The NFL Playoffs have been incredible this year, with tons of close games and memorable finishes and concussions that totally weren’t faked and overtime touchdowns and onside kicks and coins that don’t flip and the top four seeds making it to the conference titles games for the first time in more than a decade and, wow, a lot of great things to remember, especially from this weekend’s Divisional Round games.
Here’s a look at some of the notable facts, figures and moments from this weekend’s games, so you can amaze your friends and sound super smart about the NFL.
Home Sweet Home
The home teams usually win in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, but they rarely always win, if that makes sense. Since the NFL expanded the playoffs to 12 teams in 1990, the home teams in the Divisional Round are now 77-27. In 19 of the 26 years since going from 10 playoff teams to 12, at least three home teams in this round went on to the conference title game. And yet, this year marks just the seventh time in the last 26 years that all four home teams won in the Divisional Round, and just the third time since 2001, when the NFL went from six to eight divisions.
Three home teams won in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs each of the last four seasons—and five of the last six, leading into this year—but the last time all four teams won at home in this round was the 2004 season. That year, a second-seeded New England team won in the Divisional Round at home then went on the road and won the AFC title game, en route to a Super Bowl championship; the team’s last until winning the title last season.
This weekend was the first time in the NFL playoffs four road teams won on Wild Card weekend, only to all lose in the next weekend.
It’s worth noting that home teams in the Conference Championship round are 30-20 in the last 25 years, and 17-9 since the NFL expanded to eight divisions. That said, both teams hosting the conference title games have advanced to the Super Bowl just eight times since 1990, though five of those years have come since the 2006 season.
Historically Close Games
The four Divisional Round playoff games were won by a total of 27 points, the first time all four games in this round were decided by a touchdown or less since the 2003 season, the year both New England and Carolina advanced to the Super Bowl.
Only two times since 1990 have all four Divisional Round playoff games been decided by fewer than 10 points, with the 2006 season featuring a Divisional Round that had three games decided by a field goal and a fourth decided by just nine points.
Those two seasons—and now this one—are the only times since 1990 the Divisional Round had even three games decided by single digits.
The average margin of victory of 6.75 points in this year’s four Divisional Round games is the lowest since that 2006 season, when games were decided by an average of 4.5 points per game. The 2003 season had an average win margin of 4.75 games in the Divisional Round.
By comparison, last season had two games decided by one score and all four decided by two touchdowns or less, averaging 8.5 points in margin of victory.
Traditionally, however, there is almost always a blowout. At least one—and often two or three—games in the Divisional Round was decided by more than two scores in 20 of the last 26 seasons. Many thought we had that this year with Carolina’s 31-0 halftime lead over Seattle, but that game got close late, making for an interesting ending. With that game and Denver’s come-from-behind victory, Sunday capped one heckuva close weekend in playoff action.
Three Onside Kicks!!!
Three of the four games this weekend ostensibly ended when the receiving team hauled in an onside kick. The only game to not feature an onside kick was Arizona’s win over Green Bay—the game that featured two Hail Mary catches on the same drive and went to overtime.
Again, the games this weekend were really close.
Overtime Games (this season & in playoff history)
There were 17 overtime games in the regular season in 2015, the most since the 2012 season, which featured 22 games that needed extra time.
With Arizona’s win over Green Bay, there have now been 32 NFL playoff games that needed overtime, and the Green Bay Packers have taken part in seven of them. Green Bay’s record in those games is now 2-5. Many fans (note: mostly Packers fans today) think the NFL should change the overtime rules give both teams a chance to possess the ball.
In 2010 the NFL changed the overtime rule to ensure both teams get a possession, unless one team scores a touchdown. Of the 32 overtime playoff games in NFL history, 10 have been won by 6 points, while 22 were won by just a field goal. Per the NFL, of the 32 postseason overtime games, 24 ended with both teams getting at least one possession. Since the rule change, three of the four overtime playoff games were decided by a touchdown on the first drive, including back-to-back seasons to knock the Packers out of the playoffs.
Arizona had played in just one overtime game in the playoffs before this weekend, the insane 51-45 win over, yes, Green Bay on January 10, 2010. This weekend’s game may not have been as high scoring, but it was just as, if not more, insane.
