As the holidays wind down and we get back to our normal schedules, ditching the 3 drinks a night and cheese plates, and adjusting to that extra five pounds that Santa brought, it’s time to focus on what’s important for 2014. Namely, it’s playoff time!
Like the phrases “amaze balls” and “totes”, the 2013 regular season is soooo yesterday. The playoffs are exciting because they’re like a whole new season. Just when you think your team is down on its luck, 12 of them get a new lease on life. But, because we’re capitalists in the NFL if nothing else, some teams have it better than others. In fact, there are four teams who will be advancing to the second round of the playoffs this weekend without even playing. So unfair, right?
Let’s look at how the NFL playoffs are structured and why this structure works so beautifully to crown the best team each season. Side note – the Super Bowl champion is always called “World Champ”, yet teams from outside the United States are never allowed to compete. They’d probably lose, but still…this is the National Football League champ, so why is it suddenly champ of the world? This has always bugged me.
In any case, this weekend is Wild Card weekend. Each conference – the AFC and the NFC – has four division champions, and these eight divisional champs automatically get a playoff bid. They are ranked in order of 1-4 “seeds” for each conference in order of their record. In addition, the teams with the best records that are not division winners get the fifth and sixth spots in each division as “Wild Card” teams. So during the first playoff weekend, the 3 and 4 seeds for each division host the 5 and 6 wild card teams. The divisional champs get to host, and the higher seed hosts the lowest seed wild card. So 3 hosts 6 and 4 hosts 5.
The 1 and 2 seeds from each division get to rest this week, and then host the winners of this weekend’s games next week. Pretty nifty little perk; however, here’s a fun fact –out of the last 11 years, only two of the 22 #1 seeds have won the Super Bowl. Something to think about before you jump on the bandwagon of this year’s top teams, the Broncos and Seahawks.
We have four games this weekend – on both Saturday and Sunday. Wait, Saturday NFL games? Hold the phone! Cancel the girls’ lunch and mani-pedi! Get thee to a couch and prepare for a few epic days of couch surfing.
Here are the key story lines, predictions and fun facts for all of the match ups –
Chiefs at Colts – Saturday
What a difference a few weeks make. In November, The Chiefs were the darling of the NFC, the top turnaround story, going from worst record to best in a single season. However, the Chiefs have now lost five of their last seven games, including two each to divisional foes the Broncos and Chargers. Even their vaunted defense looks shaky, and their offense can’t carry the team. The Colts prevailed a few weeks ago in Kansas City and are slight favorites at home, but Indy has been playing very inconsistently lately and their rash of injuries leave them vulnerable on both sides of the ball.
Saints at Eagles – Saturday
The big story here is New Orleans’ inability to win on the road. The Saints have a high-powered offense and lots of veteran playoff leadership, but lost five of eight on the road and aren’t great outside of their cozy dome stadium. Can they derail the equally powerful offensive juggernaut Philadelphia Eagles? More importantly, will the sometimes-volatile Philly fans pelt opposing ticket holders with snowballs if they lose?
Chargers at Bengals – Sunday
I just…I can’t…where do I start with the Chargers? I mean, where? This is a team in one of the best divisions in the league who seems to lose the easy games, and then pull off wins against powerhouses like the Broncos and Colts. In the last few weeks of the season, more pieces had to fall into place to get the Chargers to the playoffs than a final immunity puzzle on Survivor. And they did. Then, finally, with only one last game to win, they played the Chiefs, who had already locked up the fifth seed and were therefore resting 20 of 22 starters, in San Diego. And they almost LOST! The fans of the Steelers, who subsequently lost their own playoff spot to the Chargers, will forever rue this game and wonder why Coach Andy Reid couldn’t have let star running back Jamaal Charles run just a feeewwww plays in OT?
In any case, the Bengals are more heavily favored than any divisional winner this weekend. They are playing like money at home, and have an offense that is set up to exploit the Chargers’ weak secondary. However, the Chargers play well as underdogs, and if they put together a fantastic game as they did against the Broncos a few weeks ago, all bets are off.
49ers at Packers – Sunday
The last game of the weekend may very well be the best. First of all, ladies, exhale knowing the Aaron Rogers has reaffirmed his love for the fairer sex despite rumors to the contrary. And 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick may not make it to the Super Bowl, but he’s been immortalized in a corn maze in Modesto, CA. What’s next, a Flacco funnel cake?
In any case, the 49ers come in with a 12-4 record and if not for the seemingly unstoppable Seahawks, they would have probably been a top seed in the NFC rather than a Wild card team. And with the Packers hurting on defense, the match up certainly favors the Niners. Turn to your favorite Cheese Head and remind them that their Packers have given up more points than any other playoff team this year. Then they will probably remind you that Aaron Rogers, one of the best leaders and playoff QBs in the game, is back, so anything can happen.
So postpone your resolutions, grab a beer and some nachos, and hitch up that bandwagon for a whole new season starting NOW!