Wild card round, part two: Today, the Beltway will be buzzing. First, AFC North champion Baltimore hosts Indianapolis. Then NFC East winner Washington plays Seattle. While Houston (13-4) heads to Foxborough next weekend, AFC West winner Denver (13-3) will host either Baltimore or Indianapolis. NFC South champ Atlanta (13-3) and NFC West winner San Francisco (11-4-1) also had byes.
Colts (11-5) at Ravens (10-6): From Ray Lewis’ pending retirement to Chuck Pagano’s return to Baltimore to the history of these two franchises, this game has all kinds of intriguing story lines. Lewis announced this week he will end his 17-year career as one of the NFL’s premier players, let alone linebackers, after the playoffs. He’s hoping for a long run duplicating the 2000 season, when he was Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP. “That moment I walk out of that tunnel Sunday, every person that was a Ravens fan — 1996 to this day — we will all enjoy that moment,” he said. “It will probably be one of the glorious moments in my life.”
Pagano: The Colts head coach spent four seasons coaching defense in Baltimore, then landed the head coaching job in Indy. He missed 12 games while undergoing treatments for leukemia and came back last week in a win over Houston. Now he’s back in Baltimore. And Pagano knows all about the history of the Colts leaving for Indianapolis in Mayflower moving vans in the middle of the night in 1984. “Yeah, because when this opportunity presented itself, I remember seeing the paper when I left town,” Pagano joked. “I was driving a Mayflower out of town, so I fully understand. They had me in the cab, if I remember right.”
Seahawks (11-5) at Redskins (10-6): Two streaking teams with sensational rookie quarterbacks, making it three such starters in action today (Andrew Luck leads the Colts). Washington took its final seven games to grab its division title. QB Robert Griffin III (102.4) had the best single-season rookie passer rating in NFL history; Seattle’s Russell Wilson was next at 100.0. Griffin also set a league mark for yards rushing by a rookie QB (815). Wilson threw 26 TD passes, tying Peyton Manning’s NFL rookie record set in 1998. “He’s a playmaker. He’s a football player. He makes plays running around, like a video game, buying time for the receivers, taking off with the football himself,” Redskins veteran linebacker London Fletcher said. He was talking about Wilson; could have been about Griffin, as well.
Panthers: Ron Rivera will return as coach of the Carolina Panthers next season following his team’s strong finish. Panthers spokesman Charlie Dayton said Rivera met with owner Jerry Richardson Saturday morning and was informed that he will return for a third season. Rivera has two years on his current contract. “He’s going about normal preparations for next season,” Dayton said. Rivera’s status with the Panthers had been up in the air. Richardson fired longtime GM Marty Hurney after a 1-5 start and informed Rivera at the time Panthers needed to be “trending upward” the rest of the season. The Panthers went 6-4 from that point out, including four straight wins to close the season. It’s unclear at this point if Rivera, who went 13-19 in two seasons with Carolina, will be forced to make any changes to his staff. The Panthers finished this season 7-9 this season, good for second place in the NFC South.
Chiefs: The Kansas City Chiefs were in shambles after the worst season in franchise history, and chairman Clark Hunt promised their devoted followers that better ways were ahead. That was on Monday. By Friday, he had delivered Andy Reid. While only the future will tell whether the longtime Eagles coach will be able to replicate the success he had during 14 seasons in Philadelphia, the reaction to his hiring in Kansas City was overwhelming positive — to the point where every move he made was being documented. Reid arrived at a downtown airport aboard a chartered flight Friday afternoon, shortly before he signed a five-year deal with the Chiefs. Reid climbed into a black SUV and drove to Arrowhead Stadium, tailed the entire way by helicopters from local television stations. His hiring hadn’t even been announced, and he was already receiving rock-star treatment. The Chiefs ultimately announced Reid’s hiring on Twitter, a few hours after he toured the team’s facilities. A news conference is scheduled for Monday afternoon, but neither the Chiefs nor Reid has spoken to the media or offered a statement upon his hiring.