Now it’s time for the big boys to swing into action in the National Football League playoffs.
The visiting teams won all four games on Wild Card Weekend. How will the so-called elites, who had byes last weekend, do in the divisional round?
Odds are at least one will fall this weekend. That’s been the case for 19 of the last 25 playoff seasons. And there’s no guarantee it won’t be a No. 1 seed that falls. No. 1’s are 36-14 since 1990, 21-4 in the NFC and 15-10 in the AFC. In 2010, both No. 1’s, New England and Atlanta, were upset. The home team is 73-27 since 1990 in the divisional round.
Saturday’s games kick off with a matchup of the two 12-win AFC teams when Kansas City faces the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. The Chiefs have won their last 11 games after a 1-5 start. The Patriots suffered some key injuries, seemed to let up with the AFC East title safely in hand and lost four of their last six games.
Saturday night, the Arizona Cardinals will begin their quest for their first NFL championship since 1947, when they were the Chicago Cardinals. The Cards will take on old rival Green Bay in Glendale, Ariz. It’s a rivalry that goes back to 1921.
A capsule look at Saturday’s NFL Divisional Round games:
Chiefs (12-5) at Patriots (12-4)
TV: CBS, 4:35 p.m.
The line: Patriots (-4½).
The scoop: Can Kansas City win a postseason game anywhere but Houston? The Chiefs went 0-7 between their last two playoff wins. They defeated the Oilers at the Astrodome after the 1993 regular season, but lost the AFC Championship Game to the Bills the next week in Orchard Park. The next playoff win was last week’s 30-0 rout of the overmatched Texans at NRG Stadium. ... The Chiefs have thrived despite losing workhorse running back Jamal Charles early in the season. Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have picked up a lot of the slack although QB Alex Smith has contributed 498 rushing yards, a 5.9 average and two touchdowns. Media experts keep knocking Smith as a “game manager” but all he does is win without making mistakes. He may be handicapped in this one if deep threat Jeremy Maclin (ankle) can’t go or is limited. That would put a load on tight end Travis Kelce (72 catches) or young receivers Chris Conley and Albert Wilson. ... The Chiefs thrive on turnovers and sacks. However, of their 47 sacks in the regular season, 18 came against division rivals Oakland and San Diego, two of the league’s worst pass-protecting teams. ... The Patriots join the playoffs after winning their seventh straight AFC East title. It’s believed that WR Julian Edelman (foot), a key element in the New England offense, will be back and healthy. However, TE Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady’s favorite downfield target, missed practice time this week. ... It’s still Rent-a-Running Back in New England. Former Ram and Falcon Steven Jackson was signed off the street in December and it looks like he will be a key figure today. ... Three of the Patriots who were selected to the Pro Bowl are on defense – linebacker Jamie Collins, defensive end Chandler Jones and cornerback Malcolm Butler. Collins and Jones are rangy athletic defenders who make big plays and are adaptable to Bill Belichick’s various defensive schemes. Jones was involved in a strange medical emergency this week that probably won’t affect his play Saturday.
Outlook: The question is: Can the Chiefs, who had a 29-14 turnover advantage in the regular season, force Tom Brady and the Patriots into mistakes. That doesn’t happen a lot against Belichick-coached teams. Even without the breaks, KC can keep it close. New England, 26-24.
Packers (11-6) at Cardinals (13-3)
TV: NBC, 8:15 p.m.
The line: Cardinals (-7).
The scoop: Green Bay was once one of the NFL’s most consistent teams. Not this season. Packers started 6-0 then went into a slump and were destroyed, 38-8, when they faced the Cardinals on the road in Week 16. It was not a throw-away game, either. Green Bay needed it because it was locked in a duel with Minnesota for the NFC North title. Then the Packers suddenly woke up and outclassed the Redskins on the road, 35-18, in the first round of the playoffs. Not only did QB Aaron Rodgers return to his playmaking form, Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined to run for 116 yards. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers unleashed his linebackers on the pass rush and they sacked Kirk Cousins six times. Green Bay was probably the most impressive team on Wild Card weekend. ... Arizona ended up leading the NFL in offense with 408.3 average and the defense wasn’t bad either, second in the NFC behind Seattle with a 321.7 average yield per game. ... Cardinals QB Carson Palmer is the only No. 1 quarterback in this weekend’s games who has not won a playoff game. Written off when he forced the Cincinnati Bengals to trade him in 2011, Palmer has been a solid winner (29-9) with Arizona. He passed for 35 touchdowns and 4,671 yards and his 104.6 passer rating was third in the league. The Cards’ receiving corps is first-rate, led by Larry Fitzgerald (109 receptions), speedster John Brown (65 catches for 1,003 yards) and veteran Michael Floyd. ... The leading rusher is rookie David Johnson, who ran for a 4.6 average and eight touchdowns. The defense is solid with two Pro Bowlers, DE Calais Campbell and CB Patrick Peterson. Others in the cast are LBs Deone Bucannon and veteran Dwight Freeney and DE Cory Redding.
Outlook: Are the Packers really awake? How much energy will they bring to the desert after the road win at Washington last week? The Packers went 5-3 on the road in the regular season with the losses to Denver, Carolina and Arizona. Green Bay puts the defensive pressure on Palmer and makes the Cards work hard for a 35-31 victory.
Last week’s results: 4-0 straight up; 3-1 versus spread.
Season’s record: 149-90 straight up; 124-110-5 versus spread.