No fear is motto for visiting teams this weekend
That’s the motto for the visiting teams in this weekend’s NFL playoff games, a brave stance indeed considering the hosts were a combined 30-2 at home this season. And that includes one gimme, the Patriots’ loss to Buffalo in a meaningless season finale.
There could be some validity, though, to the bravado displayed by Baltimore and Dallas. The Ravens have won two of their three postseason trips to New England, and lost by three points in the other. The Cowboys are 8-0 away from Dallas.
”Our guys have been in tough stadiums against good teams,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who has guided his team to the playoffs in six of his seven seasons, and won the 2012 NFL championship.
”No different this week going into a tough stadium against a good team. The fact that it’s playoffs and those kinds of things, and we played in a playoff game last week on the road, that helps the guys … the rookies. It’s the first time they have ever done it, but they did a good job last week.
”All that other stuff, it’s how well you play the game in that three-hour time block against the opponent you’re playing against.”
The opponent for Dallas is, of course, Green Bay. And the elements in the Cowboys’ first postseason visit to Lambeau Field since the 1967 Ice Bowl.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett recognizes the interest in Sunday’s matchup for historical reasons, but understands his players might not.
”Oh I think we have guys who are football fans and know some history,” Garrett said. ”But having said that, we’ve got a lot of guys that were born in 1991 or 1992. So it’s like ancient history to them. The `90s seem like history to them if that makes any sense to you.”
The other visitors are Carolina at Seattle on Saturday night, Indianapolis at Denver on Sunday.
Baltimore (11-6) at New England (12-4), Saturday
The Ravens come off their first playoff win at Pittsburgh, so they will carry some extra confidence into the opening game of the divisional round. Joe Flacco has seven road playoff wins, the most by a quarterback since the 1970 merger.
Of course, he goes up against the top seed in the AFC, a perennial Super Bowl contender led by Tom Brady. One thing is certain: Brady and the Patriots won’t be lacking in conviction, either.
”We’re always trying to win the last game of the year,” Brady said. ”We set pretty high expectations and I think we all have high expectations, but you’ve got to go out there and earn it. It’s not easy and this is a first step for us.
”A lot of teams played last week, we didn’t get a chance to do that. This is a week where we can really try to make an impact on this season.
Dallas (13-4) at Green Bay (12-4)
Despite the result of the Ice Bowl, after which the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl, Dallas leads 4-2 in playoff matchups. It’s the first time a team with an 8-0 home record in the regular season hosts one with an 8-0 road record.
The Cowboys are 15-9 in divisional playoff games, but lost their past three. They bring a high-powered offense paced by league rushing leader DeMarco Murray, QB Tony Romo, receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has been battling a calf injury and has had limited preparation for Sunday. Rodgers’ home passer rating of 133.2 is the best in NFL history. He’s had 418 pass attempts and 36 touchdown passes at Lambeau without an interception, both NFL records.
Carolina (8-8-1) at Seattle (12-4), Saturday night
The defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks know all about division winners with a losing record advancing to this round of the playoffs. They did it in 2010, and now they host the Panthers, who have won five in a row, including last week’s wild-card victory over Arizona.
Defense has been the calling card for both sides, especially Seattle in the second portion of the schedule.
Looking to become the first defending champion to win a playoff game since New England in January 2006, the Seahawks led the NFL in total defense and points allowed for the second straight season. They also led in scoring defense for a third straight season and Seattle did not allow any fourth-quarter points in the past six games.
The Panthers have been strong defensively, too, ranking second to Seattle in points allowed (11.8) and yards yielded (238.2) since Dec. 1.
Indianapolis (12-5) at Denver (12-4)
Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning gets the main headlines here, and why not? The five-time MVP against the young master who took his place in Indy when Manning headed to the Rockies.
Luck has thrown for 300 or more yards in three straight postseason games and comes off a strong effort in the win over Cincinnati: 376 yards and a touchdown. He broke Manning’s team mark with 4,761 yards through the air this season.
Manning, who led the Colts to eight division championships, two AFC championships and one Super Bowl title, has the Broncos tied for second-most wins (46) in the league since joining them.
Oh, and as for the home-field thing, the Broncos finished 8-0 at home for the sixth time. Minnesota has the record for most seasons with a perfect home mark with seven.
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