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.
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