As if reaching a conference title game wasn't incentive enough, the NFL's divisional playoff round will feature an added carrot for four teams: payback.
For the first time since 2010, every second-round matchup represents a rematch of a regular-season meeting. Three of the four contests will be played in a different venue. The Texans and Patriots will again throw down in Foxborough, Mass., but their game will have a significantly different element: the presence of Tom Brady, who was suspended when the teams played in September.
Six years ago, all four teams that won in the divisional round avenged a loss suffered earlier in the season, though two of the games were rubber matches between divisional rivals. Replicating that script this weekend will require an epic upset from Houston.
Let's look back, while also peering ahead to what should be a compelling slate of postseason football:
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons
Recent history: Seattle has won the past two matchups (2013 and 2016), but QB Russell Wilson tasted playoff defeat for the first time when Atlanta outlasted the Seahawks 30-28 at the Georgia Dome in the divisional round four years ago.
What happened last time: The Seahawks barely escaped with a 26-24 victory at CenturyLink Field in Week 6 when CB Richard Sherman rather obviously interfered with WR Julio Jones on a deep pass into the middle of the field on the Falcons' final drive. If a penalty had been called, Atlanta would have had 90 seconds to draw down the clock and attempt a game-winning field goal.
What to look for: The Jones-Sherman rematch will draw obvious interest. But it's also worth wondering if Seattle, 2-9 in its last 11 road playoff games, can keep pace with the Falcons' top-rated scoring attack without injured FS Earl Thomas. Dictating tempo by running the ball as effectively as they did in the wild-card round would be a major boon for the Seahawks.
Seahawks quote: "Obviously we know this defense very well because (Dan Quinn) was our defensive coach here," said receiver Doug Baldwin. "They’ve got some talented guys over there, and there’s not many weaknesses on their defense.”
Falcons quote: “We’re in the playoffs,” said Jones. “At the end of the day it’s not ‘I want revenge’ or anything like that. It’s just that they’re in our way.”
WATCH: Seahawks at Falcons preview
Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Recent history: The Pats are 7-1 all-time against the Texans and 4-0 at Gillette Stadium, including a 41-28 victory in the divisional round four years ago.
What happened last time: Despite having to resort to rookie QB Jacoby Brissett, New England embarrassed the overmatched Texans 27-0 in Week 3. RB LeGarrette Blount scored twice, and Brissett stuck to a conservative game plan and let Texans QB Brock Osweiler make all the mistakes.
What to look for: With Brady back and playing as well as he ever as, Houston is a 16-point underdog. For the Texans to have a shot at beating the team with the league's best record, DE Jadeveon Clowney will likely need another big day for the NFL's top-ranked defense, while Osweiler must avoid turnovers and allow RB Lamar Miller and WR DeAndre Hopkins to do extensive damage. Houston will probably need a heist on special teams or multiple takeaways, too.
Texans quote: "We saw the game between Alabama and Clemson where these so-called experts had Clemson as underdogs," said nose tackle and former Patriot Vince Wilfork. "In 2007, those experts had the New York Giants as underdogs and both of those teams went on to win the Super Bowl and the national championship. So, it goes to show you what these experts know."
Patriots quote: "I view it as the biggest game that we’ve played all season against the best defense that we’ve played all season," said Brady. "I don’t see any letdown from us. That’s ridiculous to think that. I’m preparing like this is the hardest game we’ve faced all season, which it will be, and it means the most."
WATCH: Texans at Patriots preview
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Recent history: Steelers QB Ben Roetlisberger is 5-1 all-time against the Chiefs going back to 2006.
What happened last time: Big Ben had his most prolific game of 2016 (season-high 5 TD passes and 152.5 QB rating) in a 43-14 blowout of Kansas City at Heinz Field in Week 4. It was the only game the AFC West-champion Chiefs lost this season by more than seven points.
What to look for: Since the first meeting, the Chiefs have gotten huge contributions from rookie WR/KR Tyreek Hill on offense and special teams, including five touchdowns averaging nearly 70 yards in length over the last four games. OLB Justin Houston, who was still recovering from knee surgery in Week 4, is also expected back. Expect Pittsburgh to continue relying on RB Le'Veon Bell (178 yards from scrimmage in first meeting), especially since Roethlisberger has been far less effective on the road this season.
Steelers quote: “You have to dial in, wire in. That’s why we talk about how important the playoffs are in every practice, every rep you can take,” Roethlisberger said. “(S)ome guys have never been in this situation before, and I’ve been in a lot of them.”
Chiefs quote: “Listen, Pittsburgh did a great job against us. They got after us. We respect the heck out of them,” said coach Andy Reid. “Going back to the drawing board and see if we can compete against him.”
Watch: Packers at Cowboys preview
Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys
Recent history: Before falling in October, the Pack had beaten the Cowboys five in a row, including a divisional-round postseason victory two years ago.
What happened last time: Dallas upset the Packers 30-16 at Lambeau Field on Oct. 16 as rookies Dak Prescott (247 pass yards, 3 TDs) and Ezekiel Elliott (157 yards) continued to take the league by storm. Aaron Rodgers passed for 294 yards, a TD and INT in a losing effort.
What to look for: The Cowboys will want to control the ball (and clock), riding Elliott on long drives while keeping the Green Bay offense on the sideline. If not, the Dallas defense could be at the mercy of Rodgers, who's the hottest player in the league with 22 TD passes and zero picks in his last eight games. However the availability of Packers WR Jordy Nelson (ribs) could be a huge factor.
Packers quote: “We’re doing a lot of different things than we were last year, a lot of things better," said Rodgers. "I think our offensive line is playing better. Our scheme has advanced, and we’re getting more contributions from the tight end at this point."
Cowboys quote: “As a defensive back, you’ve got a clock in your mind,” said safety Byron Jones. “In three or four seconds, the ball has to come out. Against Aaron Rodgers, you might have to guard for eight to ten seconds. And that’s what we’re prepared to do. That’s what we did the last game. If we can carry over what we did last game to this game, we’ll be OK."
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