Division-round 10-pack

The best weekend of the season has come and gone, and the final four have been identified.

The Super Bowl will feature the Bears or the Packers facing the Steelers or the Jets.  Every combination will result in a great game with a massive rating.

And Jerry Jones will get to watch it all unfold on the floor of his stadium, without his team in uniform.

So why can be said about the four games that cut the remaining field in half?  Plenty.

1. Recent trend holds form.

On Friday, we pointed out that home field doesn’t really provide an advantage in the division round of the playoffs.  From 2005 through 2009, the home teams won as many times as they lost — 10.

This year, the trend continued.

The Falcons, top seed in the NFC, lost at home to the Packers.  The Patriots, No. 1 in the AFC, fell at home to the Jets, only five weeks and six days after beating their division rivals by 42.

And so the the home teams again went .500, pushing their record to 12-12 over the last six years.

The problem with factoring this phenomenon into the process of prognostication?  There’s a chance that the wrong home teams will be picked to lose.  And the wrong homes teams will be picked to win.

Yes, this year I picked two home teams to lose at home.  And they were the two who won.

Next year, I’ll pick all four home teams, and maybe I’ll at least be half right.

2.  Tables turn in rematches.

This weekend’s contests featured rematches of games played in each of the four venues where the playoff games occurred.

And in each game the outcome flipped.

The Ravens had beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh, the Falcons had beaten the Packers in Atlanta, the Seahawks had beaten the Bears in Chicago, and the Patriots had beaten the Jets in Foxboro.

Amazingly, the teams that had won each game lost in the rematch.

Next weekend, rematches again will rule the day; the Jets beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and the Bears beat the Packers at Soldier Field.

So, basically, look for the Steelers and Packers to square off in Dallas, and for Jerry Jones to watch one of his team’s non-division rivals celebrate a Super Bowl in his house.

3.  Ravens still need to win the division.

In 2008, the Ravens ended up on the road in the playoffs because they were swept by the Steelers.  In 2009, the Ravens had to do it the hard way after being swept by the Bengals.  This year, if they’d only swept the Steelers or the Bengals, the Ravens would have won the division.

And they would have hosted a playoff game this weekend, after getting a week off.

Of course, they still may have lost, given the whole win-one, lose-one trend applicable to home teams in the division round.  But with seven road playoff games in three years and none at home, the Ravens need to redouble their efforts to win the division and to capture a bye, if they want to win another Super Bowl before linebacker Ray Lewis retires.

Or after he does.

4.  Third-and-19 even bigger than fourth-and-26.

Seven years ago, the Eagles converted an impossible (but apparently not really impossible) fourth down with 26 yards to go in a playoff game against the Packers, thanks to a down-the-middle connection from Donovan McNabb to Freddie Mitchell.  On Saturday night, with the game tied late and the first overtime under the new no-walk-off-first-drive-field-goal rule looming, the Steelers faced third down and 19 from their own 38.

And somehow receiver Antonio Brown got behind cornerback Lardarius Webb for a 58-yard reception, which Brown cemented by pressing the ball against his helmet.

Though it wasn’t a fourth down and the Steelers weren’t trailing at the time, the fact that Pittsburgh converted such a long play against a stout defense at a time when failure would have given the Ravens one last chance to win the game in regulation makes it a more historically significant play, in our view.

Throw in the Jets’ win over the Patriots, and that 58-yard bomb from Big Ben to Brown puts Pittsburgh one win away from their third Super Bowl appearance in six years, and possibly their seventh Super Bowl win.

5.  Falcons face a long road in the NFC South.

The good news?  The Falcons have cobbled together three straight winning seasons.

The bad news?  In the postseason, they’re 0-2.

The worse news?  They’ll now return to the valley of 0-0 along with the Saints and the Buccaneers.

It’ll be very hard for the Falcons to overcome the squandering of the top seed after a 13-3 season, culminating in a 48-21 home loss to the Packers.  Especially with Saints still striving for a “Two Dat” and the Bucs putting together one of the best young teams in the league.

