Three NFL rematches on tap
Dallas won a division title, Baltimore and the New York Jets earned wild-card spots, and the Super Bowl champs were eliminated on the final day of the NFL season.
Next week’s first round will include three rematches of games Sunday. The playoffs won’t include the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost out on tiebreakers.
They will include the Jets, who beat two teams already in the postseason to secure the No. 5 seed in the AFC. The Jets routed the AFC North champion Bengals, 37-0, in probably the final game at Giants Stadium, one week after the Colts benched many starters in the second half and saw New York rally to beat them.
So the Jets (9-7) will head to Cincinnati for a replay next Saturday to open the playoffs. New York’s win denied Houston a berth.
The Ravens (9-7) grabbed an AFC spot when they beat Oakland, 21-13. Baltimore will visit AFC East winner New England on Sunday.
The AFC playoff picture was all jumbled going into the day. It got sorted out very cleanly—the two win-and-in teams, Baltimore and the Jets, both won.
Tony Romo and the Cowboys romped over Philadelphia, 24-0, to win the NFC East. And they will play again at Cowboys Stadium next Saturday night.
Kurt Warner and the Cardinals will host the Packers next Sunday to conclude the wild-card round. Green Bay (11-5) beat them 33-7 Sunday. Arizona (10-6), the NFC’s third seed a year ago, will be No. 4 this time.
There also will be no cold-weather games in the second round. Hosts Minnesota, New Orleans and Indianapolis play inside domes, and San Diego is the other site.
For the second straight year, the Eagles-Cowboys showdown was a rout. This time, Dallas did the damage.
Dallas swept Philadelphia this season to earn the division crown, dropping the Eagles to the sixth seed, both at 11-5.
“They’re going to know us, we’re going to know them,” Romo said. “After winning like we did today, we’re probably going to see a completely different team next week because I don’t think they liked what they saw today. That’s why I think we’re going to see every blitz ever invented.”
A year ago, the Eagles kept the Cowboys out of the postseason with a 44-6 victory in the season finale. That gave Philly a wild-card spot and the Eagles rode it to the NFC title game, where they led late before Arizona rallied to advance to the Super Bowl.
“It’s kind of embarrassing,” tight end Brent Celek said of the loss. “I didn’t expect to come down here and play like this. We’re lucky we have another opportunity to play again. That’s all we can ask for.”
Like the Jets, Baltimore began the season 3-0.
“We’ve had so many ups and downs, we’ve had so many close games, and now we go forth 0-0,” said linebacker Ray Lewis, whose Ravens lost in the AFC title game to Pittsburgh last January. “That’s the type of message I was trying to tell my teammates before this game. In my 14 years, I’ve never had a pretty road to the playoffs. It’s always been a grind, but there’s no better thing than having that grind and getting to advance.”
Minnesota’s 44-7 blitz of the New York Giants gave Brett Favre and the Vikings (12-4) a first-round bye. New Orleans (13-3) is the NFC’s No. 1 seed, but lost its final three games.
“I think it’s proof of what we’re capable of doing,” said Favre, who completed 25 of 31 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns in less than three quarters without a turnover. “Where it takes us from here, I have no idea. But it was definitely a momentum boost and confidence.”
Indianapolis, which dropped its last two games, is the AFC’s top seed at 14-2. San Diego (13-3) also has a bye and won its final 11 games.
Houston has never been to the playoffs and its 9-7 record this year makes for its first winning season. It beat AFC East winner New England, 34-27, Sunday.
The Bengals already own their division and rested some regulars against the Jets, who totally outplayed them in frigid weather.
Out of the playoffs are the Steelers, who finished 9-7.
“I’d rather we go out with a win than a loss,” said Ben Roethlisberger, who threw three touchdown passes in a 30-24 victory at Miami.