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NFL Playoffs Include Many Familiar Faces

Posted on December 29, 2014 by Dean Hybl
Led by quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray the Dallas Cowboys seem to have their best chance at making a playoff run since the days of Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman.

Led by quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray the Dallas Cowboys seem to have their best chance at making a playoff run since the days of Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman.

Technically the NFL trend of having at least five teams earn postseason bids after missing the playoffs the previous season held to form with the 2014 season, but there is something extremely familiar about all the teams vying to reach Super Bowl 49 (if the NFL isn’t going to use Roman Numerals for 50, I feel no obligation to use them for the upcoming game).

Six of the eight division champions for 2014 also won their division a year ago with Cincinnati yielding to Pittsburgh (though both teams are in the playoffs) and the Dallas Cowboys soaring past the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East.

Surprisingly, the longest playoff droughts to end this season belong to the Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals, who both last reached the playoffs in 2009. The Steelers and the Detroit Lions last reached the playoffs following the 2011 season.

After winning the Super Bowl following the 2012 campaign, the Baltimore Ravens missed the postseason in 2013, but are now in the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years.

The four teams receiving a bye should be of little surprise, though in our “what have you done for me lately” society all four were written off at some point during the season.

Both the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots were sold down the river before the season had reached October, only to both rebound for 12 win seasons.

The defending champion Seattle Seahawks looked vulnerable after three early season losses and some less than inspiring offensive performances, but recovered to again win the NFC West and earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos looked powerful early, but seemed to lose some of their offensive compulsion in the final six weeks of the campaign and “limped” to a 12 win season, though that does represent the lowest victory total in Manning’s three seasons with the team.

The first weekend of playoff games should be quite interesting as each game has an interesting storyline.

The first game of the weekend will feature a team on their third quarterback traveling to face a team that finished the season with a losing record and actually had to win their last four games just to reach the postseason. The Carolina Panthers won five fewer games than in 2013, but surprisingly became the first team to repeat as NFC South champions since the division formed in 2002. Their opponents, the Arizona Cardinals, looked like a Super Bowl contender before losing their top two quarterbacks and leading rusher. Even with their third quarterback they seem to be a superior squad to the Panthers, but this will likely be a hard fought game where the home field could be enough to help Carolina pull out a win.

It will be interesting to see who is smiling after the Ravens and Steelers meet in the opening round of the playoffs.

It will be interesting to see who is smiling after the Ravens and Steelers meet in the opening round of the playoffs.

Many consider the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers to have the best current rivalry in the NFL and regardless of whether you agree with that assessment, a playoff battle between these division foes is definitely worthy of prime time. The Steelers rebounded from consecutive 8-8 campaigns to regain their place at the top of the AFC North. Baltimore has rarely looked as dominating as they did earlier in the decade, but they found a way to win 10 games and return to the playoffs. Joe Flacco will have to show he is worth his huge contract if the Ravens hope to move past the Steelers. Pittsburgh always seems to be on the right side of good fortune when it comes playoff time, so it will be a huge surprise for the Ravens to come into Pittsburgh and knock off the Steelers.

The Cincinnati Bengals are making their fourth straight playoff appearance, but neither head coach Marvin Lewis nor starting quarterback Andy Dalton have yet to win a postseason game. Lewis deserves a lot of credit for leading the Bengals to six playoff appearances in his 12 seasons at the helm (they made seven playoff appearances in the 35 seasons before he arrived), but at some point you have to wonder if he can ever take the next step. With the team battling through an up-and-down season and it now possible that they could be playing without their All-Pro receiver A.J. Green (concussion), it might be a tough order for them to travel to Indianapolis and upset Andrew Luck and the Colts. However, the Colts were spanked in week 16 by the Cowboys and haven’t been as dominant offensively or defensively in recent weeks as they were earlier in the season, so this could be the year that Lewis and the Bengals get the playoff monkey off their backs.

The final game of the weekend is an interesting matchup between two teams that last met in the postseason in 1991. That game, in which the Detroit Lions defeated the Dallas Cowboys 38-6, actually marks the only playoff victory for the Lions since winning the 1957 NFL Championship. Of course the Cowboys went on to win three of the net four Super Bowls while the Lions followed up their loss the next week to the Washington Redskins with five other playoff losses during the 1990s. Since Matt Stafford became the starting quarterback for the Lions in 2009, the team is 0-16 on the road against teams with a winning record. The fact that the game will be played on turf in what should be comfortable temperatures in Dallas will help the Lions, but Dallas enters the game as arguably the hottest team in the league, so a victory by the Lions would unquestionably be the biggest surprise of the weekend.


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