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Rivalries and rematches ahead in NFL playoffs

Saints Seahawks Football

The road was kind in the wild-card round. The next challenge might be more daunting for the Saints, 49ers and Chargers.

Not to mention the Colts, the only team to win at home this weekend.

Not that any of the first-round playoff winners are shying away from the next test. Rather, their attitude is "Bring it on."

"They got us the first time," 49ers All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman said of the Carolina Panthers, who won at San Francisco two months ago. "What's on our minds is to get them now. It's the playoffs, win or go home."

Going ahead were the 49ers after a 23-20 victory at frigid Green Bay; New Orleans, which finally got a postseason win away from the Big Easy by beating Philadelphia 26-24; San Diego, a 27-10 winner at Cincinnati, which had not lost at home all season; and Indianapolis, a 45-44 victor against Kansas City thanks to a stunning comeback from a 28-point deficit.

Next Saturday, it's New Orleans (12-5) at Seattle (13-3) on Saturday, followed by Indianapolis (12-5) at New England (12-4). Sunday's matchups are San Francisco (13-4) at Carolina (12-4), then San Diego (10-7) at Denver (13-3).

All but Colts-Patriots are rematches of a regular-season meeting. In addition to the Panthers' 10-9 win on Nov. 10 at Candlestick Park, the Seahawks routed the Saints 34-7 in Seattle, and the Chargers won 27-20 at Denver last month.

"We're loose, we're confident, we're peaking at the right time," said safety Eric Weddle, who spearheaded a stingy Chargers defense against the Bengals. "We are a team to be dealt with. We're a confident bunch, especially in the second half, in the fourth quarter. We feel we're ready for those situations. The pressure is not going to get to us."

What's ahead in the playoffs:

Saints at Seahawks

New Orleans played its worst game of the season on Dec. 2 at Seattle, which seemed invincible at home back then. But the Seahawks showed some vulnerability at noisy CenturyLink Field by losing their next home game to Arizona.

That should encourage the Saints, but only if they can replicate the pressure the Cardinals' defense put on quarterback Russell Wilson. The Saints shut down the league's top rushing team in Philadelphia, and Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has not been very dynamic the last six weeks.

But there's also the theory that the Seahawks were helped by sustaining their first home loss with second-year QB Wilson at the helm, and they won't be slipping up again.

"When you face an opponent previously in the season, you have a better idea of what you're going against," New Orleans defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley said. "It helps you prepare for it a little bit better."

Colts at Patriots

Here's a juicy one: Andrew Luck, the new comeback king among quarterbacks, against three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady.

"There's no question he's a complete football player and one of the top quarterbacks in this league already," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Sunday. He meant Luck.

For that matchup to matter, though, the Colts must avoid the slow starts that plagued them this season. Does anyone believe they can fall behind by four touchdowns or so against the Patriots and then win?

New England's once sieve-like defense has improved recently, and witnessing what the Chiefs did to Indy's defense even without Jamaal Charles should make Colts fans shudder.

49ers at Panthers

San Francisco's versatility and experience showed at Green Bay. Teams that win in the worst of conditions while not playing close to their best are particularly dangerous.

The Niners won't need to worry about wind chills at Carolina. They will need to find a way to move the ball against a Panthers defense that shut them down two months ago.

This has the look of a low-scoring contest, but with San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and Carolina's Cam Newton bringing so much creativity and energy at quarterback, the scoreboard might get lit up.

"Colin Kaepernick, I think we can all agree, is a clutch performer," coach Jim Harbaugh said.

Chargers at Broncos

These two original AFL franchises have met 108 times, but never in the postseason.

Denver won at San Diego in November by eight points, then lost at home a month later to the Chargers by seven. San Diego has won five in a row, barely sneaking into the playoffs, but then handling the Bengals relatively easily Sunday.

For the Chargers to stay close to the Broncos' record-setting offense led by Peyton Manning, they will need their own quarterback, Philip Rivers, to make lots of big plays. Plus, Denver is not going to forget how it posted the AFC's best record a year ago, then flopped against Baltimore in its first postseason chance.

"We will be confident," said Rivers, who was 12 of 16 for 128 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions on a rainy, 40-degree afternoon in Cincinnati. "We've got to be careful we're not overconfident, which we won't be."

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John Benjamin January 06 2014 at 4:25 PM

PATRIOTS vs SEAHAWKS in supebowl,ne27 sea24

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john January 06 2014 at 4:02 PM

Broncos - 49 ers in the Superbowl with DENVER winning the whole thing

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bobbren1 January 06 2014 at 5:28 PM

Only if the NFL helps them out

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bobbren1 January 06 2014 at 2:41 PM

So Denver lost to the Colts, Patriots and the most recent game against the Chargers and yet they are picked to win the AFC. My point...if that was any other team in the AFC all you would hear is how they lost to all of the other remaining teams. Thinking it is because Manning makes money for the NFL. I am not saying he is not a great QB just saying.

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spce127 January 06 2014 at 2:49 PM

The Chargers played very well in Cincinnati. Let's hope that they can do it again in Denver on Sunday.

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bobbren1 January 06 2014 at 2:57 PM

LOL...Still makes me angry listening to the media today. Fact is Manning makes the NFL money.

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sky7728 January 06 2014 at 2:19 PM

Would be nice to see Manning and Brady in the Super Bowl. It can't happen as they are both in the AFC. I'll root for either unless it is a matchup. Then go Brady!

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buck229313 January 06 2014 at 2:11 PM

I have to agree with vhg946, since my cousin plays fot the 49ers, I would like to see them take it all. Although NC is a tough team to beat on their home front, I think the 49ers can pull it off.

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Scott January 06 2014 at 1:51 PM

Seahawks and Colts Superbowl

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Lory Lazarus January 06 2014 at 1:46 PM

Sad to see the Packers gone... but good luck 49ers!

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BARB WRIGHT January 06 2014 at 1:39 PM

Bronco's all the way!

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vhg946 January 06 2014 at 1:39 PM

49ers are the champion this year......

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Bill January 06 2014 at 1:02 PM

Comeback of the week-end, Andrew Luck..............very gutsy!!

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