Though the Falcons will be contenders for as long as Matt Ryan is their quarterback, he has a long way to go to become one of the short-list franchise quarterbacks.  For starters, he needs to win a playoff game.

6.  Packers rediscover their dominance.

Entering the 2010 season, many believed that the Packers would roll to the Super Bowl.

Then the season began, and after back-to-back wins over the Eagles and the Bills, the Packers became something less than dominant.  After back-to-back losses to the Redskins and Dolphins, the Packers nearly lost at home to the Vikings.

But then Green Bay woke up, shutting out the Jets before pasting the Cowboys and Vikings in consecutive weeks, triggering the firings of Wade Phillips and Brad Childress.

A loss to the Falcons brought back the up-and-down vibe.  A 28-point win over the Giants cemented the Packers as serious Super Bowl contenders.  Doubts returned when the Packers had to struggle with a nothing-to-gain Bears team at home in Week 17, but the playoffs have proven that the Packers are every bit as good as they were when they won Super Bowl XXXI.

The question is whether they can go to Soldier Field for the 182nd meeting in franchise history with the Bears, and only the second in the playoffs.  The first came seventy years ago, in a game forced by their 10-1 records during the regular season and 1-1 head-to-head showing.

Played one week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Bears won at Wrigley Field, 33-14, in the first true “playoff” game in NFL history.

If the Packers continue to play like they have the last two weekends, they’ll move their all-time postseason record against the Bears to 1-1 — and they’ll be playing for their fourth Super Bowl title.

7.  Shades of 1985 in Chicago.

A quarter-century ago, the Chicago Bears won two playoff games at home without giving up a single point.  For much of the day on Sunday, it looked like the Seahawks wouldn’t score, either.

Trailing the Bears by 28 in the second half and facing a fourth and nine from the Chicago 12 late in the third quarter, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll opted for the three-pointer, presumably to avoid the prospect of scoring none.

Once Seattle got onto the board, the Bears seemed to ease up on the accelerator, allowing the Seahawks to score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and making the 35-24 outcome seem much closer than it was.

Next week, the Bears have a chance to clamp down on a much tougher offense.  A shutout is unlikely, but the Chicago defense has the punch to put the Bears into the Super Bowl for the third time.

8.  Seahawks will face unreasonable expectations in 2011.

The Seattle Seahawks overachieved in coach Pete Carroll’s first season on the job, winning the division with a 7-9 record and knocking the defending champs out of the playoffs.  The achievement came in a season featuring low expectations from the fan base.

In year two of the Carroll regime, the bar will be much higher.  And the performance of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in the wild-card game will pressure the franchise to bring him back for another year, even if it’s in the team’s best interests to move on to Charlie Whitehurst, who played well in the Week 17 NFC West title game, or someone else not currently on the roster.

As a result, the Seahawks will be stuck with Hasselbeck for another year, even if they otherwise believe it’s time to move on.  And the locals will expect them to contend once against for the NFC West crown, even if the Rams or 49ers are significantly improved.  (We were going to include the Cardinals, but the effects of the beer I drank this afternoon have worn off.)

So while it was a good year for Seattle, it has created the possibility of another bad one in 2011.

9.  Jets shrug off Monday night massacre.

When the Patriots were piling it on against the Jets in December, we concluded that New England was hoping to demoralize the Jets to the point that they wouldn’t make it to the playoffs — or that they’d lose in round one and not make it back to Foxboro for a rubber match.

If that’s what the Pats were doing, it was a brilliant move.  And if it only had worked, they may have won at home in the division round.

But they didn’t, thanks to a resilient Jets team that has now won four road playoff games in two years — as many as the Ravens have won in three.  They must be taken seriously when they return to Heinz Field, especially since the Jets won there 13 days after losing to the Pats, and one week after losing at home to the Dolphins.

Though second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez has not generated high-end stats and at times has struggled, he shows up when it counts, winning as many playoff games in only two NFL seasons as Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Cassel, Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Josh Freeman, Alex Smith, Matthew Stafford, and Sam Bradford have won in their 54 seasons combined.  Now, Sanchez gets a chance to do in his second year in the league precisely what Tom Brady did in his — qualify for the Super Bowl by beating the Steelers in their own backyard.

