A few days ago, I wrote that I expected at least one of the pro football teams that got a bye in the first week of the playoffs to lose in the divisional round. In fact, one team did lose, but it wasn't the one I predicted.
Actually, I am inclined to believe that few, if any, observers expected what happened.
The first three playoff games of the weekend were won by teams that got a bye — which, by definition, means the home team. The winners on Saturday, New Orleans and Indianapolis, were undefeated until December. Neither is undefeated now, but Indianapolis, which won its first 14 games, seemed almost determined to rid itself of the expectations of perfection that many people believed worked against the New England Patriots a couple of years ago. New Orleans wasn't much better. Once both teams had clinched home field through the conference playoffs, they played their regulars sparingly and made it clear that their focus had shifted to the playoffs.
As a result, the Saints and the Colts entered the weekend saddled with losing streaks. Indy had lost two in a row and hadn't won at home since Dec. 13. New Orleans had lost three in a row and hadn't won at home since November.
I predicted that the Colts, who were facing a Baltimore Ravens team they barely beat in Week 11, would stumble. But, after the way Arizona held off a spirited Green Bay team on wild–card weekend, it wouldn't have surprised me if the Saints had taken it on the chin.
Frankly, I wouldn't have been shocked if both teams had fallen. But neither team did.
Then, yesterday, the Dallas Cowboys played the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings struggled in December while the Cowboys established a reputation as perhaps the hottest team in the NFC, becoming the first team to knock off the Saints, then ending the regular season with a win for the first time in 10 years and then winning a playoff game for the first time since 1996.
Consequently, there were probably more than a few NFL fans who thought the Cowboys might upend the Vikings and Brett Favre. But the Vikings, like the Saints and the Colts the day before, rolled to an easy victory.
Of all four of the weekend's playoff games, Sunday's nightcap may have been the one most NFL fans figured was a foregone conclusion. It matched the visiting New York Jets, who have surprised many fans this season, and the San Diego Chargers, who came into the game having won 11 in a row.
Until the fourth quarter, it looked like the Chargers would hang on and win the game, but it was not to be. The Jets won that final quarter, 14–3, and won the game, 17–10, setting up a rematch of their Dec. 27 game with the Colts. On that day, the Jets handed the Colts their first loss of the season. The Colts had already secured home field and had nothing left to play for. The Jets didn't officially clinch a wild–card berth that day — but they may have done so mentally.
This time, the winner goes to the Super Bowl.
As I observed prior to the kickoff of wild–card weekend, seven of the last 10 Super Bowls have featured a team that did not get the opening–round bye. On four of those occasions, the team that didn't get the bye won it all.
Does that mean the Jets will continue their improbable playoff run with a win over the Colts on Sunday, perhaps followed by a victory in the Super Bowl?
I'll be addressing that here later this week!