The 2009 NFL Playoffs – Wild Card Round is here and it is time for teams and players (Arizona Cardinals’ WR Steve Breaston pictured) to make their mark or go home
At times the 2009 NFL Season seemed to have already written its playoff script with the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints, both undefeated for the majority of the season, headed for a collision course at Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida. But as fate usually does in the National Football League, the Colts and Saints plus other early season favorite, the Minnesota Vikings, have shown towards the end of the regular season that nothing is pre-determined in the world’s best sports league.
I am not saying that none of the top four seeds (Colts, Saints, Vikings, and San Diego Chargers) may not go full throttle through the playoffs and win it all, but I am expecting that this year’s playoffs will be another wide-open affair. As Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said, “It’s an exciting time right now, it’s the NFL playoffs!” There are now 12 teams scratching to survive on the long road to the Super Bowl and there are obstacles everywhere in the toughest single-elimination tournament around.
“We’re all 0-0 now”, said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. It doesn’t matter how any of the teams got into the playoffs, all that matters is that the remaining teams are in the mix for the biggest prize in pro football. It has been one wacky NFL season with many exciting storylines and I am sure the excitement will continue in the 2009 “Own the Moment” NFL post-season.
Every team has a chance as ten of the twelve teams in the postseason have double-digit wins and for the 14th consecutive season, five or more teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year — six new playoff teams are the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, and Cincinnati Bengals. Anything is possible and hope rightfully abounds in all twelve playoff cities. If the 2009 NFL Regular Season has taught us anything, it showed that “On Any Given Sunday” any team can step-up their level of play to beat any other team in the parity-filled NFL (Remember the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers knocking off the playoff bound Green Bay Packers way back in Week 9). Besides attaining the No. 1 seed in your conference is no guarantee of Super Bowl entry as surprisingly it has been fifteen seasons since the last time two No. 1 seeds faced each other in Super Bowl (1993 season, Buffalo vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII).
The theme of the 2009 NFL Wild Card Playoff round should be the same as one of my favorite ’70s films, “Let’s Do It Again”. The film starred African American film icons Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitiere making a killing by prearranging boxing matches with all the marbles riding on a big payday rematch. The word “rematch” fits perfectly when talking about this year’s Wild Card round as all four games will be rematches with 3 out of 4 being immediate rematches from the regular season’s Week 17. Since 1990, when the current playoff format was adopted, there have been nine instances when two teams have played in the final week of the regular season and again the next week to start the postseason. The losing team in Week 17 has won five of the nine playoff games.
Of course having played and beaten a team in the regular season may cause some “familiarity” and a psychological edge in game planning along with dissecting tendencies. But playoff tenants of Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” will be the key factors as to which teams move on to the Divisional round on long treacherous road to the Super Bowl.
Other storylines for Wildcard Weekend include:
- Third Times a Charm?? – The Dallas Cowboys will host the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night after sweeping them in the regular season. Since 1970, 19 teams have gone 2-0 against an opponent in the regular season and then faced that club in the playoffs. The sweeping team has won the postseason meeting 12 times (63.2 percent). Most recently, Pittsburgh beat Baltimore for a third time in last year’s AFC Championship Game. The last time a team swept an opponent and then lost to them in the playoffs was 2007, when the New York Giants defeated the Cowboys in the Divisional round after Dallas had defeated them twice in the regular season.
- Future Hall of Famer is back in the playoffs –New England quarterback Tom Brady will line up under center for the 18th time in the playoffs when the Patriots face the Ravens on Sunday. With 46 passing yards, Brady will reach 4,000 in the postseason, a feat accomplished by only five quarterbacks in history. Brady also led to the Patriots to a perfect 8-0 record in Foxborough this season and has never lost a home playoff game (8-0). With a win against the Ravens, Brady can become the first quarterback to win his first nine postseason home games in the Super Bowl era. The Patriots have won 11 consecutive postseason games since 1997.
- Rex Ryan’s J-E-T-S are tough on both sides of the ball — The New York Jets led the NFL with 172.3 rushing yards per game on offense and allowed an NFL-low 252.3 yards per game on defense. The Jets became the eighth team since 1970 to lead the NFL in both rushing offense and total defense. Ryan is trying to become 10th rookie head coach since 1990 to win his playoff debut.
- The Cardinals are back — Last season, the Arizona Cardinals advanced to their first Super Bowl in franchise history. The Cardinals, who have won back-to-back division titles for the first time since 1974-75, are just the 10th Super Bowl runner-up since 1990 to qualify for the playoffs the following year.
- Undefeated at Home – The New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings both finished the 2009 regular season undefeated at home. Since 2000, only 15 teams have posted a perfect regular-season record at home. Of the previous 13 teams, five have gone to the Super Bowl (38.5 percent).
- Belichick trying to climb the postseason wins board — New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has compiled a 15-4 (.789) record in his postseason career. Belichick ranks fifth all-time with 15 playoff victories, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famers Tom Landry, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs, and Chuck Noll.
My advice to everyone watching this weekend’s wildcard action is to pay very close attention to the winners as teams advancing from the Wild Card round have won the Super Bowl 6 times including three of the last four. A prime example of going from the Wild Card to great heights were the 2007 New York Giants, who went from the NFC’s fifth seed to winning the Super Bowl. The G-Men won three road games and then triumphed in Arizona over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Three years ago, the AFC third-seeded Indianapolis accomplished the feat. And four years ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers became the first sixth seed to win a Super Bowl.
I usually like to look at the hottest teams going into playoff games as favorites and no team is hotter than the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers enter the postseason with 11 consecutive victories, the NFL’s longest current win streak. San Diego has clinched the No. 2 seed in the AFC and is tied for the fifth-longest win streak to enter the playoffs since 1970. Other teams entering the 2009 NFL playoffs on a roll are the Dallas Cowboys (3), NY Jets (2), Green Bay Packers (1), Baltimore Ravens (1),and Minnesota Vikings (1). Conversely six teams enter the postseason carrying a losing streak led by the suddenly reeling New Orleans Saints (3) – other losing streak teams are the Indianapolis Colts (2), Arizona Cardinals (1), Philadelphia Eagles (1), New England Patriots (1), and Cincinnati Bengals (1).
2009 NFL SEASON – WILD CARD WEEKEND
Saturday, January 9
|AFC: 4:30 PM||New York Jets (9-7) at Cincinnati (10-6) (NBC)|
|NFC: 8:00 PM||Philadelphia (11-5) at Dallas (11-5) (NBC)|
Sunday, January 10
|AFC: 1:00 PM||Baltimore (9-7) at New England (10-6) (CBS)|
|NFC: 4:40 PM||Green Bay (11-5) at Arizona (10-6) (FOX)|
Wild Card Game Previews and Picks to follow
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)