Washington Redskins (11-6) at Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
KICKOFF: Saturday, 4:30 ET
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
SERIES: 14th meeting. Redskins lead 9-4. Washington has won the last four against the Seahawks, all since 2001. Three of the victories were at Washington. The teams have never met in the playoffs. Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren is 0-4 in games against Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. Holmgren has defeated every team in the league except Washington.
2005 RANKINGS: Redskins: offense 11th (7th rush, 21st pass); defense 9th (13th rush, 10th pass). Seahawks: offense 2nd (3rd rush, 13th pass); defense 17th (5th rush, 25th pass)
PREDICTION: Seahawks 23-19
KEYS TO THE GAME:
The running games will tell the tale, and not just because wind and rain are expected to pound the Seattle area through the weekend. The Redskins need to hit on a few big plays against the Seahawks' vulnerable secondary, but RB Clinton Portis has still been the driving force behind the team's six-game winning streak. QB Mark Brunell has been uneven down the stretch and Seattle's strength defensively has been coming up with timely sacks and turnovers. While Portis is beat up from a grueling season, Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander should have fresh legs courtesy of the team's week. The key could be the start QB Matt Hasselbeck gets off to. The Seahawks' offense relies heavily on timing, which could be thrown off by the down time. But if Hasselbeck can lead an efficient passing attack, it will prevent the Redskins from loading up against Alexander.
KEY PERSONNEL NEWS
Redskins: WR James Thrash isn't likely to play with the fractured right thumb he suffered last Saturday at Tampa Bay. If Thrash can't play, WR Jimmy Farris would be activated to take his place while WR Taylor Jacobs would return to the starting lineup.
Seahawks: WR Darrell Jackson is expected to start Saturday after resting a sore knee in the final regular-season game. --RT Sean Locklear sat out most of practice Thursday with a sore hip
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Redskins: In Saturday's divisional playoff at Seattle, Washington's defense -- which has forced 20 turnovers during its six-game winning streak compared to just 11 in the first 11 games -- just want to control MVP RB Shaun Alexander. "Shaun's one of those rare backs that has the patience, the speed, the power, the whole package," defensive coordinator Greg Williams said before the team flew to Seattle. The Redskins limited Alexander to 12 yards on six carries in the first half of their 20-17 overtime victory over the Seahawks on Oct. 2. The sixth-year back from Alabama finished with 98 yards on 20 carries, including a 34-yard run and a 3-yard touchdown run. Washington's defense ranked 13th against the run, allowing 105.4 yards per game, but that average has dropped to 81.7 during the winning streak.
Seahawks: "I thought we had good week of preparation," Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren said Thursday. "I was a little bit mad at the offense yesterday, but they responded with a very, very good practice today." Holmgren chuckled when asked whether his team might have trouble getting back up to speed following the bye week. "I am glad you didn't use the 'rust' word," he said. "I have been asked that question a lot. It is a little amusing to me. You play all season long to get the first-round bye; remember, we all wanted to get the first-round bye. Then the big thing is how we are handling it. It is a playoff game, they know what it is all about. They worked very hard to get here."
New England Patriots (11-6) at Denver Broncos (13-3)
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8:00 ET
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Bonnie Bernstein
SERIES: 40th meeting. Broncos lead 24-15, including a 22-17 Denver win in a first-round AFC playoff game following the 1986 season. The teams have split the last six meetings dating back to 1999. The Patriots are 8-16 all-time in Denver. They lost 10 straight there from 1969 to 1998 but are 2-2 since.
2005 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 7th (24th rush, 2nd pass); defense 26th (8th rush, 31st pass). Broncos: offense 5th (2nd rush, 18th pass); defense 15th (2nd rush, 29th pass)
PREDICTION: Broncos 27-24
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots attempted to establish their running game against the Broncos' speedy linebackers during the regular season meeting and found themselves in a 28-3 hole. Expect them to feature more of the spread formations that allowed them to stage a comeback that fell just short. The Broncos are thin at cornerback, with CB Domonique Foxworth starting and fellow rookie Darrent Williams the nickel back -- if he can overcome a groin injury. Denver built its big lead in the first meeting courtesy of big plays in the running and passing games. The Patriots have since shored up their run defense, which has in turn greatly protected their injury-depleted secondary. The Broncos desperately want to run the ball significantly and allow QB Jake Plummer to manage the game. New England would love nothing more than to stuff the run and force Plummer to beat them.
KEY PERSONNEL NEWS
Patriots: FB Patrick Pass enjoyed a career day the last time the Patriots played in Denver, totaling 153 yards from scrimmage. His previous best was 57 yards. Pass rushed 10 times for 64 yards and caught six passes for 89 yards. He had receptions of 39 and 32 yards. The Jaguars sacked QB Tom Brady four times, all in the first half, in last week's playoff opener. Brady had been sacked only 12 times in his nine previous career playoff games.
Broncos: CB Darrent Williams should play on Saturday. He has a groin injury but has practiced all week. The Broncos don't know how he'll react in a game situation, however. Denver wasn't testing him too hard during practice early in the week because the Broncos didn't want to set him back. G Ben Hamilton will be important on Saturday against New England, getting to the Patriots' talented inside linebackers on Denver's zone running plays. SS Nick Ferguson will be important in run support against New England. If the Patriots can get their running game going against Denver, it will make Tom Brady even more dangerous.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Patriots: In a 28-20 loss at Denver in Week 6, the Patriots' comeback attempt was stymied by three big drops in the fourth quarter -- two by WR Deion Branch and one by fellow wide receiver David Givens. The miscues symbolized a frustrating day for the Patriots' offense as New England snoozed through the first half and fell behind 28-3 in the third quarter. When the Patriots finally got going they discovered that the hole they had dug for themselves was too deep. "As an offensive player, you always feel like you leave a lot of things on the field, which we have done this season," said Branch, the reigning Super Bowl MVP. "Last season, I can (remember) a couple of games where we went out and played a solid game. This year we haven't played a perfect game or the type of game we want to play on the offensive side of the ball." Branch, who set career highs in catches (78) and receiving yards (998) this season, had seven catches for 87 yards in the first meeting with the Broncos. He had only two receptions for 36 yards against the Jaguars last week.
Broncos: Not many teams can stop the Denver Broncos' rushing attack, but the New England Patriots haven't allowed much on the ground lately. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has repeated one statistic this week -- in the second half of the season the Patriots allowed 2.9 yards per rushing attempt. That doesn't count a regular-season finale against Miami when the Patriots rested many starters. "That's unprecedented," Shanahan said. The matchup will be strength vs. strength. The Broncos won't give up their running game. They were second in the NFL with 33.9 rushing attempts per game. The Broncos rushed for 178 yards against New England on Oct. 16. But the Patriots were missing some key players in that game, including defensive lineman Richard Seymour and linebacker Tedy Bruschi.