Who the hell are these guys?
Injuries decimated some title contenders more than others this year, most notably the complete lack of experience for both Green Bay and Pittsburgh at the skill positions.
Green Bay was led by Hail Mary-hauling Jeff Janis, who caught seven balls for 145 yards and two scores in the loss to Arizona. Janis had two—TWO—catches all season for Green Bay.
Jared Abbrederis was second on the Packers with four caches for 55 yards this weekend. He had nine catches this season, the only nine catches of his NFL career.
Pittsburgh lost Antonio Brown for the game against Denver, but did have Martavis Bryant step up with nine catches for 154 yards, and Markus Wheaton, who snagged five balls for 30 yards. The surprise was Sammie Coates, who caught two passes for 61 yards after just one catch during the regular season.
The depth at wide receiver, despite the loss of Brown, wasn’t the biggest problem for Pittsburgh’s offense. It was the lack of depth at running back, losing Le’Veon Bell early in the season and playing without DeAngelo Williams for the playoffs.
The three players to carry the ball for Pittsburgh on Sunday were Fitzgerald Toussaint (12 carries), Bryant (2) and Jordan Todman (5). Bryant’s 40 yards rushing led the team, and Toussaint’s fumble late in the game changed Pittsburgh’s fortunes against the Broncos, essentially costing the Steelers the game.
It’s hard to blame Toussaint, though. In the regular season, he had just 18 carries for 42 yards before 17 carries for 58 yards in the Wild Card win over Cincinnati. Todman had four carries on the season before getting 11 against the Bengals. Bryant had five carries during the regular season for 37 yards before one carry for 44 against the Bengals and the two for 40 against Denver.
Manning versus Brady, again
For all the hoopla around their rivalry, teams led Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will face each other for just the fifth time in the playoffs, despite 15 and 13 trips to the postseason in the same conference, respectively.
Fun fact about the two quarterbacks facing each other again: Brady and Manning have never actually been on the field at the same time for a live snap, because they both play offense and don’t face each other as much as each faces the others’ defensive teammates.
Actually facing each other on the field would be pretty ridiculous.
Heisman Trophy Winners in the Super Bowl
Next week's AZ-CAR game will be first matchup of Heisman QBs in a championship game since 1971 when Roger Staubach beat…Steve Spurrier
— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) January 17, 2016
While much of the focus in the Conference Championship round will be on the two quarterbacks facing off in the AFC, the quarterback match-up in the NFC is just as compelling.
Per the tweet above from NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, this is the first time since 1971 two teams will face off in the title game with Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks on their roster. (The game took place on January 2, 1972.)
Of course, Spurrier didn’t play quarterback in that season’s NFC title game. He was the San Francisco 49ers punter at the time.
Carson Palmer won the 2002 Heisman Trophy, while Cam Newton took home the award in 2010, thereby guaranteeing that a Heisman-winning quarterback will make it to the Super Bowl this year and, barring injury, will actually play in the game. The last Heisman quarterback to make it to the Super Bowl was Matt Leinert, who won the Heisman in 2004 and was a backup the last time Arizona made the Super Bowl, following the 2008 NFL season. The last time Carolina made it to the Super Bowl, Heisman winner Chris Weinke was on their roster.
The last Heisman winner to win a Super Bowl was Charles Woodson with Green Bay after the 2010 NFL season. Reggie Bush won a Super Bowl with New Orleans the season before that, but I guess he technically didn’t win the Heisman anymore, did he? The last Heisman-winning quarterback to win a Super Bowl? Jim Plunkett.
Conference Title Experience (or lack thereof)
The AFC title game is riddled with tradition this year, while the NFC is extremely thin on playoff experience at this level, at least in terms of franchise history.
New England is making its fifth-straight appearance in the AFC Championship, and is 8-3 in conference title games in team history, making eight trips to the Super Bowl, including six in the last 15 seasons.
Denver has gone to seven Super Bowls in franchise history, with a record of 7-2 in AFC title games.
In the NFC, Carolina and Arizona have each only been to the Super Bowl once. Carolina is 1-1 in NFC title games. Arizona has only been to one NFC title game in team history, though the franchise does have three NFL Championship appearances, but that was two towns and three names ago.