Craig: Anything can happen in the NFL playoffs

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 5, 2014 - 10:06 PM

After another topsy-turvy NFL regular season, it would not be outrageous to picture any of the 12 postseason teams emerging as the Super Bowl champion.

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San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates hugs quarterback Philip Rivers after the Chargers made the playoffs with a 27-24 overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi )

Photo: Lenny Ignelzi, ASSOCIATED PRESS - AP

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Vikings fans resigned to a lengthy rebuilding project might want to take a peek at this year’s 12-team playoff field.

For the 17th time in 18 years, the NFL heads into wild-card weekend with at least five new playoff teams from the year before.

So welcome back to the postseason Carolina, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Kansas City and San Diego. Their combined record in 2012: 27-53. Their combined record in 2013: 53-27. Somewhere, Pete Rozelle is smiling.

Wait. There’s more.

One quarter of this year’s playoff field — Kansas City, Philadelphia and San Diego — were in the Vikings’ cleats a year ago this week. Coming off losing seasons, they had just fired their head coaches and were starting over. And of the three, only the Chargers, with Philip Rivers, had a franchise quarterback in place when the bloodletting began.

Turnarounds like that aren’t unusual. In fact, this is the seventh consecutive year in which at least one NFL team has reached the postseason the year after firing its head coach.

Of course, the hatchet swings the other way, too. The Vikings, Redskins, Falcons, Texans and defending Super Bowl champion Ravens failed to return to the playoffs this year. Their combined record a year ago: 55-25. This year: 22-57-1, with the Vikings, Redskins and Texans starting over with new head coaches.

Looking at this year’s playoff field, strong arguments could be made for any one of the 12 teams.

San Diego, the team with the worst record (9-7) and turnover differential (minus-4), has won an AFC-best four consecutive games and is peaking the way the 2010 Packers and 2005 Steelers did when they won the Super Bowl as No. 6 seeds. Meanwhile, the team with the worst overall record, NFC North champion Green Bay (8-7-1), has at least one home game and the return of Aaron Rodgers’ health.

In the NFC, the sixth-seeded Saints are 0-3 on the road against playoff teams, but they still have Drew Brees. The fifth-seeded 49ers are 12-4 with an NFL-best six-game winning streak. The third-seeded Eagles have a quarterback, Nick Foles, with no playoff experience, but he also has won seven of eight games and has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 19-2. The second-seeded Panthers also have a quarterback, Cam Newton, making his playoff debut, but Carolina’s scoring defense ranks No. 2 in the NFL (15.1).

In the AFC, the fifth-seeded Chiefs are 0-5 against the other five playoff teams, but they have a conference-best plus-18 in turnover differential. The fourth-seeded Colts experienced a midseason slump, but their 4-2 record against playoff teams includes victories over both No. 1 seeds. The third-seeded Bengals have gone one-and-done in back-to-back playoff appearances, but they are 4-0 against playoff teams this year. And the second-seeded Patriots have the worst third-down defense (42.2) of any playoff team, but they also have three B’s in their favor: a bye, a Brady and a Belichick.

That leaves only the two No. 1 seeds, Denver in the AFC and Seattle in the NFC.

Denver has the league’s first 600-point (606) offense and a record-setting, soon-to-be five-time league MVP quarterback in Peyton Manning. But the Broncos also have the No. 22 scoring defense (24.9) and Manning’s 9-11 postseason record. In 12 trips to the postseason, Manning has gone one-and-done eight times, including five times at home. So beware.

As good as Manning and the Broncos are offensively, Seattle seems to be the safer bet to seize home-field advantage and win its first Super Bowl.

For a chart in today’s Star Tribune, 13 categories were weighed in an effort to judge each conference’s playoff teams in the two most important elements of the 21st century NFL: Passing the ball and defending the pass.

The Seahawks ranked No. 1 in six categories in the NFC. They were dominant in yards allowed per pass attempt (5.82), defensive passer rating (63.4), passer rating differential (plus-37.8), interception differential (plus-19), turnover differential (plus-20) and red-zone defense (41.5 touchdown percentage). And, oh yeah, they also rank No. 1 in the league in scoring defense (14.4).

 

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribue.com

 

 

Mark Craig’s picks

Now here is one man’s guess at what will happen when the playoffs begin on Saturday:

Wild-card round

NFC: No. 6 Saints over No. 3 Eagles; No. 5 49ers over No. 4 Packers. AFC: No. 3 Bengals over No. 6 Chargers; No. 4 Colts over No. 5 Chiefs.

Divisional round

NFC: No. 5 49ers over No. 2 Panthers; No. 1 Seahawks over No. 6 Saints. AFC: No. 3 Bengals over No. 2 Patriots; No. 1 Broncos over No. 4 Colts.

