• Welcome to favorites weekend, and so much for the "rest versus rust" debate. For the first time in quite a while, the divisional round of the NFL playoffs was largely dominated by the upper seeds, rewarding those teams that rested last week and making a mockery of the issue of late-season rust and a lack of momentum heading into the playoffs.
In the NFC, the top-ranked Saints, losers of their last three games in the regular season, dismantled an Arizona team Saturday that had all kinds of mojo coming out of its 51-45 shootout win over Green Bay in the first round. Then the No. 2 Vikings, losers of three of their last five games, followed up by dismissing the red-hot Cowboys 34-3 on Sunday in the Metrodome.
In the AFC, the No. 1-seeded Colts -- who are always the epicenter of the rest versus rust argument -- sure looked rested enough to me, taking care of business in workmanlike fashion against visiting Baltimore Saturday night. Those two season-ending losses suffered by
Form finally broke late Sunday afternoon at Qualcomm, as the No. 5-seeded Cinderella Jets beat the No. 2 seeded Chargers in a game that was so ugly it was beautiful. That outcome was all that kept us from having a once-in-five-years occurrence in next week's conference title games: AFC and NFC championships that would have matched the top two seeds for the first time since after the 2004 season, when New England (2) upset Pittsburgh (1) in the AFC title game, and Philadelphia (1) beat Atlanta (2) in the NFC championship game.
As is, three of the top four seeds survived into the conference championship round. Compare that with last year's divisional round, in which both top seeds lost their playoff openers (Tennessee in the AFC, to Baltimore; the Giants in the NFC, to Philadelphia), as well as the No. 2 seeded Carolina Panthers (to Arizona) in the NFC. Only the AFC's No. 2, the Steelers, broke that trend, winning at home against San Diego en route to their eventual Super Bowl title.
This year's playoffs feel like an aberration already, with all the lopsided games and lack of much drama (the Green Bay at Arizona shootout aside), but if it winds up giving us a Saints-Colts Super Bowl, it'll mark the first time since 1993 that we get a pair of top seeds pitted against one another in the last game of the NFL's season. That was the season the Bills-Cowboys rematch severely bored the football-watching public, with Buffalo and Dallas playing yet another uncompetitive game.
• Beware the Vikings, because recent history actually smiles much more on the No. 2 seeds than the top seeds. In this NFL decade (2000-on), eight of the 18 teams to make the Super Bowl were No. 1 seeds. But those eight went 1-7 in the Super Bowl, with only the 2003 Patriots earning a ring.
But of the four No. 2 seeds to make the Super Bowl this decade -- Pittsburgh in 2008, New England in 2004, Tampa Bay in 2002, and New England in 2001 -- all four have won the game and gotten the big confetti shower and the parade.
• It has all gone perfectly as planned for
It's the Vikings and not the Packers but, let's face it, that only makes the story all the more remarkable. Whatever happens to Minnesota next week in New Orleans, I'd say the Favre experiment has worked -- and worked wonders -- for the Vikings. The organization kind of sold its soul last summer to entice Favre to town, but with Minnesota making its first NFC title game since 2000 (when it lost 41-0 to the Giants), you can't say it hasn't been worth the over-the-top effort.
Favre threw a playoff career-best four touchdowns against the Cowboys, and we now have at least one great postseason memory to put alongside all those huge postseason games he turned in for Green Bay.
And don't forget this: Favre is now just two wins away from becoming the first quarterback to ever lead two organizations to a Super Bowl title.
• That wasn't a pass rush the Vikings sent after Cowboys quarterback
• Playing the role of
• I'm getting the sense that Sunday won't make a difference in regards to
• Speaking of that, nice knowing you,
• This week's
Sensabaugh, you might recall, last week said Dallas would have to beat itself to lose in Minnesota. No, the Cowboys just had to get enough players like Sensabaugh to come up small in a big-game setting to lose to Minnesota.
• Yawn. Welcome to the NFL's series of Blowout Bowls. Six out of the first seven playoff games this month have been largely uncompetitive. Other than last weekend's Arizona-Green Bay overtime classic, the average margin of victory in this year's NFL playoff games has been 21.3 points, with all six being decided by margins ranging from 10 to 31 points.
• What exactly got into
Maybe he got a motivational kick start from seeing
• In my 20 seasons of covering the NFL, and in another 20 years of watching the game prior to that, I've never seen a punt return break open as wide and as early as Bush's 83-yard back-breaker in the third quarter. It looked like Arizona only had about six players on the field, and none of them thought Bush had the ball.
• In NFL history, a playoff team's defense has never been torched like Arizona's was these past two weeks. The Cardinals gave up 45 points in the final three quarters last week against Green Bay -- and won -- and surrendered 35 in the first half at New Orleans. That's 80 points on 11 touchdowns and one field goal in about five quarters of action.
And to think last year Arizona head coach
• The Saints would have beaten almost anybody on Saturday the way their offense was firing on all cylinders, but the Cardinals having to face New Orleans without cornerback
• Ultimately it probably wouldn't have mattered in the outcome all that much, but if you're Arizona, and you want to keep the ball away from the Saints' point-a-minute offense, how do you not keep running the ball after you get a 70-yard
• I'm probably in the distinct minority on this, but
• This much the Cardinals proved on Saturday against the Saints: You can't give up 45 points in the playoffs and live to tell. Not that anyone really needed to remind Whisenhunt of that particular football truth.
• The Ravens' crying need for more offensive weapons should be job one, two and three this offseason. Running back
It's Rice runs left, Rice runs right, or Baltimore throws it to Rice. Baltimore could have played another eight quarters against the Colts and wouldn't have topped the 20 points Indy put on the board.
• Sometimes I think Baltimore beats itself better than any of its opponents could. Key penalties bedeviled the Ravens throughout this season, and they were far too prevalent once again in Indianapolis. And then there was
• I knew Baltimore was doomed when down 10-3, it unwisely allowed the Colts to get the ball back at their 36 with 1:26 left in the first half and two timeouts still in their pocket. You don't give Manning another late-half scoring opportunity, even if you have to turn conservative with your own play-calling staring at a seven-point deficit.
• Just my best educated guess, but I'll be surprised if Warner doesn't come back for one last go-round in 2010. Getting absolutely blown up by Saints defensive end
Just what we need though: Another veteran quarterback retirement watch to follow this offseason.
• Here's what Warner should do: He should do whatever it takes to avoid ever playing another game in New Orleans. That building has not been kind to the NFL's most famous former grocery shelf stocker. He's now 0-3 in the playoffs at the Superdome, having lost a 2000 first-round game to the Saints when he was with St. Louis, the 2001 Super Bowl upset at the hands of New England, and 31-point beatdown by New Orleans on Saturday.
He should retire from the Superdome.
On top of the
• You may not know much about him except for his familiar last name, but I stand in awe of the coaching career of Redskins defensive assistant
The Redskins on Saturday announced that Olivadotti has been retained by new Washington head coach
Chicago is a mere 150 miles southeast of Madison, Wis., and Tice is now in better position to watch his 6-foot-5, 220-pound son play ball. The younger Tice had to sit out this season due to transfer rules, but he'll be eligible in 2010 as a redshirt junior. I live in Madison, Wis., these days, and I've seen the Tices in town more than once already. People forget, but before he had a 14-year NFL career as a tight end, Mike Tice was a quarterback at the University of Maryland.
• I can certainly see why the University of Tennessee rushed to hire