WHAT TO LOOK FOR – AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
RETURN ENGAGEMENT: For the fifth consecutive season and 15th time since 1990 when the NFL went to the 12-team playoff format, teams that played at least once during the regular season will meet in the AFC Championship Game when the New York Jets face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. If New York defeats Pittsburgh, it will mark the 11th time in 15 opportunities that a team won the AFC Championship Game against a team it defeated in the regular season.
UNPREDICTABLE NFL: With their win last week, the New York Jets became the third AFC No. 6 seed since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990 to reach the AFC Championship game. Pittsburgh accomplished the feat following the 2005 season en route to their victory in Super Bowl XL. Baltimore reached the AFC title game in 2008.
If the Jets top the Steelers this weekend, they will be only the second No. 6 seed to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl since 1990.
PITTSBURGH IN THE POSTSEASON: This Sunday, Pittsburgh makes its 15th AFC/AFL championship game appearance and hosts its 11th AFC championship, both of which are the most in AFC/AFL history. It also marks the Steelers’ 28th home playoff game, the most among all teams in the Super Bowl era (since 1966), surpassing the Dallas Cowboys (27). If the Steelers win, they will tie the Dallas Cowboys (33) for the most postseason wins in NFL history. A victory would also give Pittsburgh its 20th home playoff victory, breaking a tie with Dallas and Oakland (19) for the most such wins all-time.
SUPER (BOWL) STEELERS: With a win, the Steelers and head coach MIKE TOMLIN will join elite groups of Super Bowl participants. The Steelers have played in seven Super Bowls, winning an NFL-best six (Super Bowl IX, X, XIII, XIV, XL and XLIII). Pittsburgh can earn its eighth Super Bowl berth (lost Super Bowl XXX), tying Dallas for the most ever. Tomlin has won four consecutive playoff games, including three during the Steelers’ Super Bowl XLIII championship run. If he earns his fifth consecutive playoff victory, Tomlin will join Pro Football Hall of Famer JOE GIBBS (Super Bowl XVII and XVIII) as the only head coaches to reach two Super Bowls in their first four seasons as a head coach.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Last week, the New York Jets won their second road playoff game of the season, making them the first team to win at least two postseason games on the road in back-to-back seasons.
Including four wins on the road over the past two postseasons, the Jets have won seven road playoff games in franchise history, tied for the second-most in the Super Bowl era. With a victory, New York would trail only Dallas (nine) for the most road postseason victories since 1966.
Jets quarterback MARK SANCHEZ improved to 4-1 in road playoff games, tying him with Pro Football Hall of Famers LEN DAWSON and ROGER STAUBACH and JAKE DELHOMME for the best winning percentage (.800) in a quarterback’s first five postseason starts on the road. If New York wins this Sunday at Pittsburgh, Sanchez will earn his fifth postseason road victory as a starting quarterback, the most in NFL history.
WOODLEY AS STRONG AS OAK: Steelers linebacker LA MARR WOODLEY has registered nine sacks in five career playoff games and has posted at least one sack in each contest. Among players who competed in their first postseason game after 1982, Woodley and JASON BUCK are the only players to record at least one sack in each of their first five postseason games. With at least one sack on Sunday, Woodley can become the 10th player to register at least 10 postseason sacks since 1982. He would reach double-digit postseason sacks in his sixth career game, the fewest number of playoff games to record at least 10 sacks.
HINES & THE FIELD: In 15 postseason games, Steelers wide receiver HINES WARD has caught 79 passes for 1,089 yards and nine touchdowns. Ward, who currently ranks fifth for career playoff receptions, will look to climb the all-time postseason receiving lists this weekend.
(See "What To Look For" on the NFC after the 'Jump')
WHAT TO LOOK FOR – NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
HELLO AGAIN: The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have met 181 times, which includes only one meetingin the postseason (1941). When the two clubs play for the NFC Championship this weekend, it will mark the longest gap (based on days) between postseason meetings in NFL history.
DIVISION FOES: For the sixth time since the merger, the NFC Championship Game will be contested between division rivals. Chicago and Green Bay split the regular-season series, with each team winning on its home field. The Bears defeated the Packers 20-17 in Week 3, while the Packers were victorious in Week 17, 10-3.
DON’T PACK IT IN: With a win this Sunday, the Green Bay Packers could become the fourth team to win three consecutive road playoff games en route to the Super Bowl. The team could also become the first NFC No. 6 seed to reach the Super Bowl.
GRACIOUS HOST: There have been 13 postseason games played at Soldier Field since 1970, with the Bears compiling a 7-6 record in those contests. This weekend, Soldier Field will host its 14th playoff game, the third-most playoff games hosted by a stadium in the NFC since 1970. Candlestick Park holds the record with 24 NFC postseason games during that span.
MR. RODGERS: Green Bay Packers quarterback AARON RODGERS has thrown 10 touchdown passes in his first three postseason starts, the most in NFL history. Rodgers will make his fourth postseason start in Chicago this Sunday. With two touchdown passes, Rodgers can surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer TROY AIKMAN and KURT WARNER (11) for the most touchdown passes in the first four postseason starts of any quarterback in NFL history. Rodgers, who has thrown six touchdowns this postseason, can also challenge the record for the most touchdown passes thrown in a single conference playoffs.