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News » Are we in for another wild playoff run?

Are we in for another wild playoff run?

Are we in for another wild playoff run?
Wild-card weekend has gotten a whole lot more interesting in the last few years.

It used to be these games were reduced to mere exhibitions, figuring out which lambs would be led to slaughter the following weekend against the bye-rested top-two seeds in each conference. From 1990, the first season of the current wild card format, to 2002, 22 of the 26 Super Bowl participants had been teams who had a first-round playoff bye.

NFL Week 17

Week 17 action

    Vikings 20, Giants 19 -- Recap | Box
    Panthers 33, Saints 31 -- Recap | Box
    Packers 31, Lions 21 -- Recap | Box
    Falcons 31, Rams 27 -- Recap | Box
    Texans 31, Bears 24 -- Recap | Box
    Patriots 13, Bills 0 -- Recap | Box
    Colts 23, Titans 0 -- Recap | Box
    Steelers 31, Browns 0 -- Recap | Box
    Raiders 31, Bucs 24 -- Recap | Box
    Bengals 16, Chiefs 6 -- Recap | Box
    Eagles 44, Cowboys 6 -- Recap | Box
    Dolphins 24, Jets 17 -- Recap | Box
    49ers 27, Redskins 24 -- Recap | Box
    Ravens 27, Jaguars 7 -- Recap | Box
    Cardinals 34, 'Hawks 24 -- Recap | Box
    Chargers 52, Broncos 21 -- Recap | Box


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But beginning in 2003, playing on wild-card weekend stopped being such a liability. Four teams not seeded 1 or 2 in their conference have played in the last five Super Bowls, including the last three champions: the '05 Steelers, '06 Colts and '07 Giants.

So the question is which teams playing this weekend have that four-game run in them. As the Sundays or Our Lives dwindle, we figure it out through a process of elimination. These are the five teams that definitely do not have that month-long playoff run in them.

Arizona Cardinals

Has a division winner ever looked more primed for a one-and-done playoff appearance?

The Cardinals proved they could beat up on the pathetic NFC West, going 6-0 in their division. But against the rest of the league they went 3-7, allowing 32.5 points per game in those 10 games. They won't be seeing anyone from the NFC West in January.

The defense allowed the fifth-most points in the league, but that might not be the team's weakest unit heading into January. The offense has gone from one-dimensional to frequently no-dimensional.

How bad is the Cardinals' running game? They finished last in the league with a meager 73.6 yards per game and 31st at 3.5 yards per carry. Tim Hightower, the rookie deemed worthy of benching Edgerrin James, averaged 2.8 yards per carry. It looks like James may have won his job back in Week 17, but he doesn't scare anybody anymore.

And the potent passing attack appears to have hit a wall. Kurt Warner threw for over 300 yards in seven of Arizona's first 11 games but failed to reach 300 in the last five, averaging a pedestrian 215.4 down the stretch.

The outside-looking-in Patriots (11-5) beat the Cardinals 47-7 in Week 16, a harbinger of what the Cards can expect if they survive this weekend to travel East in the second round.

Atlanta Falcons

Nice season. Bright future. But the league's 24th-ranked defense isn't going to win four straight games against playoff competition when the Falcons' longest winning streak of the regular season was three games.

Rookie Matt Ryan has been a revelation as an NFL QB, but in college he was not always at his best when it mattered most. In eight college games played after Thanksgiving, including games for the ACC title and Bowl games, Ryan threw 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

The Falcons probably got the easiest first-round draw with a trip to Arizona for a game someone has to win, but the winner isn't going to beat the Giants or Panthers in the next round.

Minnesota Vikings

A team that could barely squeak past the Giants' second string playing at home in Week 17 with a division title on the line is not going to run the playoff table. No way. No how. Can't do it.

It's not that Tarvaris Jackson is incapable of playing four good games in a row. In fact, he has played four good games in a row without a QB rating lower than 88.5. But that means in order for the Vikes to win the Super Bowl, Jackson would probably have to put together eight good games in a row, something that seems unlikely for a 25-year-old quarterback three months removed from losing his job.

There's a reason tickets were still available to Minny's game against the Eagles on Sunday with a blackout looming.

Baltimore Ravens

Occasionally, in the perfect circumstances, a rookie head coach can win a Super Bowl. Don McCafferty took over Don Shula's powerhouse Colts in 1970 and won it all. George Seifert inherited Bill Walsh's juggernaut in 1989 and the team didn't miss a beat.

But that's hardly the situation for John Harbaugh in Baltimore. McCafferty had Johnny Unitas. Seifert had Joe Montana. Harbaugh has rookie Joe Flacco. And while it is not unprecedented for a rookie head coach to win it all, rookie quarterbacks simply do not. In fact, they rarely win playoff games at all.

Harbaugh and Flacco will have to be satisfied with orchestrating a phenomenal turnaround from 5-11 to 11-5.

Miami Dolphins

It may be the feel-good story of the year, but it will be ending this week or next.

The Dolphins put up some impressive numbers this season, finishing ninth in the league in points allowed and 12th overall in offense. But don't let that fool you into thinking this is a complete team.

Miami went 2-4 against teams with winning records. In those six games they allowed 361.8 total yards per game, which would have placed them 27th overall in defense. Someone in the next couple of weeks is going to put up a big number on them and Chad Pennington will not be able to keep pace.

Which leaves ...

That leaves three teams playing this weekend -- Colts, Chargers and Eagles -- who could conceivably pull off an '07 Giants-type run.

The winner of the Colts-Chargers will have either A. the top-rated quarterback in the NFL (Philip Rivers) or B. the most playoff-experienced QB in the field (Peyton Manning) for a second-round game in Tennessee or Pittsburgh. The second-round hosts, meanwhile, will have Kerry Collins and the concussed Ben Roethlisberger.

In the NFC, the Eagles are peaking. They won four of their last five regular-season games, pounding their opponents by an average margin of 23 points a game in those four victories. Philly also has a winning record against the other playoff teams, having gone 4-2 against Pittsburgh (W), Atlanta (W) New York (L/W), Baltimore (L) and Arizona (W).

The Colts, Chargers or Eagles could run the table.

But looking at the eight teams playing this weekend, after three straight champions from seeds 3-6, it seems a pretty good bet that this is the year order is restored and the rested high seeds take care of business in Round 2.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 2, 2009

Matt Schobel Name: Matt Schobel
Position: TE
Age: 29
Experience: 7 years
College: TCU
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