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: Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and MattHasselbeck. And four of them have never made the big game: Tony Romo, Eli Manning, David Garrard and Philip Rivers.
Our QB power rankings at the moment:
1. Tom Brady -- The league's newly minted MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.
2. Peyton Manning -- Somehow overlooked this season despite winning one more game in the regular season than he did during the Colts' Super Bowl run of last year (13-3 to 12-4).
3. Brett Favre -- A renaissance season for the ages for No. 4.
4. Eli Manning -- Riding two games worth of confidence and momentum into Dallas.
5. Tony Romo -- One touchdown pass, five interceptions, five sacks, three fumbles, one sore thumb and one over-exposed girlfriend (you know what we mean) in his past three games. For a second straight December, he went from Romo to No-Mo (as in, no momentum).
6. Matt Hasselbeck -- He owns four playoff wins in the past three seasons, and that's more than all but Peyton Manning among this group of passers.
7. David Garrard -- Pretty shaky first career playoff start last week at Pittsburgh, but he's coming off a superb and highly underappreciated season.
8. Philip Rivers -- A strong second half against Tennessee not only saved the Chargers, but it made Rivers the first San Diego quarterback since Stan Humphries (remember him?) to win a playoff game.
• 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 Bill Belichick, with his 13-3 playoff record and three Super Bowl rings.
Then comes Seattle's Mike Holmgren, who's 13-10 in the postseason, with one Super Bowl title, and Indy's Tony Dungy, he of the 9-8 playoff mark and one Super Bowl championship. Also in that group is 11-year head coaching veteran Tom Coughlin of the Giants, who owns a 5-6 career record in the playoffs, with two AFC title game appearances when he was in Jacksonville.
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 Norv Turner, whose postseason record improved to 2-1 with the Chargers' defeat of Tennessee.
Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio is 1-1 in the playoffs after the Jags' win at Pittsburgh. Dallas' Wade Phillips seeks his first career playoff victory at home against the Giants on Sunday. He's 0-3, having lost once when he coached Denver ('93) and twice in Buffalo ('98 and '99). Green Bay's Mike McCarthy is the only playoff rookie in the field. He'll be making his postseason coaching debut at home against Seattle on Saturday.
• The dream scenario of a Manning vs. Manning Super Bowl matchup has never stayed alive this long before. For the first time, brothers Peyton and Eli Manning are both playing in the divisional round. Eli's Giants lost in the first round in his previous two playoff seasons of 2005 and '06.
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 Jim Mora so graciously gave us his immortal "Playoffs?'' sound bite. Since then, the Manning brothers have combined to make nine out of a possible 10 trips to the postseason, with only the Giants failing to advance in Eli's rookie season of '04. The Mannings are 8-6 in the playoffs in that span.
• While it may not generate the hype of a Manning Bowl, a more intriguing matchup could be Eli Manning vs. Philip Rivers in the '04 Draft Trade Bowl next month in Phoenix.
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 Ernie Accorsi handling the coin flip at midfield, with Archie Manning getting to call it in the air?
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 Jessica Simpson on Romo's game; the Jaguars playing at cold-weather New England (it's supposed to be relatively mild Saturday night, and besides, Jacksonville is no typical Sun Belt team); and whatever Tiki (or Ronde) Barber have to say about anything.
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:
There's Terrell Owens' high ankle sprain in Dallas.
John Henderson's hamstring pull in Jacksonville.
That sore big left toe that Antonio Gates is nursing in San Diego.
Center Shaun O'Hara's knee sprain in New York.
The question of whether Marvin Harrison (knee bruise) will finally re-appear in the Colts' lineup.
Charles Woodson's toe injury in Green Bay.
Deion Branch's strained calf in Seattle.
And in New England, well, you never really know much about injuries in New England. But offensive right tackle Nick Kaczur missed the Giants game in Week 17 with a bad foot, and he reportedly hasn't been seen practicing since.