T-6th most in NFL). Seahawks allowed multiple sacks in 13 of 16 games this season. Wilson took 109 QB hits this season (most in NFL). Wilson was hit six times and sacked twice at MIN in the Wild Card round. Wilson was hit seven times and sacked four times versus CAR in Week 6.
Wilson had a passer rating of 121.1 versus the blitz this season -- highest in NFL this season. The Panthers blitzed on 25.9 percent of pass plays (16th-most in NFL).
Marshawn Lynch is hoping to return to action after missing the last eight games with an abdomen injury. Among all players with 5-plus playoff starts, only four players in NFL history have averaged more rushing YPG in the playoffs than Lynch (91.7): Terrell Davis, John Riggins, Eric Dickerson, and Emmitt Smith.
Doug Baldwin: 78 receptions, 1,069 yards, 14 TD. Led Seahawks in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving TDs. Baldwin was responsible for the NFL's top passer rating when targeted this regular season (139.9). Wild Card Rd at MIN: 5 receptions, 42 receiving yards, 1 TD.
The Seahawks defense did not fare well against upper-echelon tight ends this season. Tyler Eifert, Gary Barnidge, and Greg Olsen combined for 18 receptions, 250 receiving yards, and 4 touchdowns in their three games versus Seattle. Olsen had 7 receptions for 131 yards, 1 TD in Week 6 against the Seahawks. It was the 2nd-most receiving yards by any player against the Seahawks this season, and highest yardage total ever compiled by a tight end against the Seahawks in the Pete Carroll era (since 2010).
The Seahawks played four games against Top 5 scoring offenses this year, going 2-2 and surrendering 25.5 points per game and 401.0 yards per game.
Michael Bennett led the Seahawks with 10.0 sacks and 30 QB hits this season. First career season with double-digit sacks. Wild Card at MIN: 3 tackles, 1 QB hit.
Richard Sherman: 2 INT, 14 passes defensed (led team) this season. Allowed 4 TDs in coverage this season. Allowed 84.3 passer rating in coverage this season (45th in NFL among all cornerbacks with at least 40 defensive targets). Since 1995, only one player has allowed a lower passer rating in the playoffs than Sherman (18.4), min. 25 targets -- Ashley Ambrose (18.2).
The game will kick off at 1:05 p.m. Eastern time, 10:05 a.m. Pacific. The Seahawks are 9-9 (.500) in games played at 10 a.m. Pacific time since 2012, including the playoffs. They are 44-11 (.800) in all other games.
The Panthers went 8-0 at home this season, and have won 11 consecutive home games dating back to 2014 (including playoffs). There have been 23 other teams to finish a season unbeaten at home and then earn the No. 1 seed to gain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. 8 of those 23 teams (34.8 percent) lost their first playoff game.
Panthers had the NFL's best record this season (15-1). None of the last eight teams to finish with the NFL's best record outright (no other teams tied) won the Super Bowl.
Carolina is 1-5 after a bye week in the Cam Newton era, including playoffs (only win came in 2015 over SEA).
The Panthers went 4-0 against playoff teams this season. Beat HOU (Wk 2), SEA (Wk 6), GB (Wk 9), and WAS (Wk 11).
The Carolina offense compiled 500 points scored this season, most in NFL this season -- most in a single season in Panthers history. Scored 30-plus points in eight of 16 games this season (2nd-most in NFL) and 30-plus points in six of last seven games.
27 straight games with 100-plus rushing yards (longest active streak in NFL).
The Panthers only faced one team with a Top 5 scoring defense this season. Week 6 at Seattle: 27 points scored, 383 total yards, 135 rushing yards, 248 passing yards, 2 giveaways.
Cam Newton: 59.8 comp pct, 239.8 pass YPG, 35 TD, 10 INT, 99.4 passer rating; 132 carries, 636 rush yards, 10 rush TD. Newton had the most combined pass and rush TD in the NFL this season (45). Only player in NFL history with 35-plus pass TD and 10-plus rush TD in a season. Newton has 21 TDs, 1 INT in his last eight games (117.2 passer rating).
Cam Newton is 1-4 in his career against the Seahawks, with 4 TDs and 5 INTs. His passer rating of 71.5 is his lowest against any team that he has faced at least three times.
