Putting the “division” in divisional playoffs

Putting the “division” in divisional playoffs

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By Jon Kendle

The 2010 playoffs move into the Divisional Playoff round and for the sixth time since the 1970 merger, all four of this weekend's games are rematches of regular season contests. The other times this has occurred was in 1991, 1997, 2004, 2005, and 2008.

Two of the matchups include division rivals meeting for the third time this season as the Baltimore Ravens travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers, and the New England Patriots host AFC East foe New York Jets. It's the first time since 2000 that division rivals met in the Divisional Playoff round.

That year, the AFC's top-seed Tennessee Titans hosted the fourth-seeded Baltimore Ravens while the NFC East champion New York Giants were home against the Philadelphia Eagles. The winner of each moved on to the conference championship and one step closer to a Super Bowl.

The first game that day was a rubber match between the Ravens' record-breaking defense and the defending AFC Champion Titans. Tennessee had won the first matchup in Baltimore 14-6, while the Ravens came out on top in the game at Tennessee 24-23. The playoff game offered more of the same, a classic AFC Central Division battle where the most physical team would win. Taking a 10-10 tie into the fourth quarter the Titans looked poised to take the lead on a 37-yard Al Del Greco field goal. However, the tides turned and the attempt was blocked by defensive tackle Keith Washington and returned 90 yards for the game-winning touchdown by safety Anthony Mitchell. The Ravens added another touchdown on a 50-yard interception return by Ray Lewis and cruised to a 24-10 victory.

Meanwhile, the Giants looked to sweep the Eagles by collecting their third victory against Philly that season. The first two matchups were won easily by New York, a 33-18 victory in Philadelphia and then a 24-7 victory at the Meadowlands. The postseason matchup was not that different as the Giants jumped out to a 17-0 lead. Fueled by their defense and special teams New York's two touchdowns came on a 97-yard kickoff return and a 32-yard interception return. The Eagles never rebounded and the Giants' defense added six sacks, and two fumble recoveries on their way to a 20-10 victory.

The following week both the Ravens and Giants clinched their respective conferences and prepared to matchup in Super Bowl XXXV. Baltimore went on to defeat New York 34-7 and become just the third Wild Card team to win a Super Bowl.

Eleven years later, a similar scenario presents itself again as divisional rivals square off in the Divisional Playoffs. This past regular season is now "ancient" history as the Jets and Patriots, and Ravens and Steelers know. The winners move on the road to Super Bowl XLV and the loser goes home.

Kendle is a researcher at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He joined the Hall of Fame's staff in 2006.

More NFL playoffs on Profootballhof.com
How do top seeds fare in playoffs?
All-time NFL playoff results, 1932-present
Postseason win/loss records for each NFL team
Team Histories: Ravens | Steelers | Jets | Patriots

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