Besides winning on the road in the divisional playoff round, Baltimore, Arizona and Philadelphia all have one thing in common.
Their mascots have wings, which was apparently enough to help them soar above their opponents.
It's hard to say what was the most significant factor in each of their three wins. They all have a multitude of things they did well in defeating three of the four top-seeded teams in the playoffs.
Baltimore went to Tennessee with a blistering, tenacious defense, unbelievably cool play from their rookie quarterback, and a massive chip on their shoulder that they had been carrying since losing to the Steelers twice in the regular season—a sweep that relegated them to a No. 6 seed in the playoffs.
Arizona rode the arm of a rejuvenated Kurt Warner, the defense garnered five interceptions of Carolina's Jake Delhomme, and the Cardinals were bolstered in their pursuit of victory by the knowledge that every time Warner threw a pass, Larry Fitzgerald had an even chance of catching it whether Warner threw it to him or not.
Philadelphia came into New York having been the only team to beat the Giants at home, quarterback Donovan McNabb made critical plays in the clutch, and once again the defense stood up and kept the opposing offense from scoring enough points to win.
Turnovers were also crucial: the three teams combined to force 11 turnovers while only committing three of their own. Joe Flacco was perfect in this area, not turning the ball over once.
A plus-eight differential has the tendency to give you a distinct advantage in emerging from a game victorious.
With all three teams playing equally well on both sides of the ball, the only thing left is the commonality of their emblem.
Birds of a feather stick together, and all three raptors—or in the case of the Cardinals, the fiercest robin-sized bird in the world according to Letterman—pulled off three huge upsets on a weekend when they had all been picked to be plucked.
So what happened to the Chargers?
Well, their "mascot" is a lightning bolt. Intimidating on its'face, but easy to shunt to ground if you handle things properly.
And Pittsburgh did, committing zero turnovers while forcing two, putting up 342 net yards, and shutting down Darren Sproles, the spark that propelled the Chargers to victory in last week's game against the Colts.
Maybe the should consider a mascot change. I would recommend the Phoenix, a mythical bird that appears to die in flames before resurrecting itself from the ashes as strong as ever.
After all, that is what the Chargers did this year, appearing out of contention with a 4-8 record in week 13 only to reel of four straight victories to win their division and actually host a playoff game.
But in the playoffs, and especially at Pittsburgh, they did precisely what a lightning bolt does: smash violently into the ground with a lot of sparks, some occasional damage, but ultimately spent.
It is sometimes said that lightning never strikes the same place twice. This was ever so true in the case of the Chargers.Their first strike against the Indianapolis Colts lit up the sky and burned Manning and company.
Their second strike fizzled, and ultimately missed the mark.