LOS ANGELES — So … we meet again.
Three of this weekend’s four NFL wild-card games are rematches from the regular season, with New Orleans at Philadelphia being the only first-time matchup.
The most recent of these meetings came two weeks ago when Indianapolis won at Kansas City, 23-7. The Colts, who play host to the Chiefs on Saturday, took advantage of four turnovers in that game. Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith had a fumble and was picked off twice after tallying just six interceptions in the first 14 games.
After that loss, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said, “They’ve got the upper hand on us right now because in their minds, they think they can beat us. If we go down there, it will be a different story.”
Cincinnati, which plays host to San Diego on Sunday, posted a 17-10 road victory over the Chargers a month ago.
The Chargers were coming off an impressive victory at Kansas City and ran headlong into a stout Bengals defense that forced three turnovers and limited San Diego to a field goal in the second half.
“You score 10 points, you are going to lose most of the time,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said at the time. “That’s a good defense. We just weren’t consistent enough.”
Chargers Coach Mike McCoy lamented how his defense “fell apart,” holding the Bengals to 104 yards in the first half before surrendering 250 more in the second.
Tough defense wasn’t the defining characteristic of San Francisco’s 34-28 home victory over Green Bay in a season opener.
Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers by throwing for a career-high 412 yards and three touchdowns, with 13 completions to new addition Anquan Boldin.
The most memorable play from that game was the out-of-bounds hit the 49ers quarterback took from All-Pro Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. That triggered a scuffle between Matthews and San Francisco tackle Joe Staley during which Matthews slapped at his helmet.
“That young man works very hard on being a tough guy,” 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh said of Matthews a day after the game. “He’ll have some repairing to do on his image after that slap.... I looked at it with my own eyes and I saw two punches thrown to Joe’s head. Well, one punch and one open slap. Which, if you’re going to go to the face, come with some knuckles, not an open slap.”
There’s no chance of a Matthews-Staley rematch in the playoffs. Matthews is out because of a thumb injury, a significant blow to Green Bay’s defense.
Stats can lie
Philadelphia Coach Chip Kelly doesn’t pay much heed to the fact New Orleans is just 3-5 on the road this season. It doesn’t give him any particular comfort.
“Tampa Bay didn’t win a game in cold weather until they came in here and did it (in the NFC championship game in January 2003), so we are not going to get really caught up in that one.”
Packers running back Eddie Lacy made his pro debut against the 49ers, and it was forgettable. He had 14 carries for 41 yards — including a two-yard touchdown — but the rookie also had a pivotal fumble.
“He admittedly was very nervous for the game,” Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said this week of Lacy, who finished eighth in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,178, and third in rushing touchdowns with 11.
“He’s got 16 games under his belt now. He knows what to expect, and he’s comfortable in the offense. He’s comfortable being asked what to do, so, yeah, Eddie is in a different place today.”
The NFL has extended the blackout deadline because of the New Year’s holiday, so all four home teams will have until Thursday afternoon to sell the required allotment of tickets so the first-round games can be televised locally.
As of Tuesday, Saints-Eagles had sold out, but there were tickets remaining for the other three games.
There hasn’t been a blacked-out postseason game since Miami played host to Baltimore in a wild-card game in 2001.