While Seattle has won six in a row, erased its reputation as a road flop with three straight away victories _ including last week at Washington _ and has the league’s stingiest defense.
It’s Atlanta, 0-3 in the postseason under coach Mike Smith and with Matt Ryan at quarterback, that probably faces more pressure.
“We’ve been disappointed a few times,” said center Todd McClure, a Falcon for 13 years. “I think we’ve got guys in this locker room who are hungry and ready to get over that hump.”
One of them is Tony Gonzalez, the career leader in nearly all receiving categories among tight ends. In 16 pro seasons, Gonzalez never has won a playoff game. And he’s said this very likely is his final year in the NFL.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “I really, really, really want to win this game.”
To get it, Gonzalez, Ryan and star receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White must contend with the league’s most physical defense, a unit that completely shut down the Redskins for three quarters in the 24-14 wild-card win.
“I expect our guys to try to play like they always play,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “They don’t need to change anything because we’re not doing anything different, we’re going to try and hang with them, and we’ll find out what happens.”
Texans (13-4) at Patriots (12-4)
Houston’s reward for its wild-card win over Cincinnati is a return to trip to Foxborough, where the Texans’ late-season spiral began. Houston was in position for home-field advantage in the AFC before being routed 42-14 by the Patriots, then losing twice more in the final three games.
This is only the fourth postseason game in the Texans’ 11-season NFL history. The Patriots began winning Super Bowls with Tom Brady before the Texans were born.
Houston must bring the fierce pass rush it often has shown with end J.J. Watt, who led the NFL with 20 1-2 sacks.
“Biggest goal of them all, Super Bowl, and this is a big step for us,” Watt said, “and we’re really excited about the challenge.”
That challenge comes against the NFL’s most prolific offense. The Texans and Patriots allowed the same number of points, 331, but New England led NFL in scoring with 557 points, 34.8 per game.
Brady would surpass Joe Montana for most postseason victories by a quarterback by beating Houston. Brady is 16-6, although he began 10-0.
He isn’t looking for a repeat of the Dec. 10 romp.