NFL Playoff Schedule 2012: 5 Biggest Storylines for Next Weekend

Adam OdekirkContributor IIJanuary 8, 2012

NFL Playoff Schedule 2012: 5 Biggest Storylines for Next Weekend

0 of 5

    The NFL Wild Card weekend has unfolded like many expected it to so far, and that is setting up some tantalizing matchups in the divisional round.

    There are also interesting developments on the sidelines such as New England's that could create some serious intrigue as the playoffs march own towards Indianapolis.

    The top four teams in the NFC will square off to see who competes for the NFC crown, while the AFC seems to be equally wide open for the team that wants it the most.

    Here are some of best storylines to keep an eye on for next week.

The Saints Take Their Show on the Road

1 of 5

    The New Orleans Saints dispatched of a very good Detroit Lions team at the Super Dome on Saturday night and their reward will be a trip to San Francisco to face one of the toughest defenses in the playoffs.

    The Saints proved the oddsmakers right by easily covering the point spread against Detroit and made the words of Drew Brees (who said "We feel like we can do whatever we want on offense") ring very true.

    It was clear that the only things that were stopping New Orleans were their own mistakes, but the question now is whether the 49ers can impose their will on Drew Brees and this record-setting offense?

    Traveling away from the dome has always been a reason for the Saints offense to lose a step or two, and the Niners will be counting on that as part of the game plan.

    If Patrick Willis and the 49ners defense cannot slow down the Saints offense enough, it will be a long day for Alex Smith and San Francisco's offense.

Josh McDaniels Returns to New England

2 of 5

    When the season began, it seemed highly unlikely that Josh McDaniels would finish the season with a Super Bowl ring, but his return to the Patriots might turn that dream into a reality.

    McDaniels has agreed to take over as offensive coordinator again, a post which he held when Tom Brady and Randy Moss set records, after Bill O'Brien leaves to assume the head coaching position at Penn State.

    The question of how much coaching McDaniels will be doing in the this year's playoffs is debatable, but his presence on the sideline adds an interesting wrinkle to an already potent Patriots offense.

Will T.J. Yates Last Another Game in the Playoffs?

3 of 5

    T.J. Yates and the Houston Texans were impressive in their victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt helped rally around the rookie quarterback and seal a big home victory in Houston.

    Still, there is a legitimate question to be asked about whether Yates would have been able to do any better in an effort to come from behind than Andy Dalton did.

    The Baltimore Ravens will certainly look to throw everything they have at Yates. Also, if Ray Rice helps stake the Ravens to an early lead, it will be a much more telling test of T.J. Yates and his ability to run this offense.

    Gary Kubiak has sworn that this is Yates' team and that there is no doubt in his mind about that. However, if the game seems to be slipping away and the hand of a seasoned veteran is needed at quarterback, would Kubiak go to Jake Delhomme?

    It could happen, especially if the Texans defense is doing its job and keeping the game close.

Can Mike Smith Survive His Disastrous Coaching Decisions?

4 of 5

    Mike Smith survived the second guessing and general attack on his ability to make decisions as an NFL coach the first time he made an ill-advised call to go for it on fourth down by leading his team into the playoffs.

    However, the fact that he did it twice against the New York Giants in a game that was 100 percent winnable at the time could bring an abrupt and surprising end to the coaches tenure in Atlanta.

    Those who scoff at this idea must ask themselves if better decision making would make this talented roster a more successful playoff team. There is no denying that the second choice to attempt a fourth-down conversion swung the momentum of the game in a huge way.

    Mike Smith and the Falcons may have just allowed the New York Giants playoff machine to get the momentum they needed to tear through the NFC.

Will the Giants Win the Rematch with the Packers?

5 of 5

    Until the Kansas City Chiefs upended the undefeated Green Bay Packers, it was the New York Giants who came as close as anyone to toppling the mighty Packers.

    Eli Manning and company had to wish they could have gotten one more possession as it was just the fact that Aaron Rodgers had it last which sealed their fate.

    Coming off a huge momentum swinging victory over the Atlanta Falcons, the Giants are as scary a team as many felt they would be in January.

    The NFL is drooling over this matchup at Lambeau Field as they should be. It could be as tightly contested a matchup as there will be in the playoffs this season.