Poor Vikings. A year ago, the NFL’s wild-card weekend was a topsy-turvy, gut-punching, wide-left affair as all four lower-seeded teams won on the road, including a certain 10-9 upset at TCF Bank Stadium.
Well, how should we put this?
Normally, the NFL loves all sentences that begin, “Since the 12-team NFL playoff format was adopted in 1990 …” Normally, those words are followed by prime examples of how crazy and competitively great the league is.
Well, here’s an exception: Since the 12-team NFL playoff format was adopted in 1990, no other wild-card round was a bigger dud than what we witnessed over the weekend.
There have been 112 wild-card games over 28 seasons since 1990. And this past weekend was the first time the four higher-seeded home teams all posted double-digit victories. Houston beat Oakland by 13 (27-14), Pittsburgh beat Miami by 18 (30-12), Seattle beat Detroit by 20 (26-6) and Green Bay beat the Giants by 26 (38-13) in the only game that actually had a competitive stretch, at least until yet another classic Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary pass wrestled control away from the Giants as the first half expired.
The average margin of victory: 19 points. That’s not good, especially during a season in which poor play has been added to concerns about player safety and bad behavior as reasons to question the eternal power of the league’s vaunted shield.
Obviously, injuries played a role. The Raiders and Dolphins were missing their starting quarterbacks. The Raiders sank using No. 3 QB Connor Cook, who became the first quarterback in NFL history to have his starting debut come during the playoffs. He was so overmatched against the league’s No. 1 defense that he made Houston’s struggling Brock Osweiler look somewhat good. At least good enough for coach Bill O’Brien to name him the starter at New England.
As for the Lions, they faced a playoff team for the fourth straight week and fell to 0-4 while being outscored 116-57. Once again, they made the playoffs but didn’t belong. They’re 0-9 as a wild-card team and haven’t won a playoff game since 1992.
But maybe there’s hope in the upcoming divisional round. At least outside of Foxboro in prime time Saturday night. In that marquee time slot, the top-seeded Patriots (14-2) opened as an astonishing 16 ½-point favorite over the fourth-seeded Texans (10-7).
That’s big. How big? Well, according to Bookmaker.eu, that’s the largest point spread for an NFL divisional round playoff game since the 1998 Vikings closed at a 16½-point favorite vs. the Cardinals.
The Vikings won 41-21. One wonders if the Texans can keep it that close. The last time they traveled to New England, they didn’t have to face Tom Brady and still lost 27-0 on Sept. 22. Brady is 22-9 in the playoffs. No other quarterback has more than 16 postseason wins.
The other three games also are rematches from earlier games this season. But the venues are different and the home teams have had byes.
NFC No. 3 seed Seattle (11-5-1) opens the action at No. 2 seed Atlanta (11-5) on Saturday. The Falcons won 26-24 at Seattle on Oct. 16.
Sunday’s action starts with AFC No. 3 seed Pittsburgh (12-5) at No. 2 seed Kansas City. The Steelers beat the Chiefs 43-14 in Pittsburgh on Oct. 2.
The late game Sunday is NFC No. 4 seed Green Bay (11-6) at No. 1 seed Dallas (13-3). The Cowboys won 30-16 at Lambeau Field on Oct. 16 and hope to do their part in extending a three-year streak that has seen both No. 1 seeds advance to the Super Bowl.
Seattle’s defense, Pittsburgh’s extraordinarily gifted and complementary triplets (Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell) and Green Bay’s Rodgers should make the road teams more dangerous and certainly more competitive this week.
Let’s hope so. Maybe that will make up for the most forgettable wild-card weekend since the 12-team NFL playoff format was adopted in 1990.