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Trash Talk Inflames AFC’s Jets-Pats, Steelers-Ravens

Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets attempts to escape the pass rush of Jermaine Cunningham #96 of the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 6, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets attempts to escape the pass rush of Jermaine Cunningham #96 of the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 6, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots-New York Jets rivalries turned nasty this week as trash talk inflamed their NFL playoff showdowns.

Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie called Tom Brady an expletive, then dared the Patriots’ star quarterback to make him a target at Foxborough, Massachusetts on Sunday.

Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs donned a T-shirt which insulted the Steelers, then called Saturday’s matchup at Heinz Field “World War III.”

There’s nothing quite so tangy in the NFC, where both games also are rematches. Neither the Atlanta Falcons-Green Bay Packers game on Saturday nor the Chicago Bears-Seattle Seahawks match on Sunday has been accompanied by so many verbals.

Not that you expect everyone to get along as they pursue a spot in the conference title games.

“You shouldn’t like who you are going up against right now,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “This is the playoffs. I can tell you our whole team respects Brady and the Patriots. But hey, we don’t like any of them right now. You shouldn’t.

“Trust me, the feeling is mutual.”

That right, Terrell?

“We’re looking forward to walking into Heinz Field with a certain swagger,” Suggs said.

Presumably, he won’t be wearing the T-shirt that displays “HEY PITTSBURGH” and a purple Raven and a hand with the middle finger extended.

“There isn’t any message,” he insisted. “This is just, like I always say, I put on for my city. They rep their city, and I’m repping mine. So, here we go.”

Brady noted he’s been called worse than what Cromartie sent his way, and Brady’s history is to send lots of passes — completed passes, several for touchdowns — the way of anyone who insults him or his team. Pittsburgh’s Anthony Smith challenged the Patriots three years ago, and was victimized by Brady.

“(Coach Bill) Belichick has called me that, our offensive coordinator has called me that,” Brady said. “I know that they (the coaches) like me, so maybe he (Cromartie) really likes me.”

Big talk aside, the Jets must find a pass rush and need to hold the ball on offense to avoid a repeat of the 45-3 whipping from the Patriots in Foxborough on Dec. 6. New York must start quickly on offense and upset Brady’s rhythm with a defense that managed exactly that against the Colts’ Peyton Manning last Sunday.

New York relies heavily on the blitz to get pressure on quarterbacks, and on the coverage skills of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Cromartie. Both will need to be at their stingiest against receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch, in particular, and someone must clamp down on rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. That has not been a strength for the Jets this season.

The Ravens have never won in the playoffs at Heinz Field. They did edge the Steelers there 17-14 on Oct. 3, but Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger still was serving his four-game suspension.

Pittsburgh won the rematch in December, 13-10 in a classic defensive battle. This one also should be low-scoring, physical and, at times, brutal. The game-breakers in this one are guys like Suggs, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis for Baltimore, Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley for Pittsburgh. All of them defenders.

“These are the two best defenses, with a lot of exotic-type blitzes and exotic looks,” Roethlisberger said. “Both groups are veteran, so it’s all about the offense that makes the fewest amount of mistakes.”

Green Bay is on a roll, winning its last three games when one loss would have ended its season. The 21-16 victory against Philadelphia was Aaron Rodgers’ first in the playoffs as the Packers quarterback, and he performed superbly in a 20-17 loss to Atlanta on Nov. 28.

The Packers’ offense has suddenly become versatile thanks to rookie James Starks rushing for 123 yards in Philadelphia. But Atlanta already has that offensive variety with Matt Ryan throwing to Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, and Michael Turner running the ball. And they were 7-1 at the Georgia Dome this season.

Seattle is brimming with confidence after stunning the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints last Saturday. But the Seahawks haven’t been a good road team this season, even though they beat Chicago 23-20 in October, their best game of the regular season.

Chicago is healthier than the Saints, has a much better defense, and has improved significantly since falling to the Seahawks, particularly the running game with Matt Forte. Forte ran for 717 yards over the final nine games, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He expects to carry a big load on Sunday.

“I don’t think we have a choice,” Forte said. “We can’t go out and do what we did last time and throw the ball 40 or 50 times and run the ball 10 times. We have to have a balanced offense.”

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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