IT'S PLAYOFF TIME!
December 31, 2013INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
After an exciting finish to the regular season, the NFL’s second season has arrived.
“We advanced to the postseason and it’s great,” says New England quarterback TOM BRADY, whose team won the AFC East and earned a first-round bye. “We put together a great season but it doesn’t mean much now. We’ve now got to go out there and play great football.”
Week 17 came right down to the wire as 13 of the 16 games played on the final day of the regular season had playoff implications. Sunday’s excitement was due in part to having 16 divisional games played on the season’s final day, a tradition instituted in 2010. And the regular-season’s final game – game No. 256 of 256 – determined the NFC East division champion as Philadelphia defeated Dallas in a win-and-in matchup.
“It feels good,” says Seattle Pro Bowl safety EARL THOMAS about the team winning the NFC West and clinching the No. 1 seed in the conference. “But we still have some work to do.”
The final 12 teams are now set. It doesn’t matter how you got here. All that matters is that you’re here.
“Everybody’s 0-0 now,” says Denver cornerback CHAMP BAILEY, whose team won the AFC West and secured home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. “There are 12 total teams in this thing. We’re one of them. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re the one that comes out on top in the end.”
The NFL playoffs, which conclude on February 2 with Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium, begin this Saturday and Sunday with Wild Card Weekend.
“You always want to play your best football this time of year,” says New Orleans head coach SEAN PAYTON.
The Saints are one of five new teams in this year’s playoff field, joining Carolina, Kansas City, Philadelphia and San Diego. Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before.
“Playoff football is different,” says Green Bay head coach MIKE MC CARTHY, who has led the Packers to the playoffs in six of his eight years as head coach. “We’ve been playing playoff football for the last three or four weeks to get in. I’m thankful we’ve had the opportunity to play those games because there’s nothing like current experience that you can carry forward. We’ll be ready to go.”
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-5) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (11-5) (Saturday, NBC, 4:35 PM ET)
One year after posting a 2-14 record, the Chiefs are back in the playoffs after an 11-win season. Kansas City tied for the NFL lead with eight players selected to the 2014 Pro Bowl: T BRANDEN ALBERT, S ERIC BERRY, RB JAMAAL CHARLES, CB BRANDON FLOWERS, LB TAMBA HALI, LB JUSTIN HOUSTON, PR DEXTER MC CLUSTER and DT DONTARI POE.
“Any time you can be a part of the turnaround, it’s a special feeling,” says Chiefs quarterback ALEX SMITH, in his first season with Kansas City. “These guys have worked hard and deserve a ton of credit. It’s special to be a part of this.”
The Colts are also familiar with quick turnarounds. In 2011, Indianapolis won two games. In the two seasons since, the Colts have won 22 and gone to the postseason in both years. Quarterback ANDREW LUCK, who has guided Indianapolis to those 22 wins, has passed for 8,196 yards, the most ever by a player in his first two NFL seasons. Defensive end ROBERT MATHIS was selected to his fifth Pro Bowl and led the league with 19.5 sacks, winning the NFL’s first ever Deacon Jones Award.
“We know the postseason’s a whole different ball game and it’s one-and-done,” says Luck. “We’re excited about that.”
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (11-5) at PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (10-6) (Saturday, NBC, 8:10 PM ET)
The Saints clinched a playoff berth with a 42-17 win over Tampa Bay in Week 17. Pro Bowl quarterback DREW BREES threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns in the win and surpassed the 5,000-yard mark (5,162) for the fourth time in his career. All-Star tight end JIMMY GRAHAM finished the season with 86 catches for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns, becoming the first tight end in NFL history to record at least 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns in two different seasons.
“We are good enough to do whatever we set out to do,” says Brees about the team’s playoff chances. “We took a great step in the right direction with this game to get ready for this playoff run.”
Playing a win-and-in game for the NFC East title in Week 17, the Eagles defeated Dallas 24-22 to clinch the division. Pro Bowl running back LE SEAN MC COY won the rushing title (1,607 yards) and quarterback NICK FOLES was the passing leader (119.2 passer rating). Wide receiver DE SEAN JACKSON had 1,332 receiving yards this season and the Eagles became the first team ever to have a quarterback with a 100+ rating, a 1,500-yard rusher and a 1,300-yard receiver.
“It’s a great feeling,” says Jackson about returning to the playoffs. “Our fans are going to go wild. It’s a great opportunity to bring the playoffs to Philadelphia on Saturday. We just need to have a great week of practice and get ready for a good team coming in here.”
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (9-7) at CINCINNATI BENGALS (11-5) (Sunday, CBS, 1:05 PM ET)
The Chargers, led by Pro Bowl quarterback PHILIP RIVERS, won their final four games and earned a playoff berth in Week 17 with a 27-24 overtime win over Kansas City combined with losses by Miami and Baltimore. Rivers finished the season ranked second in the AFC with a 105.5 passer rating and led the league with a 69.5 completion percentage.
“It feels like this season is meant to be special,” says All-Star safety ERIC WEDDLE. “We’re in the playoffs and no one really thought that could happen.”
Head coach MARVIN LEWIS has led the Bengals to the playoffs for the third consecutive season and the team’s first division title since 2009. Cincinnati had two Pro Bowl selections, one on each side of the ball: WR A.J. GREEN and LB VONTAZE BURFICT.
“We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” says Bengals quarterback ANDY DALTON. “For us to have a home playoff game, it’ll be a great environment. We’re ready for the playoffs to start.”
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (12-4) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (8-7-1) (Sunday, FOX, 4:40 PM ET)
For the fourth time since the start of the 2012 season, the 49ers and Packers will meet. San Francisco has won all three meetings, including last year’s Divisional Playoff (45-31) when quarterback COLIN KAEPERNICK rushed for 181 yards with two touchdowns and passed for 263 yards with two TDs.
The 49ers enter the playoffs having won six games in a row. San Francisco tied for the NFL lead with eight players selected to the Pro Bowl: LB NA VORRO BOWMAN, LB AHMAD BROOKS, TE VERNON DAVIS, RB FRANK GORE, G MIKE IUPATI, DT JUSTIN SMITH, T JOE STALEY and LB PATRICK WILLIS.
“At this point, you don’t care who you play,” says 49ers wide receiver ANQUAN BOLDIN, who won a Super Bowl with Baltimore last year. “You’re happy to be in the playoffs. You look forward to whoever you have to play. At this point, all teams are good. If not, they wouldn’t be in the playoffs.”
The Packers advanced to the postseason by defeating Chicago 33-28 in Week 17 to claim the NFC North division title. Quarterback AARON RODGERS connected with wide receiver RANDALL COBB on the game-winning 48-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-eight play with just 38 seconds remaining. Rodgers enters the playoffs with a career 103.6 postseason passer rating, the third-best mark in NFL history.
“We’re in the playoffs,” says Rodgers. “That’s the important thing. I think the NFC is wide open.”
FINAL 2013 NFL STANDINGS