Championship games

NFC: No. 1 Seahawks over No. 5 49ers. AFC: No. 1 Broncos over No. 3 Bengals.

Super Bowl XLVIII

Seahawks 34, Broncos 27.



 

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Tennessee 7 1st Qtr 7:23
Jacksonville 0
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 18 1st Qtr 1:42
Chicago 24
New Orleans 7:30 PM
Houston
Milwaukee 9:00 PM
Sacramento
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
Golden State
Florida 1 2nd Prd :15
Philadelphia 1
Colorado 0 3rd Prd
Pittsburgh 0
Toronto 0 2nd Prd 3:45
Carolina 2
Washington 2 2nd Prd 3:05
Columbus 2
Anaheim 1 1st Prd 6:33
Montreal 0
St. Louis 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Edmonton 9:30 PM
San Jose
St Thomas (TX) 61 FINAL
Rice 72
Stony Brook 36 2nd Half 8:33
Canisius 41
Temple 75 2nd Half 3:55
Delaware 56
FIU 53 2nd Half 1:57
Long Island 65
Lehigh 52 2nd Half 3:34
Quinnipiac 74
South Alabama 48 2nd Half 3:52
Richmond 52
Seton Hall 70 2nd Half 9:15
South Florida 55
Ga Southern 67 2nd Half 2:29
Stetson 61
Yale 50 2nd Half 4:16
Vermont 47
Cleveland State 45 2nd Half 4:40
Virginia 64
Wright State 59 2nd Half 4:29
Western Carolina 51
Nicholls 32 2nd Half 17:27
Louisiana Tech 45
Morgan State 27 2nd Half
Rider 29
Idaho State 35 2nd Half 14:00
South Dakota St 36
Oakland City 12 1st Half 5:53
Austin Peay 28
Eureka 14 1st Half 7:35
Bradley 29
Appalachian St 25 1st Half 5:06
Charlotte 23
Connecticut 15 1st Half 6:41
Duke 20
Southern Miss 8 1st Half 8:20
Jackson State 22
Coastal Carolina 35 1st Half 4:16
Ole Miss 20
Montana State 7 1st Half 18:16
South Dakota 0
LSU 8:00 PM
UAB
Ohio 8:05 PM
Evansville
CS-Dominguez 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Walla Walla 9:00 PM
Idaho
DePaul 9:00 PM
Oregon State
Nevada 9:00 PM
Pacific
Portland State 9:00 PM
San Francisco
CS-Bakersfield 9:05 PM
Utah State
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Niagara 76 FINAL
Cleveland State 58
High Point 59 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 81
Towson 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 74
Presbyterian 50 FINAL
Charlotte 66
Chicago State 62 FINAL
Bradley 59
Northwestern Coll 58 FINAL
Drake 102
Vanderbilt 67 FINAL
Marquette 80
Temple 78 FINAL
Howard 48
Southern Miss 66 FINAL
Ole Miss 68
UMBC 55 FINAL
Rider 67
Miami-Florida 74 FINAL
UCLA 67
St Mary-KS 51 FINAL
South Dakota 115
William & Mary 71 FINAL
Wofford 51
Troy 82 FINAL
Evansville 94
Loyola Marymount 50 2nd Half 5:05
USC 79
St Francis-PA 47 2nd Half 5:35
Duquesne 78
Indiana-Southeast 42 2nd Half 4:55
IUPUI 83
Delaware State 38 2nd Half 11:38
Detroit 62
Tenn Temple 45 2nd Half 2:56
Gardner-Webb 64
West Virginia St 52 2nd Half 2:14
Radford 52
Fairfield 45 2nd Half 2:33
Seton Hall 74
Dartmouth 41 2nd Half 2:58
New Hampshire 59
Ball State 45 2nd Half 1:45
Pittsburgh 55
Jacksonville 51 2nd Half 7:38
Tennessee St 47
Trine 39 2nd Half 3:57
Western Mich 77
Tenn Tech 27 2nd Half 14:52
Lipscomb 38
Samford 4 1st Half 17:43
Tulane 0
New Orleans 13 1st Half 6:20
Tulsa 27
Incarnate Word 25 1st Half 3:59
TX-Pan American 22
Ark-Little Rock 13 1st Half 4:00
South Dakota St 24
CS-Northridge 7:30 PM
Northern Ariz
Santa Clara 8:00 PM
Oregon
(19) Oklahoma St 8:00 PM
Weber State
Washington 8:00 PM
San Diego State
Cal Poly 8:00 PM
New Mexico
(10) Louisville 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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