10.  Since 2007, Postseason rematches have been unkind to Pats.

So what’s wrong with the Patriots?  Though most die-hard Pats fans will insist that Spygate is ancient history, its effects possibly could be lingering.

Before 2007, the Patriots were videotaping defensive coaching signals, syncing them up with the actual alignments used and then using the code in the rematch, which often came in the playoffs.

From 2001 through 2006, the Pats were 5-2 in playoff games against teams they faced during the regular season.   After the Jets blew the whistle on a practice that plenty of other teams were engaged in as well, the Patriots are 1-3 in the playoffs against teams they played in the regular season.

In 2007, the Giants beat the Pats in the Super Bowl after a Week 17 barnburner.  In 2009, the Pats lost to the Ravens after beating them in the regular season.  This time around, a 45-3 trouncing in December became a 28-21 Jets victory in the division round.

To this day, no one knows whether and to what extent the practice of videotaping defensive coaching signals actually helped the Patriots.  Some believe that coach Bill Belichick compiled the information out of an obsession to collect any information that he can, and that he may have never even used it.

Still, since beating the Chargers in the 2007 AFC title, the Pats have lost three straight playoff games.  In that same period of time, they’ve won 35 regular-season games, losing only 13.

Regardless of the reason, the Pats have hit a rough spot in the postseason since making it to 18-0 three years ago, and it remains to be seen whether they can break out of it in 2011, or beyond.

The good news for football fans?  The fact that the Pats have gone yet another year since 2004 without another Super Bowl win could make owner Robert Kraft even more antsy to see his team back on the field again, which could prompt him to push even harder for a quick resolution to the ongoing labor dispute between the NFL and the players’ union.

42 responses to “Division-round 10-pack

  1. So, basically, look for the Steelers and Packers to square off in Dallas, and for Jerry Jones to watch one of his team’s non-division rivals celebrate a Super Bowl in his house.

    It’s going to be great watching Jerry Jones cry while the Steelers hoist trophy number 7!!!!!

  2. when you sell your soul to the devil , sooner or later the tab comes DUE…window of opportunity to (cheat) is closing, so yeah, kraft had better hope there’s a season next yr…. as should the other OLDER veteran teams, can you honestly tell me some of the older players will come back after an entire yr off? A lockout will end alot of careers….

  3. Since 2005 Peyton Manning is 6-5 in the postseason, two Super Bowls, one ring. Tom Brady is 5-5, one Super Bowl, no rings.

    Manning stole Tom Brady’s playoff magic in the 2006-07 AFC Championship game.

  4. Brady has turned into what Manning used to be, record setting regular seasons and mediocre post season performances.

  5. addendum…to this point it would only be POSSIBLE for Bradford to have 2 wins in the post season. Why not add a few more rookies or career backups to make the final number even more impressive than 54?

  6. The 10th point in your 10-pack is also dumb. In case you haven’t noticed, the schedule is a little harder starting in week 18. Going 1-3 in the post-season over the same period that you went 35-13 in the regular season is only a slight anomaly.

  7. Happy to be hosting the Jets for the AFC crown. I’m having a great time watching Ravens Wrapup on the local Baltimore channel. They’re whining about how they could have be hosting the Jets…except that would only occur in bizarro world. 28 yards of offense and 3 turnovers in the second half and they still feel like they were owed a win.

  8. If Vegas had a prop bet on defensive scoring totalling more than offensive scoring in the Steelers-Jets game next weekend, I might seriously have to consider it. If the Jets can do that to the Pats, it’s not going to be pretty with Pittsburgh’s ad hoc shambles of an O-line, nor am I at all confident about Sanchez putting his team on his shoulders after the first three or four times Green and Tomlinson get stuffed for no gain against a seriously good run D.

  9. Jerry Jones deserves to be right where he is. Jerry “PT Barnum” Jones puts himself, his precious stadium and the sales receipts before the team.

  10. The Ravens talk trash every year, but if it wasn’t for the wild cards they wouldn’t even be in the playoffs the last 3 years. Their defense has cobwebs on it and news flash, Flacco is just average at best.