Jonathan Stewart: 242 carries, 989 yards, 6 rush TD. Panthers went 13-0 when Jonathan Stewart played this season. Five career games versus Seahawks: 67.0 rush YPG, 3 TD. Zero 100-yard rushing games. Week 6 at SEA: 20 carries, 78 yards, 2 TDs.
Greg Olsen: 77 receptions, 1,104 yards, 7 TD. One of seven tight ends in NFL history to record back-to-back seasons with 1,000-plus receiving yards.
Ted Ginn Jr.: 44 receptions, 739 yards, 10 TD -- career highs in receiving yards and receiving TD. Four games with multiple receiving touchdowns this season. First Panthers receiver with 10 TDs in a season since Steve Smith Sr. in 2005 (12 TD). Playoffs (7 games): 11 receptions, 156 yards, 0 TDs.
Panthers notable defensive ranks: 1st in takeaways (39); 4th in rush YPG allowed (88.4); 6th in PPG (19.3), total YPG (322.9) and sacks (44); 11th in pass YPG (234.5).
Kawann Short: 55 tackles, 11.0 sacks, 16 TFL, 18 QB hits -- T-Most sacks of any DT this season (Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins). Set CAR record for single season sacks by a DT. Week 6 at SEA: 6 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 2 QB hits.
Josh Norman: 4 INT, 18 passes defensed, 60.9 passer rating allowed -- 15th lowest passer rating allowed among all CBs (min. 40 targets). Allowed 2 TD in coverage this season.
Under the radar players to watch:
Seahawks CB Jeremy Lane: Lane's return to the lineup helped solidify Seattle's secondary down the stretch. Lane provides an athletic defensive back who can match up with Panthers receivers opposite Richard Sherman and win at the point of the catch against the likes of Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn Jr. (questionable).
Panthers TE Ed Dickson: Dickson is a very sneaky choice here. After the Seahawks got burned by Greg Olsen in the first meeting, Seattle will attempt to blanket the top tight end. If the Panthers go with multiple two-tight end packages, Dickson could be the TE to burn the Seahawks this time around.
The Steelers are 5-0 as No. 6 seed in AFC with Ben Roethlisberger. Only other time PIT has been the No. 6 seed with Roethlisberger as QB was 2005 (PIT won 3-straight road games and then won Super Bowl XL).
The Steelers are averaging 7.1 more PPG in games Roethlisberger plays this season, including playoffs.
Roethlisberger's 328.2 passing yards per game in the regular season was the third-most passing yards per game in any season in NFL history. Wild card at CIN: 18/31, 229 pass yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 92.0 passer rating.
Roethlisberger averaged just 1.7 air yards per attempt after returning from injury in the final drive at CIN in the Wild Card round -- averaged 10.1 air yards per attempt in the regular season (4th-most in NFL).
Missing Antonio Brown (OUT, concussion) is a huge loss. In Week 15 versus the Broncos, Brown complied 18 targets, 16 receptions, 189 yards and 2 TDs. Next Gen Stats charted Brown for 13 receptions (on 15 targets), for 147 receiving yards and 2 TDs when covered by Broncos corner Chris Harris Jr.
Martavis Bryant: 50 receptions, 765 yards, 6 TDs (11 games). Wild Card at CIN: 5 receptions, 29 yards, TD; 1 rush, 44 yards -- TD snapped a 4-game stretch without a TD. Week 15 vs DEN: 10 receptions, 87 receiving yards.
Steelers had 167 rushing yards in Wild Card at CIN -- had 163 rushing yards from Weeks 15-17 combined.
Fitzgerald Toussaint, Wild Card at CIN: 17 carries, 58 rush yards; 4 receptions, 60 receiving yds. First Steelers player with 50-plus rush yards and 50-plus receiving yards in a playoff game since Merril Hoge in a 1989 Divisional Game at DEN.
Antonio Brown and DeAngleo Williams are already rule out. Should Roethlisberger (questionable) not play, Pittsburgh would be the second team in the Super Bowl era to play a playoff game without their leading passer, rusher, and receiver from the regular season. The 1979 Oilers actually won their Divisional Round game over the Chargers despite missing QB Dan Pastorini, RB Earl Campbell, and WR Ken Burrough.
The Steelers defense allowed a franchise-worst 271.9 passing yards per game this season and allowed the second-most total YPG (363.1) in franchise history. PIT is allowing only 14.0 PPG in their last two games and have allowed more than 20 points only once in their last six games.
Ryan Shazier, season: 87 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 8 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles. Wild Card at CIN: 13 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB hit, 2 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery.
