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Playoff pairings set for NFL’s wild card weekend

WITH the Green Bay Packers (13-3) and Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) earning the top seeds and first-round byes in the NFC and AFC playoffs, respectively, the other 12 teams that made the playoffs have learned where they’ll be headed for wild card weekend.

In an unprecedented move for the National Football League (NFL), seven teams made the postseason from each conference, with only the top seed receiving a first-round bye. In previous years, each conference sent six teams to the postseason and the top two seeds received first-round byes.

There will be three games on Saturday and three more on Sunday, starting at 1:05 p.m., 4:40 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. All times are EST.

In the National Football Conference (NFC), the second-seeded and NFC South champion New Orleans Saints (12-4) will host the seventh-seeded Chicago Bears (8-8), who backed into the playoffs when the Arizona Cardinals lost to the Los Angeles Rams. The Saints and Bears will meet on Sunday at 4:40 p.m.

Third-seeded and NFC West champion Seattle (12-4) will host the sixth-seeded Los Angeles Rams (10-6), who punched their playoff ticket for the third time in four years with a win over the Cardinals on Sunday.

Seattle and the Rams will meet on Saturday at 4:40 p.m. The teams split a pair of regular-season games, with each winning on its home field, most recently the Seahawks’ 20-9 win in Week 16 that secured the division title.

The NFC East champion, either Washington (6-9) or New York Giants (6-10) pending the outcome of the Washington-Philadelphia Eagles, will host fifth-seeded Tampa Bay (11-5) on Saturday at 8:15 p.m., as Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is three wins away from his seventh Super Bowl title.

Either the Giants or Washington will be just the second team to make the playoffs with a losing record — aside from the 1982 strike-shortened season — joining the 2010 Seahawks, who went 7-9 en route to winning the NFC West title. That year, Seattle defeated New Orleans in the first round before falling a week later in the divisional round at Chicago.

In the American Football League (AFC), the second-seeded and AFC East champion Buffalo Bills (13-3) will host the seventh-seeded Indianapolis Colts (11-5) on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Colts coach Frank Reich is a Buffalo legend, as he quarterbacked the Bills to the biggest comeback in playoff history, rallying Buffalo from a 32-point deficit against the Houston Oilers to win in overtime, 41-38, on Jan. 3, 1993.

The third-seeded and AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) will host sixth-seeded Cleveland (11-5), which is making its first postseason appearance since 2002, in the opening weekend finisher on Sunday at 8:15 p.m.

The AFC North teams split a pair of meetings, with each team winning on its home field. Cleveland defeated Pittsburgh, 24-22, in Week 17 in a game in which the Steelers rested several of their best players, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Fourth-seeded and AFC South champion Tennessee (12-4) will host the fifth-seeded Baltimore Ravens (11-5) on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Titans knocked the then-top-seeded Ravens out of the playoffs last year in the divisional round before falling to the eventual-Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC title game. — Reuters

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