Playoff Recap & Look Ahead
One Last Look Back:
The Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs certainly lived up to its name. With the Saints, 49ers and Chargers all winning, road teams were an astounding 3-1 last weekend with the Indianapolis Colts needing one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history, much less playoff history, to be the only home team to prevail.
Last weekend was historic for the NFL in terms of viewership and the games themselves, as three of the four Wild Card games were decided by three points or fewer. This marked only the second time in NFL postseason history in which three teams won by three points or fewer in the same weekend (2006 Divisional). Despite the issues with selling out three of the four venues, fans tuned in in record numbers in front of their television sets.
The four Wild Card games averaged 34.7 million viewers making this the most-watched Wild Card Weekend on record. For the fourth consecutive season, the four Wild Card Playoff games averaged more than 30 million viewers.
Leading off last weekend was the game of the weekend, as the Colts and Chiefs battled in Indianapolis in a game many will never forget. Leading the Colts to a 45-44 victory at home, Colts QB, Andrew Luck threw four touchdown passes and scored on a fumble recovery, helping Indianapolis erase a 28-point third-quarter deficit. The comeback was only the second time in playoff history a team rallied from a deficit of 28 or more points to win (Buffalo vs. Houston, January 3, 1993).
The Saints and 49ers both won on their games final plays and the Chargers stunned Cincinnatti at home, as Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is now oh-fer in five playoff tries. For the 49ers, Phil Dawson kicked a game-winning 33-yard field goal for the 49ers as time expired. He became the first player in 48 years with three or more field goals without a miss in a playoff game at Lambeau Field. The only other kickers to do so were Paul Hornung against the Giants in 1961 and Don Chandler against the Browns in 1966 (both 3-for-3).
The Saints’ 26-24 victory in Philadelphia went down to the final play of the game as well. On that play, Shayne Graham‘s 32-yard field goal – his fourth three-pointer of the game – provided the points that New Orleans needed to win. The narrow victories by the Colts and the Saints made Saturday the first day in NFL postseason history on which two different games were decided by a margin of two-or-fewer points.
While the Chargers and Bengals game wasn’t as dramatic, each team provided their own bit of franchise history. San Diego forced four turnovers, including three in a span of 10 minutes, 13 seconds in the second half, to key a 27-10 victory at Cincinnati. It was the first time in 27 postseason games that the Chargers had takeaways on three consecutive drives by their opponent. They did so only once in their last 139 regular-season road games. If you only play eight a season, you do the math.
Meanwhile, after the Chargers took an early 7-0 lead, the Bengals had history working against them. That marked the 12th time Cincinnati has fallen behind in 12 playoff games and has lost all 12 of them. Only one other team in NFL history lost 12 straight playoff games in which it trailed: the Giants, 14 straight from 1939 to 1986. Of course, that streak ended when the Giants overcame a 10-7 deficit to post a 39-20 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI.
In all, what last weekend proved was that home field advantage isn’t what it used to be and having and elite QB is everything it’s cracked up to be in the NFL these days. According to NFL.com, seven of their eight top ranked QB’s in term s of performance are still alive in the playoffs.
You can expect the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs to be just as exciting as the Wild Card round. This round produces games that garner nicknames and many overtime affairs. Last year, the eventual Super Bowl Champions won in Denver thanks in part to the “Miracle in Mile High”.
On his own 30-yd line with less than a minute left to play, Ravens QB Joe Flacco heaved a 70-yd bomb into the waiting arms of Jacoby Jones and tied the game at 35. After the first OT failed to produce a winner, Peyton Manning threw an INT early in the subsequent frame and set Baltimore up for the game-winning 47-yd FG. We also watched last season as Matt Bryan kicked a game winning field goal with eight seconds to play, helping the Falcons overcome a 20-point deficit and win their first playoff game in eight years.
Other such classics include “The Epic in Miami”, “Fourth and 26”, “The Tuck Rule Game”, “The Ghost to the Post” & the longest game ever played. The Dolphins beat the KC Chiefs on Christmas day 1971, 27-24 when Garo Yepremian FG in the game’s 82nd minute sent the Dolphins home winners.
The Divisional round also features the No.1 and two seeds returning to action. This year that is the Broncos and Patriots in the AFC and the Seahawks and Panthers in the NFC. But is there a distinct advantage in being rested and returning to the NFL playoffs. Since the NFL moved to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, No. 1 seeds in the NFC are 19-4 (.826) in the Divisional Playoffs. In the AFC, the No. 1 seed has compiled a 13-10 (.565) record.
Speaking of the Broncos and Patriots, they are two of the four top seeds rank among the teams with the most first-round byes since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990. New England (nine) has the most, while Denver (six) has the fourth-most since 1990.
With a victory against Carolina, San Francisco would advance to its 15th NFC Championship Game, which would tie Pittsburgh (15) for the most appearances in a Conference Championship Game since 1970. The Patriots are tied for fifth on the all-time list with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams and can move into sole possession of fifth place with a win against Indianapolis on Saturday. This would be New England’s third consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship Game.
However, recent history suggests that perhaps the Seahawks and Broncos have something to think about as they enter play this weekend. Since 2005, No. 6 seeds are 5-2 against No. 1 seeds in the divisional round of the postseason. Three of the four Divisional games are rematches of regular-season meetings: Carolina won at San Francisco 10-9 in Week 10, Seattle defeated New Orleans 34-7 in Week 13 and Denver and San Diego split the season series.
Please log onto Fanspeak.com to read my extensive game previews and predictions for today’s games, which will appear shortly. I will break down Saturday’s games to be followed by Sunday’s contest later this evening.