    Picks = Steelers 24 Jets 13
    Bears 35 Packers 31

  11. Before the bashing starts, the least we can say is that both games should be exciting — and that the possibility of snoozers likes CHI vs SEA and GB vs ATL will be avoided.

    If this is going to be the last week of football (at least for a while), let’s make it a good one.

  12. Stop apologizing for Belichick’s bad behavior. Taping opposing teams’ practices was explicitly disallowed years before the Patriots were sanctioned for doing it.

    It’s not like some guy several steps down the management chain coordinated Spy Gate. You called for Westoff’s and Ryan’s heads after Alosi pulled his tripping stunt. Apply a similar standard to the Patriots.

  13. I think there are other reasons that home field appears not to be an advantage in the divisional round. The bye is definitely an advantage because 50% of playoff teams that don’t get a bye never make it to the divisional round, so teams with a bye get to the conference championship 50% of the time while teams without a bye get there only 25% of the time. But while playing in the wildcard round is a disadvantage because you might lose, it is a slight advantage if you do actually win. The wildcard round makes a test of which team is hot and focused. So the team that gets the bye has an advantage of getting to the divisional round and getting home field, but a wildcard round team that actually wins matches the advantage of getting to the divisional round with their win and matches the advantage of home field with having just passed a test against another playoff team that the bye team did not have to pass. Some teams just have the wrong chemistry a certain year and will lose their first playoff game no matter what. If that is the case in the divisional round it can only be the home team that loses, because the road team already did not lose their first playoff game.

  14. no logical reasons were listed for why 3rd and 19 was bigger than 4th and 26. If mcnabb did not complete that pass, the eagles would have lost the game. If ben does not complete that pass, the steelers would simply punt the ball away and MAYBE gone on to later lose the game. The yardage was longer.

    They are not even comparable

  15. The Seahawks also will end up with a disproportionately low draft pick given their strength as a team.

    Was it worth it, Seahawks fans?!

  16. If you think Belichick wasn’t using the videotaped signals, you are an idiot.

    Also, there is no proof of any other team cheating like Belichick did. None. You know damn well if Goodell could have made that case, he would have. He chose to destroy evidence instead.

    That speaks volumes.

    The record you cite speaks volumes.

    Goodell punished only the Patriots–that speaks volumes.

    I give Belichick his due as a good coach, but when you mention his name, the first thought that pops up in the heads of everyone but Pastie fans…


    And those three Trophies are tainted and tarnished.

  17. I’m from OC and now live in Chandler, AZ. I’ve been following the Cardinals since I moved out here, and I think if they square away their QB situation in the offseason, they have a pretty decent chance next year as well. Wisenhunt is a pretty good coach.

    But I am a Charger fan, so what do I know.

  18. The second point wasn’t completely accurate. The Falcons beat the Packers at home, not in Green Bay.

  19. It has been 2 years, 11 months, 28 days or 1093 days since the Patriots have won a playoff game. In that time Brady and Bellichick are 0-3.

    It has been 5 years, 11 months, 11 days or 2171 days since they have won a Super Bowl. Since then their record in the playoffs is 5-5.

  20. Nothing like watching the “perfect” Patriots choke on another “big one”…

    Couldn’t happen to a better cheating POS organization!


  21. Regarding the NE playoff losing streak, has anyone considered that both their playoff overperformance in the early part of the decade and their underperformance in the latter part could be attributed to just good/bad luck?

    Despite winning three Super Bowls, the Pats were not a dominant team in the early part of the decade. Each of the three super bowls, as well as two of their playoff wins, were by three points. Basically they won two SBs in years where they were not the best team (’01.’04), and have now lost in the playoffs in two years where they were the best team (’07.’10). That’s just the fickle nature of lady luck.

  22. The Falcons are sure to slide back to the .500 team that they are. Those close wins will be losses next year. Turner has reached his peak. No more Gonzales and an the offense really doesnt scare anybody.
    Sorry Birds you had your chance and blew it

  23. 3rd and 19 was big but not nearly as big as 4th and 26.

