All four of the NFL’s Divisional Round matchups will include the always intriguing but potentially insignificant “rematch” storyline.
Of the four games, three have already played out during the 2015 season. The one that hasn’t—between New England and Kansas City—was only one of the most important games of last season.
The Arizona Cardinals beat up the Green Bay Packers back in Week 16, the Carolina Panthers came from behind to defeat the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6, and the Pittsburgh Steelers scored 24 unanswered points to shock the Denver Broncos in Week 15. After the Chiefs blasted the Patriots by 27 points back in Week 4 of 2014, New England went on to win 13 of the next 15 games, including Super Bowl XLIX.
Here is a look back at the four previous matchups and how the rematch factor will or won’t be important:
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
Only 20 days will separate the Cardinals’ 38-8 win over Green Bay and the rematch on Saturday night in Arizona. Back in December, Aaron Rodgers took eight sacks and the Cardinals scored two defensive touchdowns as Arizona jumped out to a 31-0 lead early in the third quarter. The Packers are now the biggest underdog of the Divisional Round.
While Green Bay showed some major signs of life in Washington, and Arizona was humbled at home by Seattle in the season finale, 30 points is still a significant margin to make up. If the Packers don’t play better along the offensive line, another blowout is not only possible, but probable. At least Green Bay can take some comfort in knowing it can’t play any worse than the first meeting.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
This budding rivalry finally went Carolina’s way back in October, when the Panthers came back from big deficits in the second half to beat the Seahawks in Seattle. Cam Newton hit Greg Olsen for a 26-yard touchdown (against broken coverage) with just 32 seconds left to secure the Panthers’ first win in five tries against Seattle since 2012.
Like all the previous meetings, expect a physical, smash-mouth contest, with two talented quarterbacks trying to make sense of fast, attacking defenses. If this series sticks to the script, the offense that makes the big plays in the fourth quarter will advance to the NFC Championship Game. The winning quarterback has thrown a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of four of the last five games.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
Back in Week 15, the Steelers trailed the Broncos by scores of 20-7 and 27-10 in the first half. But the final two quarters were all Pittsburgh, as the Steelers 24 ripped off straight points—including 21 in the second half—to rally and win. Running back DeAngelo Williams rushed for a touchdown, and receiver Antonio Brown caught 16 passes for 189 yards and two scores. It’s entirely possible neither will play in the rematch, as Williams is still nursing a bum foot and Brown is in concussion protocol.
Even quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns, is dealing with an injured shoulder. And while Brock Osweiler produced four scores for the Broncos, he’ll be on the benched in the Divisional Round while Peyton Manning starts under center. The game will be played in Denver. Different setting, different players, different result?
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
How much does a game played back in Sept. of 2014 really impact one in Jan. of 2016? Probably not much. But few have forgotten the smackdown laid on New England by the Chiefs that Monday night long ago. It dropped the Patriots to 2-2, and had at least one reporter questioning Bill Belichick whether he would make a switch at quarterback. He (obviously) stuck with Tom Brady, and the Patriots eventually went on to win another Super Bowl.
Could the blueprint be the same for Kansas City? The Chiefs ran for 205 yards, forced three turnovers and sacked Brady three times. That’s a winning recipe against any team. Andy Reid’s team is just as capable of pulling it off now as they were early last year.