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    In a year when two-thirds of the NFL playoff field is new [url=http://www.bearsfootballauthentics.com/roquan-smith-jersey-authentic]Youth Roquan Smith Jersey[/url] , the AFC still features fixtures Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger , who have seven Super Bowl rings between them, and Alex Smith, who is coming off his best season of his 13-year career.

    The trio of graybeard QBs led their teams to division titles again this year, and for the second straight season they won’t have to worry about Von Miller wrecking their Super Bowl hopes. The Broncos missed the playoff party again along with the Texans, Raiders and Dolphins, who were here last year.

    The Bills are back for the first time in 17 seasons , the Jaguars for the first time in a decade and the Titans return for the first time since 2008.

    The AFC gets wild-card weekend started Saturday with the Titans visiting the Chiefs, who haven’t won a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium in 14 years. On Sunday, the Bills visit the Jaguars.

    New England has its customary bye week – its seventh straight – and Pittsburgh earned its first bye since 2010.

    Strength and weakness of each of the six AFC playoff teams:

    1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (13-3). Last Lombardi: Super Bowl 51, 34-28 OT over Atlanta on Feb. 5, 2017.

    Hope: Tom Brady still plays like he’s 30, not 40. He’s a leading MVP candidate again with a league-leading 4,577 yards passing and 32 TDs. He got hit a lot more than he did last season (32 sacks in

    16). But it hasn’t stopped the Patriots from having the league’s second-ranked offense, averaging 28.6 points. A healthy TE Rob Gronkowski , who missed last year’s playoffs, has given the Patriots a huge lift with 69 catches for 1,084 yards. WR Brandin Cooks added 65 receptions for 1,082 yards.

    Nope: Brady heads into the playoffs without his favorite target, WR Julian Edelman (knee), who got hurt in the preseason. Gronk, Cooks and RB Dion Lewis have picked up the slack. But there are still other injury concerns with WR Chris Hogan, RB James White and RB Mike Gillislee all ailing. The defense also is very banged up. LB Dont’a Hightower (shoulder) was lost for the season in October, and the list of nagging injuries has grown throughout the season. Using the bye week to heal up will be huge for New England’s prospects.

    The Dope: ”I think we’ve got some work to do. We are not where we want to be and that’s what practice is for. The great thing about it is we’ve got one more chance to be able to go out there and play our best.” – Cooks.

    2. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-3). Last Lombardi: Super Bowl 43, 27-23 over Arizona on Feb. 1, 2009.

    Hope: The “Killer Bs” are in full flight for the AFC North champions. Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown, RB Le’Veon Bell and K Chris Boswell are all headed to the Pro Bowl – if the Steelers aren’t playing in the Super Bowl – and rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster has given Pittsburgh a youthful jolt. The Steelers averaged 29.9 points a game during the second half of the season and appear plenty comfortable when things get tight. They went 9-2 in games decided by six points or less.

    Nope: One of those losses was a 27-24 setback to New England on Dec. 17, a game the Steelers led at home throughout until Brady and Gronkowski got going in the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger threw an interception in the end zone on a fake spike when kicking a field goal and going into overtime made plenty of sense. That means a rematch with New England [url=http://www.bearsfootballauthentics.com/anthony-miller-jersey-authentic]Youth Anthony Miller Jersey[/url] , if it happens, would be in Foxborough. Pittsburgh has not proven it can cover Gronk effectively – he averages over 100 yards receiving against the Steelers in his career.

    The Dope: ”It’s time to lock in and take this as serious as we can because we know how hard it is to get here and the opponents we have to play. We have a lot of belief in each other.” – LT Alejandro Villaneuva.

    3. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (10-6). No Super Bowl appearances.

    Hope: Defense wins championships. The Jaguars have one of the best D’s in the league – they rank second in points allowed (16.8), interceptions (21), sacks (55) and yards (286) – and they gave up 10 or fewer points in half of their games. Defensive linemen Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and Yannick Ngakoue, cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, and linebacker Telvin Smith are the cornerstones of a unit that gives Jacksonville a chance in every game.

