With the divisional round set, let's take a quick look at the main storylines setting up for this weekend's playoffs. We'll have much more comprehensive coverage through the week, but here's a quick primer, starting with the two Saturday games.
The NFC South champion and No. 1 seed Falcons will be looking for their first playoff win against a wild-card Seahawks team that is coming off a 24-14 win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday. The Falcons have been one of the league's more successful franchises over the last five seasons, compiling a 56-24 record during the regular season, but are 0-3 in the playoffs under head coach Mike Smith.
Smith believes his team's experience in recent post-seasons will help them this year.
"We’re a much more mature team because of our experiences," said Smith. "I think you learn from your previous experiences in the playoffs. This is a team that’s been very focused from the beginning of the season. We’ve got a lot of guys that have experienced the playoff atmosphere and they’re going to be able to help some of these younger guys that haven’t. We’ve added guys to our roster this year. Cornerback Asante Samuel will be a very good resource for these guys. He’s had lots of success in the playoffs."
The Falcons have the NFL's sixth-ranked passing offense and the matchup between Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) and (should be Pro Bowl receiver) Roddy White (6-foot-1, 208 pounds) against Seattle's tall, long cornerback tandem of Richard Sherman (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) and Brandon Browner (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) should be the one to watch. White and Jones combined for 17 receptions and 205 yards in a 30-28 win over the Seahawks in Seattle during the 2011 regular season.
However, Sherman, who has arguably been the NFL's premier cornerback this season, had not yet been inserted into the Seahawks' lineup when the two clubs met in Seattle last season.
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Sunday, Jan. 13, 4:30 p.m. ET
Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
The Texans were 11-1 and well on their way towards the No. 1 seed in the AFC Playoffs before the Patriots trounced them 42-14 on national television in a Monday Night Football game at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 10.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is putting that game out of his mind as he prepares for Sunday's game.
"There were several things in that game that went our way but I don’t think that’s really that significant at this point," Belichick said on his Monday conference call. "We just have to go back and make sure that we’re well prepared for the things that they do. The plays will match up differently and I’m sure there will be new plays that weren’t in that game. I don’t think you can overanalyze that game.
"We’re playing a team – we have our team, they have their team and it’s a big picture thing. Every game comes down to some specific plays and matchups but you know never know that’s how it’s going to go at the beginning. You just have to wait and see how it unfolds. We’re just going to focus on our preparation and what we do and what they’ve shown that they’ve done and try to be ready for it all."
The Texans received a bit of bulletin board material from Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, who referred to the Texans as "fraudulent" and "terrible" in a Monday column. Texans Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster, who on Saturday became the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 or more yards in each of his first three post-season games, used a photo of Shaughnessy's text to create a new avatar on Twitter.
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