    For one thing, if the Steelers didn’t make it, they punt the ball… and anything could have happened from there, another punt, a turnover, a drive and turnover on downs, missed FG… there was a definite sense of uncertainty.

    In the 4th and 26, if the Eagles don’t convert that, they lose the game right then and right there… there’s no way3rd and 19 was bigger. It was pretty huge though…and improbable.

  24. erniecohen says: Regarding the NE playoff losing streak, has anyone considered that both their playoff overperformance in the early part of the decade and their underperformance in the latter part could be attributed to just good/bad luck?

    No, they cheated and were caught. They knew exactly what the other team was doing on multiple occasions. Sorry man, but that helps.

  25. Patriots haven’t been as complete of a team since that SB season. Loss to the Giants hurt but their defense has declined since and Brady is playing well, he just isn’t pulling plays out of his ass.

  26. Bears:


    We’re going to knock Jay Cutler’s chin back into normalcy.

    (Cue picture of Jay Jay’s empty head with Capers inside)

  27. Thanks skeeteranbucky-amazing how nothing in PFT today mentions how freakin wrong they were. I don’t like all the trash on either side, but i know enough to shut up and watch the game. There is no such thing as a “sure thing.” duh.

  28. >Though the Falcons will be contenders for as long as Matt Ryan is their quarterback


    Matt Ryan may be the most over rated QB in the league. He is mediocre and far from elite status. He is accurate, but his arm strength and decision making at crunch time are questionable. He made 3 awful plays that cost the Falcons on Sunday.

  29. A few points here:

    -What too many people seem to forget or ignore, is that this is only Sanchez’s, second season. As badly as he plays at times, it’s only his SECOND season. He’s nowhere near meeting his full potential, and look at the success he’s already had.

    -Even if the Seahawks are “stuck” with Hasselback, it’s not completely unlikely for him to get concussed again, which could spell the end of his career.

    -If the Steelers go on to win another Super Bowl, dare we use the “D” word?

  30. 11. Suprisingly, over this wild weekend in which my predictions and analysis were particularly meaningless, the team that scored the most points over the duration of the game wound up winning the game and advancing to the next round of the playoffs 100% of the time.

  31. Matt Ryan is a good complimentary game managing quarterback who can make a good throw here and there. However he’s not the type of quarterback that can carry a team and make up for his team’s weaknesses such as Brees, Brady and Manning can. Granted none of those qb’s are in the race still but they all have shown that despite weaknesses on their team their ability to get the job done has sometimes been enough for victories.

    The Falcons really did squander an opportunity here. Rarely do things align for a team such as they did this year, they will be the hunted next year from the very start of the first snap and they will see what it’s like to get everyone’s best game. I’d be surprised if they win more than 9 games.

  32. Steeler D will stuff the Jets – playoffs are different baby. Big Ben will light ’em up.
    Steelers 27
    Jets 10

  33. I like how you completely left out Aaron Rodgers in the packers rediscovering their dominance. Are you going to leave him out of every article now so you don’t have to admit that your trash piece was completely uncalled for?

  34. I kept thinking that there was something in the Jets vs Steelers game – besided Troy not playing and being held out.

    And it was in the 3rd Quarter when Steelers had gone up 17-10. The Jets got the ball and began their drive. And I looked it up on nfl.com in the Week 15 play-by-play page. And there is was
    on 1st & 10 Jets ball on their 46 …

    (7:06) 6-M.Sanchez pass short right to 17-B.Edwards to PIT 31 for 15 yards (25-R.Clark). PENALTY on PIT-25-R.Clark, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at PIT 31.

    Yup a 30 yard play due to the penalty being tacked on. And yet we keep seeing so many opinions that the Refs help the Steelers. That was a big drive for the Jets – it led to Sanchez doing the bootleg on 4th on 1 for a TD. And that tied up the game. Now the Steelers should have done something to score or pull ahead. They didn’t and wound up losing 22 to 17 as Ben was trying to throw the ball into the end zone as time expired.

    Well I hope the Refs don’t help either team – let them play. GO Steelers !!!

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