Pittsburgh is 11-2 this season (including playoffs) when they force at least one turnover, and 0-4 when they do not. The Broncos haven't done well taking care of the football this season (31 giveaways).
Broncos notable offensive rankings: 19th in total YPG (345.7); 20th in PPG (21.9); 24th in yards/play (5.2); T-25th in giveaways (26); 28th in third down percent (34.7).
Peyton Manning has led his team to the playoffs 14 times, but he's lost his first playoff game nine time -- more than double the several QBs tied for second-most "one-and-done" playoffs (4). If Manning beats the Steelers on Sunday, he'll be the 2nd-oldest QB (39 years, 300 days) to win a playoff game, trailing only Brett Favre (who won a playoff game in 2009 at age 40).
Manning is the only QB with 20-plus postseason starts to be under .500 (since 1950):
Tom Brady 21-8 .724
Joe Montana 16-7 .696
John Elway 14-7 .667
Brett Favre 13-11 .542
Peyton Manning 11-13 .458
Peyton Manning missed 6 games due to injury this season, yet he still had the second-most interceptions in the league with 17 (Blake Bortles, 18).
Ronnie Hillman, Season: 207 carries, 863 yards (4.2 avg), 7 TD. Four 100-yard rushing games this season. Week 15 at PIT: 14 carries, 48 rushing yards.
C.J. Anderson, Season: 152 carries, 720 yards (4.7 avg), 5 TD. Averaging 6.4 yards/carry since Week 8 (most in NFL, min 80 carries) and averaged 2.7 yards/carry in Weeks 1-7. Week 15 at PIT: 4 carries, 14 yards.
Demaryius Thomas, Season: 105 receptions, 1,304 yards, 6 TDs. One 100-yard game in his last nine contests. Thomas has more receptions/game and YPG with Manning starting this season:
With Manning: 9 games; 11.4 targets/game; 7.6 receptions/game; 90.7 receiving YPG; 1 TD
With Osweiler: 7 games; 10.6 targets/game; 5.3 receptions/game; 69.7 receiving YPG; 5 TDs
Emmanuel Sanders, Season: 76 receptions, 1,135 yards, 6 TDs. Week 15 at PIT: 16 targets, 10 receptions, 181 yards (career-high yards) -- season-high in targets, receptions, and receiving yards.
Broncos defensive ranks: 1st in total YPG allowed (283.1), pass YPG (199.6), yards per play (4.4) and sacks (52); 3rd in rush YPG (83.6); 4th in PPG (17.3).
The Broncos were the only team to average fewer than 200 passing yards per game in 2015. Only one quarterback threw for 300-plus yards on the Broncos this season, and Denver's defense only allowed 30-plus points in one game: Week 15 against Roethlisberger (380 pass yards) and the Steelers (34 points).
Week 15 at PIT: Allowed 377 total yards (354 passing, 23 rushing). Most total yards allowed by DEN this season. Most pass yards allowed to a team by DEN this season. Fewest rush yards allowed by DEN this season.
Von Miller led the Broncos with 11.0 sacks and 32 QB hits this season. 60 career sacks is 6th-most (since 1982) in a player's first six seasons. Week 15 at PIT: 0 tackles, 0 sacks, 1 QB hit.
DeMarcus Ware, Season: 7.5 sacks, 16 QB hits (11 games). Most career sacks (134.5) by any player who has never played in a Conference Championship game.
Chris Harris Jr., Season: 2 INTs, 6 passes defensed. 80.2 passer rating allowed (37th in NFL among CBs). Allowed a passer rating of 147.1 in Week 15 versus Antonio Brown. Allowed a passer rating of 60.7 versus the rest of the NFL.
Under the radar players to watch:
Steelers WR Darrius Heyward-Bey: With Antonio Brown out, DHB's role is sure to increase. If Big Ben plays and can't push the ball down the field to Bryant, Heyward-Bey's role as a crosser and intermediate pass-catcher against the Broncos corners will be key if the Steelers are to pull off the road upset.
Broncos DE Malik Jackson: Jackson's ability to push the pocket and disrupt Roethlisberger will be huge on Sunday. With the attention Miller and Ware receive on the outside, Jackson should see plenty of winnable matchups -- he earned 1.5 sacks in the first meeting. When Jackson and Derek Wolfe are hounding quarterbacks -- as they did much of the season -- the Broncos defense is nearly unbeatable.