Terrific rematches highlight next round of NFL playoffs


It’s a small world — and an even smaller NFL playoff field.

Seattle is playing at Chicago. Again.

Green Bay is going back to Atlanta.

And, for the first time, the AFC features two divisional matchups: Baltimore at Pittsburgh and New York at New England.

A season like we’ve never seen has come down to one big case of déjà vu. And they promise to be four of the most competitive games in memory, especially considering how many of these particular matchups were decided by three points this season.

The Ravens won at Pittsburgh, 17-14.

The Steelers won at Baltimore, 13-10.

The Seahawks won at Chicago, 23-20.

The Packers lost at Atlanta, 20-17.

Leave it to the Jets and Patriots to go against the grain. New York’s Mark Sanchez looked like Dan Marino in Week 2, throwing three touchdown passes in a 28-14 win over the visiting Patriots …


… Only to be topped by Tom Brady’s four touchdown passes in a 45-3 stomping 11 weeks later.

At the time, Jets defensive tackle Sione Pouha said that slice of humble pie “tastes like a car tire and goes down like peanut butter.”

The Jets have a chance to cleanse their palate, and Patriots Coach Bill Belichick doesn’t think there’s any sense in living in the past. To him, it means nothing that New England put a 42-point smackdown on its AFC East rival when they last met.

This game, he said, is not about “what happened last week, not some going in December, some game in October, September. It doesn’t have too much bearing on it. What happens between now and kickoff is what will affect the performance.”

Jets Coach Rex Ryan was mum on the Patriots after his team’s victory at Indianapolis on Saturday night. But after that game, in an emptying locker room, receiver Braylon Edwards did a little talking about the team that humiliated them Dec. 6 in Foxborough, Mass.

“I give them all the credit in the world,” Edwards said about the Patriots, according to Newsday. “They played well. But with that said, we allowed them to do it.

“We played their game. ... Now, we fight.”

Things aren’t likely to be too cordial between the Ravens and Steelers, either. That’s traditionally as nasty as any NFL game can get, with cover-your-eyes knockout blows coming every time they meet.

When the teams met in Baltimore a month ago, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wound up with a nose that looked like Lombard Street, a disfiguring break at the hands of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

“I have no idea who did it or on what play it happened,” Roethlisberger said. “I didn’t even realize it was that bad until I went over to the sidelines and guys were looking at me funny.”

In winning that game, the Steelers ended Baltimore’s home winning streak at eight games. It was the fifth time in six meetings that the margin of victory was three points.

For much of this season, the Seahawks looked like Roethlisberger’s nose — gruesome. They were the first team to make the playoffs with a losing record, and could finish above .500 only by winning the Super Bowl.

That said, Seattle looked plenty good in beating the defending champion New Orleans Saints on Saturday, and Chicago isn’t likely to be taken by surprise. After all, the Seahawks beat the Bears this season, sacking Jay Cutler six times and never allowing Matt Hasselbeck to be sacked. The Seahawks also limited Matt Forte to 11 yards in eight carries.

The outcome of Sunday’s Green Bay-Philadelphia game was good news for the Bears, and not that the Packers emerged victorious, because nobody wants to face them right now.

But with the Packers winning, the Bears get the Seahawks instead of the Eagles. The top-seeded Falcons get Green Bay, which has an outstanding quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and is playing well across the board.

“It’s nice to know we’re going to be back on the field in six days,” Rodgers said with a smile.

Six days. About 900 miles from Green Bay to Atlanta. And a world that feels a lot smaller than that.