The NFL playoffs are set, so here is everything you need to know about who is in, who is out, who is playing where and when and who is going to win the Super Bowl*!!!!
(* – I have no idea who is going to win the Super Bowl, and neither does anyone else, which is why this year’s NFL playoffs are so compelling. Also, it’s probably not everything you need to know about this year’s NFL playoffs, but it’s hopefully more than you knew before you clicked this link and read to the bottom and shared with all your friends and co-workers, please and thank you.)
The NFL Playoff Schedule
— Max Vrany (@cgmv123) January 4, 2016
The AFC Wild Card Round
Because the NFL continues to reward winners of weak divisions with home playoff games, the 9-7 Houston Texans start the postseason at home against the 11-5 Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday. The Texans were 5-1 in the AFC South and 2-4 against other teams in the AFC. The Chiefs were 5-1 in the AFC West, a much tougher division by every statistical measure, and finished 5-1 against the rest of the AFC that included a Week 1 win over Houston. So of course it makes all logical sense that Houston gets the home game.
Cincinnati will host Pittsburgh in the late game on January 9. Those teams do not like each other.
The Steelers and Bengals have already started fighting at midfield
— Mike Tunison (@xmasape) January 4, 2016
Under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are 8-19 against their AFC North division rivals, with just one meeting in the playoffs, a Steelers win.
You may have heard this before, but the Bengals have never won a playoff game in which Marvin Lewis was head coach. (It is not a new stat.)
Since Mike Tomlin took over in Pittsburgh, the Steelers own a 13-5 advantage over Cincinnati. Tomlin has five playoff wins in nine games, including a Super Bowl victory in his second season, but hasn’t won a playoff game since 2010, the last time Pittsburgh made it to the Super Bowl.
The NFC Wild Card Round
On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings host the Seattle Seahawks for an early start, while Green Bay travels to Washington in the late game.
This is yet another situation where a team with a better record has to travel to a team with a worse record, rewarding Washington for winning a terrible division and, in this case, punishing Minnesota for winning a better division by having the Vikings host the 10-6 Seahawks, who crushed Minnesota 38-7 in early December and finished with the sixth seed despite a better record than the fourth seed, Washington.
As such, Green Bay could have hosted Minnesota in the Wild Card round before traveling to Arizona had they won on Sunday Night, but now, with the loss, the Packers ostensibly handed the rival Vikings a game with Seattle before a potential trip to visit the Cardinals, while the Packers have to settle for a road game at Washington before a trip, perhaps, to Carolina.
In this case, the NFL’s reluctance to re-seed based on record, not division titles, hurts one division champion with 11 wins to protect another with nine.
That said, Washington is a different team at home, winning six of its eight games (and six of its nine overall victories) at FedEx Field. Kirk Cousins is a different quarterback at home too, completing 74.7 percent of his passes with 16 passing touchdowns, four rushing scores, just two interceptions and a passer rating of 117.0. On the road, Cousins has a rating of 87.7 with 14 scores and nine picks. Green Bay may have given Seattle to the Vikings, but Washington will be no cake walk outside the nation’s capital.
Another reason for the Packers wishing they had a home playoff game: history.
Green Bay is 17-5 all time at home in the playoffs, though admittedly just 4-5 since Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons destroyed the undefeated mystique of Lambeau Field in 2002. The Packers are10-13 on the road in the playoffs all time, and 3-3 on the road under Mike McCarthy, with all three wins coming in the 2010 playoffs, en route to the Super Bowl; the last time a Wild Card team won or made it to the Super Bowl.
From Wild Card Weekend to the Super Bowl
There have been just four Wild Card teams to win the Super Bowl in the current era of needing to win three road contests to advance to the championship game. Per ProFootballHOF.com, since 1970, when the first Wild Card was implemented, just ten teams have advanced to the Super Bowl without winning a division title.
Since the NFL expanded to eight divisions in 2002, the top seed in either conference has won the Super Bowl four times, just one more than the three victories for Wild Card teams in that timeframe. That said, a team with a first-round bye has made the Super Bowl 18 times in the last 13 seasons—including the top seed from both conferences in each of the last two years—while a team playing on Wild Card weekend has made the Super Bowl just eight times. Of those eight teams, six have won the big game.
The AFC bye teams
The Denver Broncos, despite having no idea who their quarterback will or should be in the playoffs, earned the top seed in the AFC and a first round bye.
