Thursday January 7th, 2010

Even more stuff you need to know before the NFL playoffs kick off this weekend with four first-round games...

• Maybe like never before, quarterbacks will take center stage in this year's postseason. In this year of the quarterback, when a record 10 passers threw for more than 4,000 yards, and a record 12 QBs tossed at least 25 touchdown passes, the 12-team playoff field naturally reflects all that superiority through the air.

Chew on these statistical nuggets produced by the star-studded collection of quarterbacks who will be winging it around in the coming five weeks:

-- In terms of career passer rating, the top six, and 10 of the top 14 active quarterbacks will be playing over the course of the next two weekends. Somewhat surprisingly, that group is led by Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, whose 97.2 career passer rating (1,000 minimum attempts) is better even than San Diego's Philip Rivers (95.8), Dallas's Tony Romo (95.6), Indy's Peyton Manning (95.2), Arizona's Kurt Warner (93.7), New England's Tom Brady (93.3), New Orleans's Drew Brees (91.9), Cincinnati's Carson Palmer (87.9), Minnesota's Brett Favre (86.6), and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb (86.5). Baltimore's Joe Flacco (84.9) and the Jets' Mark Sanchez (63.0) don't have the needed 1,000 pass attempts to qualify.

-- Other than Sanchez, the lone rookie in the group, the 11 starting quarterbacks in the playoffs combined to average 27 touchdowns this season, and 11 interceptions. That's almost seven more scoring passes per QB than last year's top 11 playoff passers.

-- This year's playoff field includes four Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in Brady, Manning, Warner and Favre, and they own a combined six rings. Include McNabb and five of the passers have started Super Bowls. And when you factor in Brees, Rivers and Flacco, eight of the 12 quarterbacks have started a conference title game since 2006.

Interestingly, this is the third consecutive year the playoffs have featured four Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. In 2008, it was Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Warner. In 2007, it was Peyton Manning, Brady, Roethlisberger, and Favre. Over the course of the previous three years (2004-2006), a total of four Super Bowl winners appeared in the postseason, and that represents three trips by Brady and one by Favre.

• If you like watching veteran quarterbacks do their thing, you came to the right place this month. Seven of the 12 playoff quarterbacks are 30 or older, led, of course, by the ageless wonder himself, Favre, who hit 40 in mid-October.

After No. 4 comes Warner, 38, Peyton Manning, 33, McNabb, 33, Brady, 32, Brees, 31 (next week), and Palmer, 30. Romo is 29, Rivers, 28, and the three young pups of the postseason are Rodgers, 26, Flacco, 24, and Sanchez, 23.

With all those NFL seasons represented comes tons of playoff experience. The 12-man contingent has combined for 95 playoff starts, with a won-loss record of 56-39 (.589). When you toss out Sanchez and Rodgers, who will be making their playoff debuts this weekend, and the other 10 quarterbacks average 9.5 postseason starts each.

Brady's 14-3 (.824) playoff winning percentage leads the group, but Warner is 8-3 (.727), McNabb is 9-6 (.600), Favre is 12-10 (.545), with Manning at 7-8 (.467).


• If these things were decided by head coaching track records, the Patriots and Eagles will be meeting in Miami for a rematch of their Super Bowl pairing of five years ago.

Bill Belichick and Andy Reid are the only two active NFL head coaches with at least 10 playoff wins to their credit, and their postseason records tower over those of the other 10 coaches in the playoffs. Belichick enters Sunday's game against Baltimore at 15-4 (.789) in the postseason, including a 14-3 mark in his decade-long tenure in New England. Reid is 10-7 (.588) in the playoffs in his 11-year run in Philadelphia, and he'll lead his eighth Eagles team into the postseason Saturday night at Dallas.

Belichick and Reid both have twice as many playoff wins as the other five head coaches combined in their respective conferences. In the AFC, San Diego's Norv Turner (4-3), Baltimore's John Harbaugh (2-1), Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis (0-1), Indy's Jim Caldwell (0-0), and the Jets' Rex Ryan (0-0) are a collective 6-5 in the postseason.

In the NFC, Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt (3-1), Dallas's Wade Phillips (0-4), New Orleans' Sean Payton (1-1), Green Bay's Mike McCarthy (1-1), and Minnesota's Brad Childress (0-1) are a combined 5-8 in the playoffs. So if you're keep track, Belichick and Reid are a collective 25-11 in the postseason with five Super Bowl appearances and three rings, and the rest of the field is 11-13, with one Super Bowl trip.

Advantage, Bill and Andy.

