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It’s experience vs. youth in these NFL playoffs

Drew Brees has a dozen playoff starts.

That’s not lost on his New Orleans Saints teammates, even those who are making their first foray into the NFL postseason. They understand the value of experience in these do-or-die games.

“It’s huge to have a guy like Drew Brees at the helm, who understands every situation,” defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said after Sunday’s first-round victory over Carolina. “He’s never going to put our defense in a bad position. He’s never going to put this team in a bad position. He’s always going to give us a chance to win. That’s all you can ask for.”

A big theme heading into the four divisional games is the wealth of experience at quarterback versus the lack thereof. In every game, there’s a seasoned passer on one side and a relative newcomer on the other.

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Brees versus Minnesota’s Case Keenum, making his postseason debut.

New England’s Tom Brady (34 playoff games) vs. Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota (one).

Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (20) vs. Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles (one).

Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (nine) vs. Philadelphia’s Nick Foles (one).

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Experience counts, something that was evident in the Falcons’ first-round victory at Los Angeles. That game pitted a team that was fresh off a Super Bowl experience – albeit a historic second-half collapse – and a club that had not played in the postseason since 2004. Rams quarterback Jared Goff was not at the top of his game.

“It’s super fast. Everyone’s into it,” noted Jacksonville linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. of the playoff intensity. “The way you study, the way you scheme, it’s all different. It’s just a different tempo, very fast.”

The Jaguars are looking to shock the football world a second time, after a 30-9 victory at Pittsburgh in October when they ran back two Roethlisberger interceptions for touchdowns. It was after that game that the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback famously said, “Maybe I don’t have it anymore,” in frustration.

Bortles was not a big factor in that game, passing for just 95 yards with an interception. It was rookie running back Leonard Fournette who set the pace with 181 yards and two touchdowns.

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The Steelers will have All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown back from a calf injury he sustained in mid-December. He participated in most of Monday’s practice.

“We’ll see how it goes and how the week progressed,” Brown, the NFL’s only unanimous All-Pro, told reporters Monday. “I feel I was able to go through practice. I can still get a little better, but it was good to be out there... There’s still a lot to test. First day of the week.”

The Patriots have the AFC’s top seed, and a five-time Super Bowl winner in Brady, although they’ve been dealing with the potential distraction of an ESPN report of a strained relationship among the quarterback, coach Bill Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Then again, the Patriots have weathered all types of turbulence before and still won.

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The Titans played at New England during the 2015 season and lost, 33-16. In that game, the rookie Mariota left the game in the second quarter after consecutive drives that ended in sacks.

Belichick said Monday that there’s no value in his players studying that game tape, with the teams and situations being so much different now. He also warned against dismissing the Titans as being light on postseason experience.

“They really have been in the playoffs here the last couple of weeks,” Belichick said. “They had to win their last regular season game. He brought them from behind 21-3 against Kansas City in Kansas City for a playoff win. I think his performance speaks for itself. I don’t think what happened two years ago really has any bearing at all, whatsoever, on this game.”

As for the Eagles, they have already made history. A far less dangerous team without quarterback Carson Wentz, they are the first No. 1 seed to be an underdog in a divisional game. Las Vegas opened with the Falcons favored by three.

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Asked what he’d like to see out of Foles on Saturday, Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said he simply wants Foles to “play his game.”

“This is a team game,” he said. “This is we, we, we. We’re going to do this. We do it together. It’s not any one man. It never was any one man.”

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer


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