If Brock Osweiler plays in the playoffs for Denver and the Broncos make the Super Bowl, he will be the first quarterback to start his first game in the same season he starts in the Super Bowl since Colin Kaepernick in 2012. After playing in just three games in his rookie season, Kaepernick took over for San Francisco in Week 7 and never looked back.
Osweiler took over in Week 11 in Denver and his poor play against San Diego, and Manning’s health, may have put him back on the bench for good this season, win or lose.
The New England Patriots, despite losing the final two games of the regular season and four of their last six games, also earned a first-round bye.
The Patriots’ record in the regular season in December and January under Belichick is 60-15, including this season.
New England had never, until this year, lost the final two games of the regular season under Bill Belichick. This season, the second-seeded Patriots lost four of their last six games, and three of the five games played in December or January, the first losing December/January since before 2000.
Still, New England extended its mark with 11 first round byes since the 12-team format was introduced in 1990, more than Pittsburgh (8), San Francisco (8) and Denver (7). This marks the sixth-consecutive season New England has had off on Wild Card weekend and the 10th time New England has earned a bye under Belichick.
The NFC bye teams
The Carolina Panthers finished the regular season 15-1 and earned home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. The top seed in the NFC has made the Super Bowl six times in the last 13 seasons, one fewer than the AFC top seed.
The last team to finish the regular season 15-1 was the 2011 Green Bay Packers, who failed to win a playoff game that year, falling to the eventual Super Bowl champions New York Giants in the divisional round. The 16-0 New England Patriots made the Super Bowl following the 2007 season, losing to the Giants, marking them the last team to finish the season with just one loss.
The Arizona Cardinals finished the season 13-3 and won the NFC West for the first time since 2009, and just the third time since moving from the NFC East in 2002. Despite falling in the season finale to rival Seattle, Arizona recorded its best regular season in history in terms of wins, having never recorded more than 11 in the existence of the franchise, that dates back to 1920. The 1948 Chicago Cardinals did finish with a better percentage record, 11-1, losing in the NFL championship game that season. The 1925 title-winning Cardinals finished 11-2-1 that year.
Since the NFL expanded to 16 games, the Cardinals franchise has won more than 10 games just twice, in back-to-back years under Bruce Arians. Since moving to Arizona, the Cardinals franchise is 184-264. This run is historically incredible.
The 13-3 record does not guarantee a trip deep into the playoffs, however.
Since the NFL expanded to four divisions in 2002, there have been 29 teams to finish 13-3 or better and just 11 have made it to the Super Bowl, with 16 making it to the conference title game round.
Since 2010, there have been 10 teams to finish the regular season 13-3 or better and just one, the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, has won the Super Bowl.
Individual numbers do not a playoff team make
The last note about this season’s NFL playoffs is more about who isn’t in than who is.
Seven of the top nine quarterbacks in the NFL in terms of passing yards failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2015-16.
Drew Brees led the NFL in passing yards with 4,870, followed by Phillip Rivers (4,792), Tom Brady (4,770), Carson Palmer (4,671), Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Blake Bortles, Matthew Stafford and Ryan Tannehill, with only Brady and Palmer of that group qualifying for the postseason.
Only three more quarterbacks passed for more than 4,000 yards this season and two, Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson, made the playoffs, while rookie Jameis Winston did not, making the mark eight of the 12 quarterbacks to toss for more than 4,000 yards sitting at home watching the playoffs on television.
The stat was almost the same for receivers, which is nearly as fascinating given how pass-heavy the NFL has become. Four of the top six receivers in yards missed the playoffs, with only Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins getting in. That said, four of the seven receivers to catch more than 100 passes did make the playoffs and eight of the 13 receivers and tight ends to catch 10 or more touchdowns will have an opportunity to add to that tally in the postseason.
As for running backs, Adrian Peterson is the only one one of the seven backs—only seven backs—to rush for more than 1,000 yards made the playoffs.
Picking the Super Bowl
Despite those individual numbers, the five highest-scoring offenses, and eight of the top ten scoring teams, made the playoffs, while 11 of the top 12 scoring defenses made the postseason as well. The only playoff team without a top-half defense this season: Washington.
If recent history is any indication, two good teams will make the Super Bowl, and one really good team, or a really hot team, will win it. (See, if that doesn’t count as picking the Super Bowl champion, I don’t know what does.)