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Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel's shared passion for football comes full circle in the NFL playoffs

The four matchups in the divisional round all feature familiar faces in different places. That could have a big impact on the outcome of this week’s games.

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Familiarity will breed keen competition in the divisional-round playoffs.

It will also breed contempt.

The Romeo Crennel-Bill Belichick-Tom Brady playoff duel drips with familiarity. Crennel coached with Belichick in two New York Giants and in three New England Patriots Super Bowl victories. Crennel was on the Patriots sideline on Sept. 23, 2001 when the legend of Brady began with Drew Bledsoe’s injury versus the New York Jets.

Crennel battles both on Saturday night when the Houston Texans play at the Patriots.

As Texans defensive coordinator, Crennel again tackles Belichick’s blueprint and Brady’s acumen. Crennel will do it with the NFL’s No. 1 defense.

Crennel has coached 34 years in the NFL. Much of that time has been spent competing with and against Belichick, especially during their Giants time in the ‘80s.

"When we were with the Giants, we used to play racquetball together," Crennel recalled in a telephone interview on Tuesday night from his office. "You learn a lot about a guy when you actually play against him in a sport like that. You learn about his mental toughness and how he appreciates competition. You develop a respect. I must say, he won most of those racquetball battles.

"Our relationship has always been good. We don’t talk on the phone every day. But we share football, the passion for it. I respect his career, how he started working for nothing and doing everything he could to work his way up the ladder. I respect what he has accomplished. I would guess he probably feels the same way about me, since I started from the bottom and worked my way up, too."

Crennel recalls how Brady emerged.

"When I first got to New England, Tom was in his second year there and he was the backup," Crennel said. "He got his chance and was able to help us win games. The staff’s confidence in him grew as he grew. After his rookie year, he decided he was going to make himself stronger. He began to focus on strength and conditioning. It helped him physically. And that helped reach his mental gymnastics that have come to the forefront."

Crennel has fashioned a defense that is stout despite losing defensive end and three-time NFL defensive MVP J.J. Watt due to back injury. Crennel has convinced the Texans that their sum defensively is better than any part. He has inspired them to work harder, play harder.

He knows what it will take to beat Belichick, Brady, and the Patriots.

"You have to be spot on," Crennel said. "You can’t make mistakes. And somehow you have to find a way to make them make mistakes. They are going to be well prepared. They know your weaknesses and they are going to try to exploit them. You deal with that. And play to the finish."

Haley returns to Kansas City

Here is a familiarity breeds contempt bout.

It’s the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. But it is also Todd Haley versus the Chiefs.

Haley is Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator. He used to be Kansas City’s head coach (2009-11). That was until they fired him in ‘11 with three games left in the season and another year left on his contract.

It was a bitter split, as are many in the NFL. Haley was viewed as abrasive and paranoid throughout the Chiefs organization. Haley could point to his style leading the Chiefs to a 10-6 record and the AFC West crown in 2010.

He was 19-26 as Chiefs head coach. The Chiefs considered him a failure. Haley thought that bogus considering what he accomplished with injury-plagued teams in fewer than three seasons on the job.

When they met this season on Oct. 2 in Pittsburgh, Haley’s offense hung 48 points on the Chiefs. It was 36-0 entering the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh won 43-14.

Think Haley is shooting for 50-plus this time?

You bet.

Haley’s and Pittsburgh’s primary goal is to advance to the AFC Championship game. But if it comes by stepping on Kansas City’s throat, he’s all in.

Letting it rip in Atlanta

Dan Quinn left the Seattle Seahawks two seasons ago to become Atlanta Falcons head coach. He had served as Seattle head coach Pete Carroll’s defensive coordinator during both of their Super Bowl years in 2013 and 2014. Their working relationship was more than amicable. It was one of trust and respect.

Seattle plays at Atlanta on Saturday. The teams are similar, share some of the same structure, but Quinn insists that he "never intended to have Seattle East — I wanted to create our own Atlanta."

He has. The Falcons won 11 games this year and own the NFC’s No. 2 seed.

Seattle beat Atlanta 26-24 on Oct. 6 in Seattle. Quinn says both teams have since grown.

This is familiarity that breeds spirited competition.

Both team’s motto is "Let it rip."

It will.

Dallas is on “high alert” for the Packers

More familiarity that breeds contempt.

Green Bay vs. Dallas. There is respect. But there is also contempt.

It goes back to the 1967 Ice Bowl game between the two all the way up to the Dez Bryant catch/no-catch playoff game in 2015.

They meet again in the playoffs in Dallas on Sunday. They have played 34 times overall. Green Bay has 17 victories and Dallas has 17 victories. Dallas won 30-16 on Oct. 16 in Green Bay.

But their playoff battles — this is the eighth — often reach dramatic levels. Dallas leads 4-3 in their playoff series.

"We’re on high alert," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

Just the sight of Green Bay fosters that.