    Nope: QB Blake Bortles has five interceptions the last two weeks, raising concerns about his ability to carry the offense in the clutch. Bottom line is he needs more help around him. The NFL’s top rushing attack has stalled, slowed because of injuries to rookie Leonard Fournette and the offensive line, and Jacksonville’s young receivers have started dropping passes, messing up routes and looking far from ready for the playoff stage. The Jaguars are coming off nine consecutive losing seasons, so this is new to them.

    The Dope: ”I know he’s going to do everything he can to get back on that horse and lead us the right way and lead from the front. And everybody’s going to do their job around him and do a little bit more. It’s time to step it up, and that’s not just him, that’s everybody.” – TE Marcedes Lewis on Bortles.

    4. KANSAS CITY (10-6). Last Lombardi: Super Bowl 4, 23-7 over Minnesota on Jan. 11, 1970.

    Hope: Smith had the best season of his 13-year career , helped along by the best supporting cast he’s ever had. WR Tyreek Hill is a game-changer not only on offense but as a punt returner, RB Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing as a rookie, and TE Travis Kelce has arguably supplanted Gronkowski as the best in the game a

    Note to opposing pitchers: Fear the beard.

    The Colorado Rockies‘ Charlie Blackmon is starting to return to the form that saw him lead the National League with a .331 batting average last season, when he also had career highs with 37 home runs and 104 RBIs.

    The bearded Blackmon homered in the first inning for the second time in the past three games Friday and added two other hits, sparking the Rockies to a 7-1 victory at Seattle. It was Colorado’s fourth straight win and seventh in the past eight games.

    “It’s really good to continue to try and win games, play team baseball, even if you’re not feeling real awesome at the plate,” Blackmon told MLB.com earlier this week.

    Blackmon hit a first-inning homer Tuesday in an 8-1 victory against San Francisco, then went deep against longtime Mariners ace Felix Hernandez on Friday.

    During the Rockies’ four-game win streak, Blackmon is batting .471 (8-for-17) with two homers, four RBIs and has six runs scored. By contrast, from June 6 to Monday’s 5-2 victory over the Giants, Blackmon hit .216 (22-for-102) with two homers.

    “This guy is the National League batting champion [url=http://www.broncosauthorizedshops.com/authentic-royce-freeman-jersey]http://www.broncosauthorizedshops.com/authentic-royce-freeman-jersey[/url] ,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “He’s an All-Star, started the All-Star Game, hit 37 home runs, knocked in 100 runs from the leadoff position. He’s going to be pitched tough the next year, for sure.

    “And Charlie, at times, has come out of his game a little bit. Our conversation with Charlie has been, ‘Hey, be yourself.’ “

    And that’s when opponents fear the beard.

    “I’ve felt pretty good the past couple of days,” Blackmon admitted.

    Blackmon will face a tough task Saturday afternoon in Seattle against Mariners left-hander James Paxton (8-2, 3.39 ERA). Paxton is 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA in two career starts against the Rockies.

    In his most recent start, Paxton pitched eight shutout innings, giving up just two hits while striking out 11, in a 1-0 victory over the Royals on Sunday.

    Blackmon has a .305 career average against lefties. Of the left-handed batters with a minimum of 750 plate appearances, the only ones in baseball history with a better average against southpaws are Ichiro Suzuki, Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew and Larry Walker.

    Colorado will send left-hander Kyle Freeland (8-6, 3.25) to the mound. Freeland has made one career start against the Mariners, a 6-3 win at Safeco Field last season. He pitched six innings in that game and allowed two runs on six hits. In five career interleague starts, Freeland is 4-0 with a 2.14 ERA.

    The Mariners hope to have outfielder Mitch Haniger back Saturday.

    Haniger, who is second in the American League with 62 RBIs, has missed the past two games with a bruised right knee.

    “(Thursday) it was really sore, but it’s calmed down quite a bit,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said before Friday’s game. “He had it looked at by the doctor and it’s day-to-day. Hopefully he goes along good today and he possibly could get back in there (Saturday). He was definitely moving and feeling better.”

    Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon left Friday’s game in the sixth inning after trying to score from third base on a ball that was in the dirt and got away from Colorado catcher Tony Wolters. But Wolters quickly recovered and flipped to pitcher German Marquez, who tagged out Gordon, who tried to score standing up. Gordon landed awkwardly after crossing the plate and Servais said Gordon “tweaked his hip.”

    “I think he’ll be OK,” Servais said. “We’ll know more (Saturday) morning.”

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