Wildcard playoff round has instant replay feel

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The first round of the NFL playoffs sets up like an instant replay as three of next weekend's four wildcard games reprise Sunday showdowns that closed the regular season.

Sunday's losers, of course, refuse to concede they are doomed to deja vu and view the postseason as a fresh start.

The Philadelphia Eagles, 24-0 losers on Sunday to the Cowboys, return to Dallas on Saturday in an NFC wildcard game, while the Bengals hope to rebound from a 37-0 thrashing by the Jets when they host the New Yorkers in Saturday's AFC tilt.

The AFC North champion Bengals (10-6) and Eagles (11-5) were eager for their rematches.

"You got to get right back on the horse and figure out how not to get bucked off again," Philadelphia coach Andy Reid told reporters after losing to Dallas a second time this season.

"There's a positive to this. You're in the playoffs and very seldom do you have the opportunity to play a team that just got after you, a second time. We have that opportunity to correct ourselves."

Bengals coach Marvin Smith said: "We get a chance to regroup and get going again next Saturday afternoon.

"You don't get a chance to do this much in the National Football League and I guess we're blessed to have this opportunity coming next week."

The third repeat game comes on Sunday when visiting Green Bay (11-5) play the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals (10-6), 33-7 losers to the Packers in their regular season finale.

The only fresh match-up has AFC East winners New England (10-6) hosting the Baltimore Ravens (9-7), with the Patriots hurting over the loss of receiver Wes Welker, who led the NFL in catches but went down with a knee injury in the last game.

PLAY FOR REAL

Cincinnati and Arizona rested many starters in Sunday's defeats since their playoff slots were already determined.

The Eagles and Cowboys, however, had more at stake with Philadelphia vying for a first-round bye and Dallas seeking to host the playoff game on their home field.

"I think it's really important we finished the season the way we did," said Dallas coach Wade Phillips, whose team won their last three games, handing the New Orleans Saints their first defeat in the process. "Now we have a second season."

Phillips has heard his job may be in jeopardy if he fails to steer NFC East champion Cowboys to their first playoff win since December 1996 after six successive postseason defeats.

"We're really looking forward to this ball game," he said. "It's hard to play a team three times, but I'd rather be on our side of it. I'd rather be the team that won twice and playing at home than the team that lost twice playing on the road."

Jets Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis said he and his team mates were "ecstatic" after coming back from a 4-6 start to reach the playoffs at 9-7, but figured the next Cincinnati clash would be something of a chess match.

"This game is going to be very tough," he told ESPN TV on Monday. "I think the game we played last night was a scrimmage, for both of us.

"They have a lot of material on us and vice versa. It's going to be a big game-plan type of game to try and make big plays on us."

(Editing by Sonia Oxley)