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After wild-card weekend, NFL playoffs offer prospect of rematches made in heaven

Oh, the possibilities.

With the eight teams remaining in the NFL playoffs, there's a possibility that Super Bowl 50 could be a rematch of the first one (Green Bay-Kansas City), the last one (Seattle-New England), or seven in between.

Those seven could be rematches of Pittsburgh against Arizona, Seattle or Green Bay; New England against Carolina or Green Bay; or Denver against Seattle or Green Bay.

Of course, we've got a long way to go before that Feb. 7 showdown in Santa Clara.

In the meantime, the Patriots will play host to the Chiefs in the early game Saturday, followed by the Packers at the Cardinals. On Sunday, it's the Seahawks at the Panthers, then Steelers at Broncos.

The divisional round is a nine-ring circus. Each of the four games features at least one Super Bowl-winning quarterback, and there are nine championship rings among them. New England's Tom Brady has four, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger has two, Denver's Peyton Manning, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, and Seattle's Russell Wilson one each.

Ringless in this round are Arizona's Carson Palmer — who's still looking for his first playoff victory — Kansas City's Alex Smith and Carolina's Cam Newton, likely to be named the NFL's most valuable player. All three were No. 1 overall draft picks.

The divisional matchups should look familiar, because three of them are rematches from the regular season.

Three weeks ago, Arizona throttled Green Bay, 38-8, sacking Rodgers eight times and returning two of his fumbles for touchdowns. It was by far the Packers' most lopsided loss of the season, and afterward, Rodgers foreshadowed a rematch.

"This was a playoff-style game and we played terrible," he said at the time, "but we have won a lot of games here. When you play long enough you are going to be on the wrong side at times, but I am confident that we have guys and myself that, when it matters for all the marbles, guys will show up."

A week before that game, Denver played at Pittsburgh and the Steelers won, 34-27. Roethlisberger threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to Antonio Brown.

Both Roethlisberger and Brown were injured in Saturday night's wild-card win at Cincinnati — both as a result of hits by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

Roethlisberger was pile-driven into the ground and suffered an injured throwing shoulder. He was taken to the locker room but was able to return for the final drive. According to an NFL Network report Sunday, he sustained a shoulder separation but plans to try to play.

Brown, the NFL's leading receiver, was knocked unconscious by a headhunting hit on the final drive. He needs to clear the concussion protocol before returning, and that's far from guaranteed.

Although the Broncos are favored against the Steelers, Manning is 0-5 in playoff games when the temperature dips below 40 degrees. The forecast calls for a high of 35 Sunday in Denver.

Carolina will face the Seahawks again, three months after the Panthers posted a 27-23 win at Seattle in Week 6.

Newton helped his team overcome a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter of that game, throwing for 162 yards in the final period — including a 26-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen to clinch the victory.

There was a communication breakdown in Seattle's vaunted Legion of Boom secondary, and Olsen took full advantage of it.

"You're not open that much against these guys," Olsen said at the time. "They cover so much ground, there's usually bodies around you when you catch the ball. But we'll take it."

The only divisional game that isn't a rematch from this season is Chiefs at Patriots. That was a pivotal game last year, however, as New England was embarrassed at Kansas City, 41-14, in Week 4.

Brady was limited to 159 yards passing and picked off twice. In the week that followed, there was even talk-radio chatter that the Patriots might want to consider making a quarterback change.

New England lost just two more games the rest of the season, and wound up beating the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 11, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "There's a 50-to-I shot - This year's Super Bowl could end up being a rematch of the first one, and that's just one of myriad possibilities after a wild wild-card weekend" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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