Nobody should be more pleased that the NFL’s divisional playoffs weekend is here than Andy Dalton and coach Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals and Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs.
After a week of being pilloried for alleged football crimes in losses last week in the wild-card round, they can turn the media stock and chains over to a new group of goats.
Dalton, Lewis and Reid will fade back into the ranks of past playoff goats such as Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, Jay Cutler and Lee Evans.
Today’s games will produce half the field for the NFL’s Final Four in the conference championship games next weekend. The No. 1 seed in the NFC, Seattle, will be home to the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints visited Seattle on Dec. 2 and were humbled, 34-7. The teams met in the 2011 playoffs and Seattle upset the Saints, 41-36, as Matt Hasselbeck threw for four touchdowns and Marshawn Lynch broke away for a 67-yard TD run.
Saints (12-5) at Seahawks (13-3)
TV: Ch. 29, 4:30 p.m.
The line: Seahawks (-8).
The scoop on the Saints: New Orleans returned to the playoffs when coach Sean Payton came back after a season-long suspension in 2012 but there’s still the same old rap against the Saints: They are not nearly the offensive juggernaut on the road and Rob Ryan’s pressure defenses aren’t nearly as effective without the help of the boisterous “Who Dat” chant of Louisiana Superdome fans. ... Maybe so, but Drew Brees is experienced enough and has as impressive a collection of targets as there is in the NFL including Jimmy Graham, who had 86 receptions, 16 for touchdowns in the regular season and reigns — for now — as the most dangerous TE in the league. ... It will be interesting to see whether Ryan’s defense, left by pass rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette, can neutralize the talents of Seattle QB Russell Wilson.
The scoop on the Seahawks: It all started with Chuck Knox. Tired of having his team’s signals drowned out by crowd noise at divisional stops at Mile High in Denver and Arrowhead in Kansas City, the former Bills coach encouraged Seattle fans to become the team’s 12th Man and make enough noise to bother the visiting team in the old King Dome. Since then, pandemonium has become a proud Seattle tradition. ... Under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks are 15-1 at home over the last two seasons and have won their last five postseason home games. ... Of course, the Seahawks are almost as potent on the road where they went 5-3 this season, including wins at Carolina, Arizona and Atlanta. ... Seattle has collected some impressive talent mostly through the draft. The Seahawks count six Pro Bowlers on their roster including quarterback Wilson, ex-Bills running back Lynch and three defensive backs including CB Richard Sherman, who led the NFL with eight interceptions.
Outlook: New Orleans’ crowds were the original noise kings of the NFL, even back in the 1970s. Now, the Saints get a dose of their own medicine. It’s karma. Seattle balance and decibels rattle Brees & Co. enough for a 34-24 win.
Colts (12-5) at Patriots (12-4)
TV: Ch. 4, 8:15 p.m.
The line: Patriots (-7).
The scoop on the Colts: Maybe they were fortunate the Chiefs had all those injuries and Andy Reid is not known for managing the clock well, but the comeback from 28 points down to defeat Kansas City may have been the signal that the Andrew Luck Era in the NFL is not far off. Peyton Manning went only 1-2 against the Patriots in postseason play. Luck looks like he might be even cooler under fire. He rebounded nicely from three interceptions including two that led to 10 Kansas City points in the second half. ... Luck is helping make a super receiver out of T.Y. Hilton, who had 13 catches last week including the winning touchdown. Tight end Coby Fleener was another effective target. ... The Indy running game was nothing special in the regular season, but against the Chiefs, even playing from behind, they got 100 yards on the ground, including 45 yards from Luck, an underrated runner. Journeyman Donald Brown averaged 5.0 yards on 11 carries against the Chiefs. ... The Patriots will have to game plan against the pass rushing of Robert Mathis, who led the league with 19½ sacks in the regular season and one last week.
The scoop on the Patriots: If Alex Smith and Kansas City’s backup running backs tore up the Colts last week for 513 yards total offense, what will Tom Brady and the Patriots do? You have to remember it was the Bills he was running over and around, but RB LeGarrette Blount’s (189 rushing, 145 kickoff returns) huge game against Buffalo had to turn on a light in Bill Belichick’s head. The Colts can expect a steady diet of blows from a Blount instrument that will create downfield opportunities for Brady and his receivers. ... Critics continued to underestimate Patriots WR Julian Edelman as he piled up 105 receptions in the regular season. Additionally, the Pats expect to have a healthy WR Danny Amendola for this one, his first career postseason game. ... There’s a whole new group of defensive stars in New England these days -- the Joneses, Chandler and Chris, LB Dont’a Hightower, CBs Aqib Talib and Logan Ryan and S Devin McCourty along with veteran LB Rob Ninkovich. No Wilfork, Kelly, Mayo or Spikes. ... Strange things happen when the Patriots are in the Home of the Tuck Rule. Their postseason record is 14-4 in Foxborough, 9-3 at Gillette Stadium, which opened in 2002.
Outlook: Chuck Pagano posted his first postseason victory last week, Bill Belichick has won 18. Everything adds up to a Patriots victory but the belief here is Luck has the gumption to keep Indy in it to the end. Patriots, 35-31.
Last weekend’s results: 1-3 outright, 2-2 versus spread.
Season’s record: 136-107-1 outright, 119-118-7 versus spread.