Cheer up, Vikings fans.
A year ago, Baltimore, Houston, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, Indianapolis and the L.A. Chargers were a combined 49-63. None had more than nine victories. None made the playoffs. Chicago and Houston went 9-23 and finished last in their divisions.
Those teams were a combined 75-37. None has fewer than 10 victories. All seven made the playoffs. Chicago and Houston went 23-9 and won their divisions.
NFL wild-card weekend opens Saturday with all seven postseason newbies in action. They will be joined by defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia, at 9-7 the only team to reach this year’s playoffs with fewer than 10 victories.
The Colts, who started 1-5 and finished 9-1, kick things off at the Texans, who started 0-3 and finished 10-2. Six points separated the AFC South foes as they split their season series, with Indianapolis winning at Houston 24-21 last month.
In Saturday’s night game, Seattle (10-6) makes its seventh playoff appearance in Pete Carroll’s nine seasons when it travels to Dallas (10-6), which is playing its 62nd postseason game, surpassing Pittsburgh for most in league history. The Cowboys’ 34 playoff victories are tied with New England and Green Bay behind only Pittsburgh (36).
In Sunday’s first game, the 12-4 and fifth-seeded Chargers travel to the 10-6 and fourth-seeded Ravens. Two weeks ago, Baltimore posted a prime-time statement game when its second-ranked scoring defense (17.9) went to Los Angeles and mauled the Chargers’ sixth-ranked scoring offense (26.8) in a 22-10 Ravens victory.
And in the wild-card finale, Da Bears host Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles and the Eagles while ending the longest playoff drought of this year’s 12 participants. Chicago’s last postseason game came at Soldier Field on Jan. 23, 2011, when mighty Mike McCarthy and the Packers beat pouty Jay Cutler and the Bears en route to winning the Super Bowl.
My oh my, how things have changed. Eight years later, the Packers are one of eight teams shopping for a new coach.
Of course, annual upheaval is mandated by NFL rules. The only team exempt from the chaos is New England, which last missed the playoffs in 2008 and has now had 10 seasons in a row with a first-round bye. At 41, five-time champion Tom Brady is trying for his eighth straight AFC Championship Game and third straight Super Bowl.
Other than the Patriots, the only team with a current streak of more than two consecutive playoff seasons is Kansas City (four). The Chiefs went 12-4 to secure the AFC’s No. 1 seed ahead of New England (11-5).
The Saints, Rams and Eagles are in the playoffs for a second year in a row. The Saints (13-3) and the Rams (13-3) are the NFC’s top two seeds, respectively.
Half of the AFC’s six-team field will be led by quarterbacks making their playoff debuts. Kansas City’s MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes and Houston’s Deshaun Watson are 23, while Baltimore rookie Lamar Jackson will become the first quarterback to start a playoff game before turning 22, which he does on Monday.
In the NFC, one quarterback will be making his playoff debut. Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky, 24, has only 26 NFL starts but will get a little help from a defense that led the league in fewest points allowed (17.7) and most takeaways (36), interceptions (27) and points off turnovers (109).
Bears fans would be wise not to celebrate victory too soon. Since the 12-team playoff format began in 1990, the NFC’s third seed is 14-14 when facing the sixth seed. Vikings fans know the pain all too well, having witnessed their team’s 0-4 mark as a No. 3 seed facing the No. 6 seed.
Since 1990 — a streak that’s now at 29 seasons — at least four teams made the playoffs that didn’t make it the year before. In 15 of the past 16 years, at least one team went from worst to first in its division, including two in each of the past two seasons.
This year, the Raiders and Bucs were a combined 9-23 and last in their divisions.
Next year? Don’t laugh too soon.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org