The NFL's Super Bowl tournament is down to its elite eight, and here are the divisional round storylines that intrigue me ...
This year's elite eight quarterback lineup breaks down nicely into two very distinct groups of four. Four of them have won or played in a Super Bowl:
Our QB power rankings at the moment:
• Curiously, the coaching field breaks down along a very similar line. The first set has combined for a 40-27 playoff record and five Super Bowl titles. It's led by New England's
Then comes Seattle's
The other four coaches still alive in the postseason represent the flip side. They've combined for just a 3-5 career playoff mark, and two of those wins came in last weekend's first round. That group is led by San Diego's
• The dream scenario of a Manning vs. Manning Super Bowl matchup has never stayed alive this long before. For the first time, brothers
Do you realize that the last time the NFL had a Manning-less postseason was '01? That was the year that then-Colts head coach
• While it may not generate the hype of a Manning Bowl, a more intriguing matchup could be Eli Manning vs.
Maybe we could have Manning come out for pre-game introductions wearing that Chargers baseball hat that he briefly and uncomfortably donned on draft day '04, before switching to his Giants headgear. How about ex-Giants general manager
That'd be fun.
• I like all four of the top-seeded teams to hold serve and win at home this weekend, but history says that's not all that likely. Only three times in the last 10 seasons (1997-2006) have all four of the home teams won in the divisional round, the most recent being in '04.
If there are upsets in the divisional round, they have traditionally been far more frequent in the AFC. In the 17 years since the NFL went to a seeding format and increased the size of the playoff field to 12 teams, the AFC's No. 1 and 2 seeds are 23-11 at home in the divisional round, while the NFC's top two seeds are a whopping 30-4 when they have earned a first-round bye and then opened at home (good news for Cowboys and Packers fans this week).
And did you know that when both No. 1 San Diego and No. 2 Baltimore lost in the AFC's divisional round last year, it marked the first time in either conference that the No. 1 and 2 seeds were beaten in the same year? One more potentially revealing nugget: The Patriots are 4-0 in the divisional round when they're either first- or second-seeded. The Colts are 0-2 in the same situation, losing to Tennessee in '99 as the No. 2 seed and to Pittsburgh in '05 as the No. 1. The Pats and Colts are 1-2 in this year's AFC.
• These are some very playoff experienced teams in this year's final eight. In the AFC, the Colts have made the postseason a conference-best six consecutive years. The Patriots are just one click behind at five straight playoff trips. The Chargers are in the postseason for the third time in four years, and even the Jaguars are no novices, having gone to the playoffs twice in the past three seasons.
In the NFC, the Seahawks lead the way with five consecutive NFC West titles and playoff berths. The Giants are in the postseason for a third consecutive year, and the Cowboys are making their second straight postseason appearance and third in the past five years. The least playoff experienced team in the field is the Packers, who also boast the league's youngest roster. Green Bay last made the postseason in '04.
• Sunday's Chargers at Colts game will likely make history no matter who wins. That's because unless the Colts win and the Jaguars beat the Patriots Saturday night, the game will mark the final time the Colts will play under the big Teflon roof of the RCA Dome. Indianapolis opens its new Lucas Oil Stadium (Fill 'er up?) in time for the '08 season.
And if the Cowboys get upset at home by the Giants on Sunday, there's a chance we've seen our last playoff game in the storied history of Texas Stadium. Dallas will open a new stadium in Arlington in 2009.
As far as we know, neither Green Bay's Lambeau Field or Foxboro's Gillette Stadium are going anywhere any time soon.
• By a good margin, we expect the most over-done storyline of the week to be Seattle's Holmgren facing Favre, his former Green Bay quarterback. There can't possibly be any new ground to break on this front -- especially since Seattle played at Green Bay in the playoffs in '03 -- but that won't stop anyone from trying.
Other topics we hope to ignore: The effect of
That about covers it.
• Seems to me that every team has one key injury that falls under the heading of major concern. Here they are in terms of significance from this vantage point:
That sore big left toe that
The question of whether
And in New England, well, you never really know much about injuries in New England. But offensive right tackle