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Jets Return to Indianapolis to Start NFL Playoffs as Underdogs

The New York Jets will open the National Football League playoffs in Indianapolis, where their postseason run was ended a year ago by the Colts and quarterback Peyton Manning.

The Jets are 2 1/2-point underdogs for the first-round game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Jan. 8. The Colts won their division title yesterday to qualify for the playoffs for the ninth straight year, tying an NFL record set by the Dallas Cowboys from 1975 to 1983.

At 10-6 this season, the Colts are one of three division winners hosting first-round playoff games with a worse record than their wild-card opponent. The Jets went 11-5, including a 6-2 record on the road. Wild-card berths go to the two teams in each conference with the best records among the non-division winners.

“This football team is ready,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said following yesterday’s 38-7 win over the Buffalo Bills to end the regular season. “Our goals are intact. We want to win a Super Bowl and we want to do it right now.”

The Jets lost to the Colts 30-17 in last season’s American Football Conference championship game as the Colts advanced to the Super Bowl. Before that loss in Indianapolis, the Jets won two playoff games on the road. They’re playing away from home again this year as a wild-card representative.

The Baltimore Ravens claimed the other wild card in the AFC with a 12-4 record, while the Green Bay Packers (10-6) and defending Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints (11-5) got the NFC wild-card berths. They have a combined record of 44-20, while the four division winners playing in the first round have gone 37-27 this season.

‘Good Group’

“This is as good a group of wild-card teams as I can ever remember,” Fox NFL analyst Howie Long said yesterday.

The Ravens are favored by 2 1/2 points on the road against the AFC West-champion Kansas City Chiefs in their first-round game on Jan. 9.

The Saints probably will be favored by six to seven points for their Jan. 8 game in Seattle against the Seahawks, who won the NFC West with a 7-9 record. The betting line will depend on whether Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck can return from a hip injury, said Dan O’Brien, an oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants.

New Orleans is 0-4 all-time in road playoff games. Seattle is the first NFL team with a losing record to make the postseason in a non-strike season.

In the NFC’s other first-round matchup, the NFC East-champion Philadelphia Eagles are favored by 2 1/2 points at home over the Packers on Jan. 9. Green Bay won in Philadelphia 27-20 during the opening week of the season, when Michael Vick wasn’t yet the starting quarterback for the Eagles.

Tough Location

“Philadelphia is a hard place to win,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after yesterday’s 10-3 win over Chicago that put his team in the playoffs over the New York Giants. “But we’ll play anybody, anytime, anywhere.”

The New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears received first-round playoff byes as the top seeds in their respective conferences.

The Patriots went 14-2 this season and are Super Bowl favorites entering the playoffs. New England has the chance to host AFC playoff games up to the Super Bowl, while the Falcons are the NFC’s top seed after going 13-3.

The NFL’s second-round games are set for Jan. 15-16, with the conference championships scheduled for Jan. 23. The Super Bowl will be played Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas.

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