Time for the best weekend of the NFL season, when the elite eight pair off in four must-see divisional-round playoff games. Here are eight of the best storylines still looming:
The only way this storyline could be any richer would be if the Jets were Indy's opponent this weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium. It was New York, of course, that came to Indianapolis in Week 16, winning in comeback fashion after the Colts had pulled Manning and a healthy collection of starters in the middle of the third quarter.
But the Ravens are always an interesting foe for Indy, too, because some Baltimore fans still seethe about losing the Colts to Indianapolis almost three decades ago. Indy has won seven in a row against the Ravens, ratcheting up the pressure to win just a little bit more. And it's entirely fair to say that Baltimore (10-7) comes in as the hot team, having won four of its past five, including elimination games in Week 17 at Oakland and in last weekend's first round at New England. And the Ravens are fearless on the road in the playoffs, having gone 3-1 away from home over the past two postseasons.
Four of the remaining eight teams have never won a Super Bowl: The Saints, Vikings, Cardinals and Chargers have come up empty in their first 171 combined seasons of play in the Super Bowl era, but they all have some legitimate reasons to believe this will be their year. New Orleans has never even been to a Super Bowl, while Arizona and San Diego have made just one trip each. Minnesota remains 0-4 in the game, but after going four times in eight years between 1969-76, the Vikings haven't been back in 33 years.
Of the other four remaining playoff contestants, the Jets have been trying to follow up on Super Bowl III for a mere 41 years now, and the Cowboys are working on a 13-year Super Bowl drought, tying their longest in franchise history. Only the Colts (2006) and Ravens (2000) have won rings this decade, and both teams have changed head coaches since their championship seasons.
No Snow Bowl is forthcoming. No wind-swept day at Soldier Field, with
And when you consider that five of the possible six sites for the conference title games are either indoor stadiums or in mostly sun-splashed locales (New Orleans, Minnesota, Indianapolis, Dallas and San Diego), we're almost assured of more of the same next weekend. And don't forget, the Super Bowl is in South Florida again this season.
You want weather with your playoff football? Then root for the No. 6 seed Ravens to upset the top-seeded Colts and the No. 5 Jets to knock off the No. 2 Chargers, setting up an AFC title game of Baltimore at New York, in what we promise will absolutely, positively be the last game ever played in Giants Stadium. (We're sure this time).
Now we get to add into the mix the guy who just won a record fourth league MVP award (Manning), and the three quarterbacks who finished second, third and fourth in the voting (New Orleans'
The only quarterback who's struggling right now is Baltimore's banged up second-year veteran
Ten QBs have started and won at least two Super Bowls:
I'm pretty sure Favre, Manning and even Warner are all going into the Hall at this point, without or without a second piece of shiny jewelry. But it would represent a career-capping accomplishment for Favre and Warner, and further cement Manning's legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
Two other playoff kickers remain firmly under the gun as well. The Saints switched from
Minnesota has been heavily reliant on Favre and the passing game late in the season, making
The Jets have the best ground game in the NFL, and rookie
Even Arizona got in on the act last week on the rushing front, finding time to churn out 156 yards on just 23 carries (a gaudy 6.8 average), while Warner was completing 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns. Rookie