We’ve got a rematch of what was Week 17’s best game, a sputtering Texans team hosting a red-hot Bengals squad, and three rookie quarterbacks all starting playoff games this weekend. Manning and Brady are off, but they no doubt will be watching. So will we. Here are 10 Takeaways from Sunday’s action as we head into the postseason.-- Peter Schrager
It’s a young man’s game
Yes, Brady, Manning, Rodgers and Schaub have all been in the league since at least 2005. But look at the rest of the quarterbacks starting games in the postseason. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco both were first-round draft picks in 2008, and the other six starting quarterbacks are either first or second-year starters. In Sunday’s games, three of the four quarterbacks starting games for their teams will be rookies. Obviously, this is the first time three rookies are starting playoff games on the same day. Not so obviously, it’s also the first time three rookies are starting playoff games in a postseason. The median age of the 12 starting quarterbacks in the playoffs? 26.
Seahawks-Redskins is the Gimmick Bowl. And I love it
Calling this one the Gimmick Bowl sounds insulting, but it’s meant in the most complimentary way possible. Seattle and Washington feature offenses unlike any other in the league. Outside of what Greg Roman is doing in San Francisco, no two coordinators have been more daring, exotic and creative than Kyle Shanahan in Washington and Darrell Bevell in Seattle. They’ve built offenses around their rookie quarterbacks’ strengths that feature spread-options, smash-mouth tailbacks, and physical offensive lines. You don’t see many teams running offenses as non-traditional as these. Whether a team will come up with a defense exotic enough to stop them is yet to be known.
Another big game. Another Tony Romo disappointment
I thought this was the year. Really, I did. With his Cowboys on the road and playing feisty defense, I was convinced the Cowboys were going to pull off a miracle comeback after they trailed 21-10 late in the fourth quarter. But Tony Romo got tricked by a linebacker, threw his third interception and the rest was history. For the second straight year, there will be two Harbaugh brothers coaching in the playoffs and no Ryan brothers. For the fifth time in his last six elimination games, Romo came up short when his team needed him most.
The Texans are a mess. Just in time for the playoffs!
Do you believe in momentum? I do. The Packers won six straight games during their Super Bowl run in 2010. The Giants went on a similar run a season ago. It’s not about which team looked the best in October or November, but rather, which team is playing the best football right now. The Texans are not that team. A win in either one of their final two games of the season would have sealed up a No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Instead, they lost both games — in embarrassing fashion, really — and are now limping into the playoffs as a team that looks nothing like the one that jumped out to an 11-1 start.
The Bengals could be the team to watch in the AFC
The 2011 Bengals backed into the playoffs with help from other teams in Week 17, only to fall to rookie T.J. Yates and the Houston Texans in the wild-card round. If you’re thinking “Same story this year,” you haven’t watched Cincinnati over the season’s second half. After losing to the Broncos 31-23 at home in Week 9 and falling to 3-5 on the year, the Bengals rattled off seven wins in their last eight games, with the only loss coming against the Cowboys in a game they led 19-10. In those seven wins, the Bengals never gave up more than 20 points and scored more than 20 in all but one game. Geno Atkins gets all the press, but the entire Bengals defense had a big 2012. That front line is salivating over the shot to feast on the struggling Matt Schaub on Saturday.
Baltimore’s at home, where they’ll play a familiar opponent
For the fifth straight year, the Ravens are in the playoffs. And for the fifth straight year, they’ll look to win a game in those playoffs. In fact, since they’ve all joined the Ravens, there’s never been a season when Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and John Harbaugh didn’t win a playoff game. They’ll get the Colts at home on Sunday, a team that they share a long and winding history with. Mayflower trucks, Peyton Manning winning his last eight games vs. the Ravens when he was with the Colts, and the obvious link with Baltimore’s defensive coordinator from a season ago, Chuck Pagano — these two franchises are obviously familiar foes.
The Colts were the NFL’s best regular season story, but the odds are stacked against them
It’s impossible not to love what the Colts have accomplished this season. A season after going 2-14, they replaced arguably the best quarterback in NFL history with a rookie, replaced an entire coaching staff and front office, and overcame a coach being sidelined with illness three weeks into the season … to finish the year 11-5. That being said, they’ve got a tough matchup on Sunday. The Ravens have lost just two of their last 18 games played at home and Indianapolis went just 4-4 on the road this year. In road losses at Chicago, New York Jets, Houston, and New England, they lost by an average of 23.25 points. Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians are no strangers to the Ravens, but the Ravens are no strangers to them, either.
Lambeau at night? Eh, no big deal
The Packers and Vikings have already played in two of the best games of the regular season. We’ll be awfully fortunate if we get a third matchup as thrilling as those on Saturday night. The theory that young quarterbacks can’t go into Lambeau at night and come out victorious has been exposed as a myth in recent years. A 22-year-old Michael Vick ran and threw all over the Packers en route to a 27-7 win with the Falcons back in 2003. A 27-year-old Eli Manning came into Lambeau and bested Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game in ’07. Manning did the same to Rodgers in the Divisional Round a season ago. Teams can win in Lambeau. Whether or not Christian Ponder’s up to the task, we’ll have to wait to find out.
I’m done doubting Adrian Peterson and the Vikings
At this point, if you told me Adrian Peterson was going to run for 300 yards in four straight games and the Vikings were going to win Super Bowl XLVII, I wouldn’t be able to call you crazy. Peterson’s proven all of his doubters wrong (I got him in the THIRD ROUND of my fantasy draft in August), the Vikings have proven all of their doubters wrong (I had the Vikings ranked as the THIRTY-FIRST best team in the NFL back in August), and even Christian Ponder has proven some doubters wrong along the way. They’ve got Green Bay under the lights in Lambeau in front of a nationally televised primetime Saturday night audience. Are you doubting them?
The city of Washington is ready for playoff football
For the first time since 1999, the Redskins are home for a playoff football game. Back then, a Washington team coached by Norv Turner and led by Brad Johnson beat the Detroit Lions 27-13 in front of a raucous home crowd. If you thought Sunday’s scene vs. the Cowboys was a wild one, get ready for something even wilder this weekend vs. Seattle. They’re playing “Hail to the Redskins” again, they’re the biggest show in town, and the city kinda sorta likes the quarterback. Crazy fact of the week? This is the first time in the history of Washington D.C. sports that the baseball team and the football team both won their divisions in the same calendar year. Redskins fans are just hoping that the football team’s season ends in a slightly different fashion.