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Weekend could end with thrillers

Three frequent visitors to the NFL playoffs and a surprising outsider take the stage in today's National Football League Wild Card playoff games. In the NFC, the Green Bay Packers face the Eagles in Philadelphia, the third time the two franchises have faced each other in the postseason. Philadelphia is 2-0 against Green Bay in postseason play, including a 17-13 victory in the 1960 NFL championship game. That was the only postseason game Vince Lombardi lost as Packers coach.

The Packers have been in the postseason 13 of the last 18 seasons. Under coach Andy Reid, the Eagles have made nine playoff appearances since 1999, most in the NFC.

In the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens will be making their third straight playoff appearance under coach John Harbaugh when they face the Chiefs in Kansas City. It's the first playoff game for the Chiefs since the 2003 season. The surprising Chiefs were only 10-38 the previous three seasons before they won the AFC West championship with a 10-6 record. Here's a capsule look at today's games:

Ravens (12-4) at Chiefs (10-6)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens (-3)

The scoop: Yet another game -- there were three on Wild Card weekend -- in which the visiting team has the superior regular season record. Ravens have become a playoff fixture because of their defense. The up-and-coming Chiefs start two of the NFL's top rookies in TE Tony Moeaki and SS Eric Berry. Also rookies Dexter McCluster and Javier Arena are contributors with return ability on special teams. With Jamaal Charles (1,467 yards) and Thomas Jones (896) the Chiefs led the NFL in rushing with 164.2 average. But Ravens, with defensive stars Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata, are a far cry from the teams the Chiefs' ground game chewed up in the regular season. The Ravens allowed only 93.9 ypg in the regular season. Chiefs QB Matt Cassel looked shaky in loss to Raiders last week but has 27 TDs and just 7 INTs. WR Dwayne Bowe led the NFL with Chiefs record 15 TD receptions. Ravens FS Ed Reed led the league with eight INTs, and he may have to help in deep coverage against Bowe. The Ravens finished just ahead of Bills in AFC offensive statistics. QB Joe Flacco threw for 3,622 yards with 25 TDs and 10 INTs. He throws to a veteran corps of receivers -- Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and TE Todd Heap. Tamba Hali of Chiefs led AFC with 14.5 sacks. Suggs of Ravens had 11.

Outlook: Young Chiefs and Cassel may be in over their heads, but Ravens don't blow out any teams. They were 2-1 in overtime games in regular season and their only easy wins were over Carolina and Denver, the two worst teams in the league. The Chiefs went 7-1 at home, losing only the finale against Oakland after the division title had been wrapped up. Crowd noise is always a problem at Arrowhead. How will Flacco handle it? A Kansas City upset would not be a shocker. Ravens, 28-27.

Packers (10-6) at Eagles (10-6)

TV: Ch. 29, 4:30 p.m.

The line: Eagles (-2 1/2 )

The scoop: Interesting clash of quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers of the Packers is prototypical NFL pocket QB with some athletic skills. Michael Vick of the Eagles is as unconventional as you can get. First of all, he's a lefty. Second, he is most dangerous running QB in league since Steve Young. Rodgers (28 TDs, 11 INTs) led the NFC with 101.2 passer rating. Vick (21 TDs, 6 INTs) was second at 100.2. Philly led NFC with 145.4 yards rushing per game, but the passing game is extremely dangerous with speed threats DeSean Jackson (22.5 yards per catch) and Jeremy Maclin (13.8, 10 TDs). RB LeSean McCoy led Eagles in rushing with 1,080, 5.2 average and 78 pass receptions. Brandon Jackson led Packers in rushing but with only 703 yards and 3.7 average. WR Greg Jennings is No. 1 offensive threat with 76 receptions, 12 for TDs. The fun will be watching Packers OLB Clay Matthews (13.5 sacks) trying to corner Vick (676 rushing yards). Late in season, teams had success pressuring Vick with corner blitzes. Key to the game may be how Eagles have adjusted to such tactics. Trent Cole (10) leads Eagles in sacks and Pro Bowl CB Asante Samuel has come up big in postseason play in his career with seven career INTs (for 227 yards) and four TD returns, both NFL playoff records.

Outlook: Teams met opening weekend with Packers winning, 27-20, at Lincoln Financial Field. Ex-Bills OT Jason Peters, who is going to Pro Bowl for fourth time, should have interesting matchup against Matthews. This one should be fun to watch. Eagles, 35-28.

e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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