The NFL schedule-makers couldn't have set it up any better for football fans who'll be firmly planted on their couch for Saturday and Sunday's wild-card showdowns.
In a sport that doesn't exactly breed contempt with back-to-back meetings, a wild coincidence has three intriguing rematches on the docket for Wild Card weekend, which comes only a week after the Cowboys-Eagles, Cardinals-Packers, and Bengals-Jets battled for playoff positioning.
The closest thing we've seen to this situation was two years ago in Super Bowl XLII with the Giants and Patriots meeting in the big game a month after facing off in the season finale in New York. It's rare to have the chance to enact revenge, but we witnessed the Giants, after watching New England post the historic 16-0 mark in the regular season, quickly become a team of destiny.
Three playoff teams—Philadelphia, Arizona, and Cincinnati—may not have the chance to win a Super Bowl this week, but they can each redeem themselves and move one step closer to the big dance with a win over the same team that thoroughly embarrassed them on Sunday.
Philadelphia at Dallas
Talk about exorcising the ghosts of December's past. The Cowboys, recently made famous for their late-season collapses, have won three straight, including a monstrous shutout victory over Philadelphia to take the NFC East title and set up a rematch with the Eagles on Saturday night (8 ET, NBC).
In the three wins, Tony Romo has thrown 11 touchdowns to only two interceptions and is arguably playing the best football of his career. It's always tough to beat the same team three times in one season, especially in back-to-back weeks, but Dallas played a great game at home, and based on the film, there's no reason to think anything will change for the Cowboys after the 24-0 barrage.
For their part, the Eagles couldn't have come out and played a worse game. The loss was even worse because the Eagles would've clinched a first-round bye with a victory. It almost rivaled the Cowboys' debacle in Philly last year.
After averaging 31 points over their six-game winning streak, Philadelphia simply didn't show up. Donovan McNabb's numbers were decent, with 223 yards in the loss, but an untimely red-zone turnover stunted the little bit of momentum the Eagles had on the day.
In addition, the fact that game-breakers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin only caught three balls for 47 yards was a major concern and a microcosm of Philadelphia's struggles. With Philly unable to establish any kind of running attack—they had an embarrassing 37 yards rushing—Dallas was able to drop extra guys in coverage to help shut down the receiving duo.
In the encore on Saturday, you can expect the Eagles to try to win the air battle, which has been a big part of their big-play offense. But if McNabb doesn't get the ball to Jackson and Maclin, there won't be a sixth NFC Championship appearance for Andy Reid.
After what they've shown us in the last three games, the Cowboys have proven that they can win a big game late in the season. Now we'll have to see if they can go out and earn the franchise's first playoff win since 1996.
Green Bay at Arizona
For the Cardinals, who didn't inspire much confidence within themselves and their fan base, bouncing back after an ugly home performance like Sunday's won't be as easy as looking at the film.
The 33-7 throttling at home, where they'll play Green Bay for a second straight week next Sunday afternoon (4:30 ET, FOX), gives the mental edge to the Packers, who kept Aaron Rodgers in the game for three quarters—enough to torch the home team for 33 points before Arizona could even answer.
Even if they have their full arsenal back next weekend, most notably Kurt Warner, they'll still have to contend with a confident Rodgers who was nearly flawless on Sunday, going 21-of-26 for 235 yards in the blowout win. The Packers are a scary bunch right now, entering the playoffs having won seven of their last eight games. They believe they can win anywhere, especially now in Arizona.
Granted, the Cardinals are one of the most Jekyll and Hyde football teams around, so they could conceivably come back for next week's wild-card clash and look like a contender. But it'll still be tough for the defending NFC champs to knock off a red-hot Green Bay team.
New York Jets at Cincinnati
The Bengals didn't give themselves a jolt of confidence either, as they were shutout on Sunday night at the Meadowlands. With Carson Palmer surprisingly playing the first half, the Jets, who've now won five of their final six contests to make the playoffs as the fifth seed, dominated Cincinnati.
New York has a ton of confidence and momentum after its top-ranked defense completely smothered the Bengals' sixth-best rushing attack, allowing only 72 yards on the ground and no yards passing during Palmer's time in the game. Mark Sanchez and the offense put up a hefty 27 points, against mostly starters, on Cincinnati's top-five defense.
Luckily for the AFC North champions, they earned a home playoff date and return to Cincinnati for Saturday afternoon's battle with the Jets (4:30 ET, NBC). Despite handing New York a lot of the momentum after the 37-0 loss, being back at home will serve the Bengals well and make it a close game—possibly in their favor.
Cincinnati won the division for a reason, and until two weeks ago, were battling for the AFC's No. 2 seed with the Chargers. Home-field advantage, and less gusty conditions at Paul Brown Stadium, will give the Bengals a huge boost, but the Jets have proven they can shut down Palmer and are starting to play more like the Rex Ryan defense everyone expected.
New York is tops in every major defensive category (total: 264.3, pass: 163.9, points: 15.7), except for run defense. However, they were able to contain the running attack of Larry Johnson, and despite the return of Cedric Benson for the home side, the Jets should be able to do it again on the road.
Given the emerging dominance of their defense, the Jets could easily go into Cincinnati and return home with the team's first playoff victory since 2004. But the Bengals, out of the three teams to lose their first meetings on Sunday, are the most likely to bounce back from this week's scarring defeat and win at home. It would be the franchise's first playoff win since a 41-14 triumph over the Houston Oilers 19 years ago.
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