(Reuters) - The top-seeded New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys join the Super Bowl tournament with a golden veteran and surprising rookie leading their respective offenses into the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Patriots (14-2) host the Houston Texans (9-7) on Saturday favored by a whopping 16 points, but quarterback Tom Brady is taking nothing for granted with a trip to the AFC Championship on the line.
“There’s a lot of focus and attention and you’re putting a lot of concentration into each play because you’re not promised next week,” Brady, a four-time Super Bowl winner, told reporters about preparing for the defensive-minded Texans.
“We have to go earn that,” added Brady, who has been on a mission after missing the first four games of the season on a suspension stemming from the Deflategate flap of two years ago.
Houston will start back-up quarterback Brock Osweiler.
Dallas (13-3), whose success and popularity from the 1960s through the 1990s earned them the nickname of “America’s Team,” will rely on a one-two rookie punch of running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott against the Green Bay Packers (10-6) on Sunday.
“It’s a big game, win or go home,” said Prescott, whose team are favored by 4-1/2 points. “Just be ourselves. Run the ball well, pass the ball well. When it comes together we’re a really tough team.”
The Cowboys, aiming to reach their first Super Bowl in 21 years, will pit their balanced attack and sound defense against an aerial show triggered by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose Packers have won seven straight games.
Rodgers will be without top target Jordy Nelson, sidelined by broken ribs, but even without him they outscored the New York Giants 24-7 in the second half of last week’s 38-13 victory.
The Packers-Cowboys winner meets the survivor of Saturday’s game between the Atlanta Falcons (11-5) and Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1), who are five-point underdogs.
In a game contrasting a potent offense and a hard-hitting defense, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan will try to pierce a Seattle defense dubbed “The Legion of Boom,” who are missing perennial Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas to injury.
In a virtual toss-up, AFC West champions Kansas City Chiefs (12-4) are one-point favorites against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) on Sunday.
The Chiefs defense, with a league-leading 33 turnovers, will face two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger, dealing with an injured right foot, runs an explosive attack featuring running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue