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Saturday NFL wild-card playoff game previews: New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals

Records: Jets 9-7 overall, 5-3 on road; Bengals 10-6 overall, 6-2 at home | Weather: Flurries, high 21 | Time/TV: 4:30; Ch. 8

Jets: 321.0 (20th)

Jets: 153.7 yards (1st)



Bengals: 0 (18th)

St. Petersburg Times staff writer Tom Jones breaks down today's NFL playoff games.

Three key matchups

1. Eagles WR DeSean Jackson vs. Cowboys secondary.

The Eagles Pro Bowl receiver had nine touchdown catches this season, and eight of his 11 scores (including returns) were at least 50 yards. But he has done little against the Cowboys: five catches for 76 yards and only 18 yards on three punt returns. And the biggest number of all: zero touchdowns.

2. Cowboys lb DeMarcus Ware and LB Anthony Spencer vs. Eagles pass protection

Ware and Spencer might be the most fearsome pass-rushing tandem in the NFL. They combined for 17 sacks this season. Spencer had two against the Eagles on Sunday.

3. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo vs. history

Let's face it, Romo has been dreadful in crunch time, going back to 2006 when he dropped a snap on a short field-goal attempt that cost the Cowboys a playoff game. He's 0-2 in the playoffs and coming into this season, he was 5-8 in December with 14 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions. However, this past December he went 2-2 with seven touchdown passes and only one pick.



Bengals 309.1 (24th)

Three key matchups

1. Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco vs. Jets CB Darrelle Revis

The trash-talking Ochocinco said he would change his name back to Johnson if Revis, right, shut him out in last week's season finale. Ochocinco lied. He is keeping his name even though Revis kept Ochocinco without a reception for the first time in 120 games, although Ochocinco played only a half because of a bum knee. Revis might be the best cover corner in football.

2. Bengals WR Laveranues Coles vs. Jets CB Lito Sheppard

If Revis can contain Ochocinco, that makes this matchup a key for the Bengals. Coles, who played for the Jets for seven seasons, had a so-so season in Cincinnati, catching only 43 balls for 514 yards and five touchdowns.

3. Bengals NG Domata Peko vs. Jets C Nick Mangold

The Jets, who led the NFL in rushing, must run the ball to win, and the game could go down to who wins the battle between these sides of beef in the middle. Peko had knee surgery Dec. 7 and the Bengals gave up 134 yards a game on the ground while he was out. He is back and says he will be full strength to go against New York's Pro Bowl center.

The Jets will win if:

Quarterback Mark Sanchez doesn't get a case of the jitters. You figure the Bengals will load up to stop the Jets' running attack and force the rookie out of USC to beat them. Sanchez threw 20 interceptions this season, but he has been better of late. He hasn't thrown a pick in three of his past four games.

The Bengals will win if:

Last week's game is out of their system. True, the Bengals didn't care about last week's regular-season finale against the Jets, but losing 37-0 left a sour taste in a lot of mouths, and you have to wonder if they can turn it back on against a Jets team that has been playing, essentially, playoff games for the past month.

Hero/goat watch

Jets: Running out of the Wildcat formation against the Bengals on Sunday, the Jets' Brad Smith had a touchdown run of 32 yards. He also is one of the league's better kick returners when the Jets put him back there. He had a franchise-record 106-yard touchdown return this season, and seven of his 10 returns were for more than 20 yards.

Bengals: Quarterback Carson Palmer has thrown exactly one playoff pass in his life, and it was 66-yard completion to the late Chris Henry against the Steelers in 2005. On the play, Palmer was hit in the knee and suffered tears to his ACL and MCL. Some might argue he hasn't been the same since; statistically, his numbers rank near the bottom of this year's playoff signal-callers.

Coach-speak

Talk about a chip off the old block. Jets coach Rex Ryan is just like his old man, former NFL coach Buddy Ryan — cocky, brash and, apparently, loved by his players. Meantime, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who was 46-49 coming into the season, might have saved his job. But Lewis needs this game more than Ryan. The Jets weren't even supposed to be a playoff team. The Bengals were supposed to have done more during the Lewis era.

Three things you might not know

1 The Bengals haven't won a playoff game in 19 years. Their last postseason victory came in 1990 when Ickey Woods was doing the Ickey Shuffle. They lost the following week then lost their only other playoff appearance since — 2005 to the Steelers when quarterback Carson Palmer was injured on the first series of the game.

2 Including last week's laugher, the Jets have won seven of the past eight games against Cincinnati and also won the only postseason matchup between the teams — 44-17 on Jan. 9, 1983.

3 Rarely do we talk about punters, but the Jets' situation is a little dicey. Steve Weatherford has been bothered by a sore hamstring and didn't practice this past week. With two good defenses, field position should be a key, and the Jets might be, pardon the pun, hamstrung.

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

Records: Eagles 11-5 overall, 5-3 on road; Cowboys 11-5, 6-2 at home | Weather: High 32 | Time/TV: 8 p.m.; Ch. 8

The Eagles will win if:

They figure out how to score against the Cowboys. Philadelphia was fifth in the NFL in scoring with 429 points, but it had only one touchdown in 21 possessions against the Cowboys this season and scored a total of 16 points in two games. Going into last week, the Eagles had averaged 31.2 points during a six-game win streak, but were shut out in Big D.

The Cowboys will win if:

Sunday was no fluke. With the NFL East title and homefield for this game on the line, the Cowboys dominated the Eagles in a 24-0 victory. The Cowboys sacked Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb four times and held the Eagles to a season-low 228 yards. The Cowboys are coming off back-to-back shutouts — a first in the 50-year history of the team.

Three things you might not know

1 The Cowboys have beaten the Eagles twice this season and everyone says it's hard to beat a team three times in the same season. But you know what? That's not really true. This is the 20th time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger that a team will face an opponent for the third time after beating it in the first two meetings. And on the previous 19 occasions, 12 teams went on to win for the third time. However, the Cowboys have failed twice to sweep a three-game series.

2 Hard to believe, but the Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since 1996. Since then, they have gone 0-6 in the playoffs.

3 While the Cowboys have struggled in the postseason, the Eagles have performed well, even though they have yet to win a Super Bowl. But since Andy Reid took over in 1999, the Eagles are 10-7 in the playoffs. More impressive, they have been to the postseason seven times and won their first playoff game each time.

Hero/goat watch

Eagles: At 35, David Akers remains one of the NFL's elite kickers. He tied for the league lead with 32 field goals and missed only five, just three inside 50 yards. If the game comes down to a field goal, the Eagles have the edge over the Cowboys, who just signed kicker Shaun Suisham three weeks ago.

Cowboys: Again, we have to go back to quarterback Tony Romo, who won't prove he can perform under pressure until he performs under pressure. He is 4-3 and has looked like two very different quarterbacks against the Eagles in his career. In his four victories, he completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and threw for at least 300 yards each time, with nine TDs and four interceptions. In the losses, he completed only 46 percent of his passes for an average of 179 yards with one touchdown and six interceptions.

Coach-speak

You get the feeling Cowboys coach Wade Phillips is still fighting for his job and a loss could end his three-year run in Dallas. His Cowboys have gone 33-15 in the regular season but still haven't won a playoff game with him in charge. Meantime, Andy Reid might be the best active coach never to win a Super Bowl. Throw out his rookie 5-11 season and he is 103-56-1 with the Eagles, including eight playoff appearances in the past 10 seasons.

Saturday NFL wild-card playoff game previews: New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

01/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 9:43pm]

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