2012 NFL Playoffs: Big Questions That Have Been Answered
Will the Cinderella story continue?
Will offense or defense prevail?
Will the favorites win the Super Bowl?
It's questions like those that get posed every year when the NFL playoffs come around. Now that we're headed to the AFC and NFC Championship games, some of those questions and more have been answered.
Let's take a look at the questions that now have answers after two rounds of playoff football.
Is Jim Harbaugh a Legitimate Coach?
Jim Harbaugh left the Stanford Cardinal to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers before the 2010 NFL Playoffs had even ended.
Upon arriving in San Francisco, Harbaugh turned a 6-10 team into NFC West Champions with a 13-3 record. Quarterback Alex Smith had his beast season thus far in his career and the already stout Niners defense became arguably the best in the league.
Harbaugh brought a different culture and attitude to the team that really ignited a fire amongst the players and it showed in the way they played throughout the season, earning the second seed in the NFC.
But heading into their divisional round matchup against the New Orleans Saints, many people were skeptical of San Francisco, wondering if they could win in the playoffs despite their lack of experience.
Well, Harbaugh—rookie head coach and all—silenced the doubters and has now won his first playoff game. In fact, they will get to hold their second home playoff game in a row when they face the New York Giants this weekend in the NFC Championship.
His former rival at USC, Pete Carroll, left the Pac-10 a year earlier than Harbaugh and has hardly found the sams success after squeaking into the playoffs in 2010.
Now the question is whether or not Harbaugh can sustain the success.
Can a First-Year QB Succeed in the Playoffs?
2011 saw some exciting play from young quarterbacks across the league—Carolina's Cam Newton, Cincinnati's Andy Dalton and Denver's Tim Tebow in particular. Of those three, Dalton and Tebow helped get their teams to the playoffs.
The wild-card factor was Houston's T.J. Yates, who stepped in as the starter for the Texans after starter Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart both got injured. Yates helped close out the season and propel the Texans to their first ever playoff berth.
Once the playoffs started, the big question was whether one of the three could lead their team to the Super Bowl. For the three teams, the Bengals, Broncos and Texans, sadly the answer was no.
Dalton was put away in the first round after being defeated by Yates' Texans. Meanwhile in Denver, Tebow put together one more magical drive to lead the Broncos past the Steelers on the first play of overtime before getting dismantled by the Patriots this past weekend.
Yates played well enough to advance the Texans, but his three interceptions against the Ravens cost the Texans the game.
There is plenty of hope with all of them, but 2011 just wasn't the year of the young quarterback.
Will Tebow Time Return?
Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos put together an amazing run of six wins in a row to take the lead in the AFC West. In many of those games, after staying close most of the game thanks to their defense, Tebow managed to put together last-second drives to win and created a nationwide frenzy.
"Tebow Time" took over the Internet almost every Sunday.
But then the Broncos lost three straight to end the season and only made the playoffs because of a Raiders loss in Week 17.
So the nation wondered, would Tebow Time return in the playoffs?
Late in the Broncos' first-round matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Steelers put together a mad rush and tied the game at 23, which sent it into overtime. And on the very first play of overtime, Tebow threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.
But Tebow Time only returned for that game, as the Broncos went on to lose 45-10 to the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs last weekend.
Tune in in 2012 to find out if Tebow can work is magic yet again.
Can Eli Manning Carry It Over to the Playoffs?
In the regular season, Eli Manning had one of his best seasons ever since becoming the starting quarterback for the New York Giants. Manning posted career highs in yards (4,933), average yards per pass attempt (8.38) and passer rating (92.9).
But Eli has always just been known as "Peyton's little brother," so plenty of people doubted whether or not he could lead the team in the playoffs like he did to an NFC East title.
Well, Eli didn't disappoint.
In two games, Manning has thrown for 607 yards with a completion percentage of 67.7 and he's averaging 9.34 yards per attempt. He's thrown six touchdowns and only one interception to compile a passer rating of 121.8.
And something tells me he isn't done.
Will the Packers Run the Table?
The Green Bay Packers started the season 13-0 and looked like they might be able to go undefeated en route to a second straight Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Even after they lost the next weekend to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Packers were still the favorites, and rightfully so. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers (pictured) finished the season with an amazing 122.5 passer rating, the best in the league. Green Bay finished third in passing yards and ran one of the best offenses in the league in 2011.
Once the playoffs came, the Packers turned into the obvious favorites as the top seed from the NFC. But in their first game, the New York Giants followed their game plan and were able to take down the reigning champs by rushing the ball well and applying pressure on Rodgers.
The Packers still had a great 2011-12 season, just not as great as they had hoped.