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NFL ready for some rematches

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Cheers and Jeers,Sports,NFL,Kevin Dunleavy

Three of the NFL division playoff games this weekend are rematches of regular-season contests. All of the winners of those previous games are home favorites. But history says beating a team for a second time isn't easy.

Over the last four years, regular-season winners have a 12-12 record in playoff rematches. In addition, five years ago the New York Giants upended three teams that it fell to in the regular season en route to winning the Super Bowl.

Here's a look at the three rematches:

Ravens at Broncos » In Week 15, Denver rolled to a 34-17 victory in Baltimore, one of 11 straight wins for the Broncos. The game turned on a huge play at the end of the first half. With Baltimore down 10-0 but threatening, Chris Harris picked off a Joe Flacco pass and ran 98 yards for a touchdown.

What has changed since: Many will point to the inspiration provided by the retirement of Ray Lewis, but here's a better reason to favor the Ravens -- Bernard Pierce. In the last three games, Pierce has rushed for 123, 89 and 103 yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry and joining Ray Rice in a scary backfield combo as Baltimore has rediscovered the run.

Packers at 49ers » San Francisco won 30-22 at Green Bay in Week 1 as Frank Gore rushed for 112 yards and Alex Smith (125.6 rating) outgunned Aaron Rodgers (93.3 rating).

What has changed since: A quarterback change to Colin Kaepernick has made the 49ers more dynamic, but at the same time San Francisco seems to have lost its formula. The low-risk, ball-control offense run by Smith enhanced the 49ers' ability to dominate on defense by keeping the unit fresh.

Texans at Patriots » Houston was cruising along and in position to get the top seed in the AFC before falling at New England 42-14 in Week 14 in a thorough beatdown. Arian Foster (15 carries, 46 yards) was ineffective, and the Texans had no answer for Tom Brady.

What has changed since: Nothing much. But the Patriots, once unbeatable in the playoffs, have been vulnerable in recent postseasons, losing at home to the Jets as the No. 1 seed in 2011 and to the Ravens in a wild-card game in 2010.

- Kevin Dunleavy

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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