• If the Patriots win their playoff opener for the seventh time without a loss in the Belichick era, New England's head coach will tie Pittsburgh's Chuck Noll (16-8) for the fourth most postseason wins in NFL history. If they win a pair of games this month, Belichick will tie Washington's Joe Gibbs (17-7) for third most all-time. And if the Patriots win the Super Bowl this year, Belichick will tie Don Shula (19-17) for the second most playoff wins in a coaching career -- no mean feat, given that Shula coached for 33 NFL seasons.

For at least this year, Belichick can't catch the career leader in playoff wins, the Cowboys' Tom Landry. The stoic one finished with a 20-16 postseason record in 29 NFL seasons.

• Credit goes to Reid for having the most fruitful coaching tree going at the moment in the NFL. Besides his Eagles, the playoffs for the second straight year will also feature the Vikings, led by his former Philadelphia offensive coordinator, Brad Childress, and the Ravens, who are coached by his ex-Eagles special teams and defensive backs coach, John Harbaugh.

• All in all, this year's 12-team playoff field is a fairly familiar. Every team has made at least two playoff trips in the past five seasons, from 2005-09. The only real newcomer of any note among the group is Cincinnati, which last made the playoffs in 2005.

Indianapolis, of course, leads the way with five playoff trips in the past five years (and a league-high eight in a row overall), and is followed by New England and San Diego (both four), Philadelphia, Dallas and Baltimore (three), and then Arizona, New Orleans, Green Bay, Minnesota, the Jets and Cincinnati, with two playoff trips each.

• This will be the record 10th Super Bowl played in Miami/South Florida, and the Colts have got to be loving the sound of that. Between their Baltimore and Indianapolis incarnations, the Colts have played in three Super Bowls in their franchise history, and all three have been Miami-based.

The Baltimore Colts lost Super Bowl III to the Jets and Joe Namath in the Orange Bowl in January 1969, and beat Dallas on Jim O'Brien's last-second field goal two years later in the same stadium. Three years ago, Peyton Manning and Co. finally got their rings, besting the Bears in the rain at then-Dolphin Stadium (now Landshark Stadium).

If the Colts make it back to South Florida this year, it'll make them the first team to play four times in the same Super Bowl city. The same could be said for Dallas if it qualifies. But the Super memories in Miami haven't been anywhere near as good for the Cowboys. They lost all three times they played there, to the Colts in Super Bowl V, and to the Steelers twice, in Super Bowls X and XIII.

• Funny how these things work out, but four of the AFC's six playoff coaches are former defensive coordinators, and five of the NFC's six playoff coaches are former offensive coordinators.

In the AFC playoffs, coaches with defensive backgrounds seem to rule this season. Bill Belichick, Rex Ryan, Marvin Lewis and John Harbaugh, who coached Eagles defensive backs in 2007, after years as the team's special teams coach, have led their team into the postseason.

In the NFC field, offense is the mindset that predominates this year, with Sean Payton, Brad Childress, Mike McCarthy, Andy Reid and Ken Whisenhunt all getting their training on that side of the ball.

The exceptions to the rule? In the NFC, Wade Phillips is his own defensive play-caller in Dallas, and in the AFC, Norv Turner and Jim Caldwell know offense by trade.

• The Jets and Bengals were notable exceptions, but not many teams are going to try and build a playoff run around their running games. Only five of the top 10 leading rushers in the league will be in the playoffs, and just six of the top 20.

The Jets' Thomas Jones is the leading rusher in the playoffs. His 1,402 yards was good for third place, behind Tennessee's Chris Johnson (2,006) and St. Louis's Steven Jackson (1,416). Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (1,383) finished the season quietly and has become a secondary threat behind Favre and the Vikings passing game. Then comes Baltimore's Ray Rice (1,339), Green Bay's Ryan Grant (1,253), and Cincinnati's Cedric Benson (1,251). Dallas's Marion Barber (932) is the playoffs only other rusher who topped 900 yards this season.

• The Jets-Bengals rematch this weekend in the AFC is more than another pairing of former Southern Cal quarterbacks who both were drafted in the top five of the first round. Mark Sanchez and Carson Palmer have more in common than that.

Once upon a time, Sanchez was actually a ball boy for Palmer's high school team, Santa Margarita High in Mission Viejo, Calif. The two are close friends, and Sanchez said again last week that he often seeks advice from Palmer in terms of how to handle a career in the NFL.

Maybe Sanchez doesn't want to model Palmer too closely these days. Palmer was 1 of 11 for 0 yards and one interception in the Bengals' 37-0 egg-laying against the Jets on Sunday night. Sanchez didn't set the world on fire either, completing 8 of 16 for 63 yards, without a touchdown or a pick, but he at least got the win.

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