Rematches galore in wild-card playoff round
By Barry Wilner
AP Pro Football Writer
There will be rematches galore in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs next weekend.
It begins with the Colts hosting the Chiefs on Saturday. Indianapolis won at Kansas City just last week.
At night, in the only first-round game not involving teams that faced each other this season, New Orleans is at Philadelphia.
On Sunday, it's San Diego at Cincinnati; the Bengals won at the Chargers on Dec. 1. And the wild-card finale with San Francisco visiting Green Bay is a redux not only of their season opener but also a divisional playoff matchup from last January. The Niners won both of those.
"I feel really good going into the playoffs this time," Bengals safety Chris Crocker said, recognizing that Cincinnati lost wild-card games at Houston in each of the last two years. "Different team, different type of feeling. We have the momentum, and that's the big thing. And we play at home."
Off next weekend are Denver (13-3) and New England (12-4) in the AFC, Seattle (13-3) and Carolina (12-4) in the NFC.
In the divisional round, Seattle and New England will be at home on Saturday, Jan. 11, with Carolina and Denver hosting games on Jan. 12.
The Eagles and Packers went on the road Sunday and headed home with playoff berths.
Philadelphia completed a terrific turnaround under new coach Chip Kelly by beating Dallas 24-22 to win the NFC East.
Hours before, Aaron Rodgers played the role of returning hero, along with Randall Cobb, in Green Bay's 33-28 victory at Chicago to capture the NFC North title.
For the Eagles (10-6), Nick Foles threw two touchdown passes, NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy had 131 yards and caught a scoring pass, and Brandon Boykin clinched it with a late interception of Kyle Orton.
Orton was filling in for the Cowboys two days after Tony Romo had back surgery.
"For all the accolades and the stats, if we didn't win today, none of that means nothing," McCoy said.
Philly finished 4-12 last year in its final season under Andy Reid. Kelly arrived from Oregon, and his fast-tempo offense was both praised and ridiculed. Thanks greatly to the development of Foles and the many talents of McCoy, the system worked.
As the defense improved, the Eagles became a force. They won seven of their final eight games.
"A huge win for Philly, a huge win for us, just a great moment," Boykin said.
Dallas (8-8) has lost three straight showdown finales for the NFC East title.
At Chicago, in his first game back from a broken left collarbone, Rodgers threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Cobb on fourth-and-8 with 38 seconds left for the go-ahead score.
Rodgers had been out since getting injured in a loss to Chicago on Nov. 4, and Cobb missed the previous 10 games with a knee problem. Still, the Packers (8-7-1) edged the archrival Bears (8-8) for the division crown by winning three of their last four games.
"It's big. Obviously, he is the best quarterback in the league," said Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who caught 10 passes for 161 yards. "To be gone for that many weeks and to play as well as he did — it was great to have him back."
And to have the explosive Cobb back.
"To be in that moment at the end of the game and have that opportunity, it's a blessing," Cobb said.
San Francisco beat Green Bay at Candlestick Park 34-28 to open the season. In the playoffs last season, the Niners won 45-31 at the same venue.
San Diego also finished off a rally to get into the postseason, beating short-handed Kansas City 27-24 in overtime for its fourth consecutive victory. After Miami and Baltimore lost earlier in the day, the Chargers (9-7) rode Nick Novak's 36-yard field goal with 5:30 left in OT to the sixth seed.
"We didn't play our best game, but teams that are playoff teams find a way to win when you don't play your best and that's what we did today," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said.
Kansas City (11-5) could have won in regulation, eliminating San Diego. But kicker Ryan Succop was wide right on a 41-yard field goal with 4 seconds left. Pittsburgh would have claimed the playoff spot over San Diego had Succop connected.
The Colts (11-5), winners of the AFC South, beat Jacksonville 30-10 on Sunday.
The defending NFL champion Ravens are out. The Bengals (11-5) beat Baltimore 34-17, ensuring the Ravens (8-8) were eliminated once Pittsburgh (8-8) defeated Cleveland 20-7.
"Not going to the playoffs hurts," running back Ray Rice said. "I'm not used to having this kind of time on my hands."
Miami (8-8) lost to the New York Jets 20-7, putting the Steelers — who began the season 0-4 — in position to advance if San Diego slipped up at home against a team that rested 20 of 22 starters.
The Chargers nearly did, but survived.
AFC West champion Denver, the highest-scoring team in NFL history, earned the No. 1 seed in the conference by romping at Oakland 34-14. New England, the AFC East winner, beat Buffalo 34-20.
Carolina won the NFC South and that first-round playoff bye with a 21-20 victory at Atlanta. The Saints (11-5) got the final NFC wild card with a 42-17 rout of Tampa Bay.
"Now we can cross that goal off," Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "Now we can concentrate, get guys healthy and get ready to go."
Already in the NFC playoffs were San Francisco, which finished 12-4 when it won 23-20 at Arizona on Sunday, and Seattle, which secured the NFC West title and the conference's top seed with a 27-9 win over St. Louis.