Biggest Winners & Losers of NFL's Divisional Playoffs
The divisional round of the NFL playoffs had many winners and losers, there were none more than the casual NFL fans who cared little about who won, but just wanted to see some good football. While, yes, all football is good football, the Wild Card Weekend left fans wanting something more—something better.
Saturday's games were two instant classics. Sunday's were almost more incredible, meaning that fans are hopefully set up for an exciting conference championship weekend.
So, who were the other winners and losers of the divisional weekend?
Winner: Joe Flacco's Pocketbook
Earlier this season, John Harbaugh was asked about Joe Flacco's contract status and his response was, famously, "Pay the man."
Flacco's about to get paid.
He wasn't perfect—only completing about 52 percent of his passes and missing some big shots down the field. However, his 331 yards passing, three touchdowns and no interceptions clearly gave the Baltimore Ravens a dimension they have not had since Steve McNair was taking snaps for them.
Flacco did all of this with his usual protection and his usual weapons. The only thing that changed was the offensive philosophy with Jim Caldwell calling the shots. The Ravens will do all they can to keep Caldwell this offseason and everything they can do to keep Flacco.
Those goals might end up costing them a bit more than it might have had this weekend gone differently.
Loser: Peyton Manning's "Legacy"
Note the quotation marks up there around "legacy."
No one is going to say (or, at least, they shouldn't) that Peyton Manning is somehow less of an amazing quarterback or less of an all-time great because of anything that happened in a Broncos jersey. He is, clearly, one of the best quarterbacks of all time and we're lucky to have had him to watch in our generation.
That said, this was always the question with coming back after his neck injuries and switching teams. Would his time as a Bronco overshadow his time as a Colt? Overall, it won't. In the short term? We're left asking questions about playoff acumen, cold-weather ability and whether he's got it in him to make another similar run next season.
Manning has more money, more fame and more accomplishments than anyone can ask for. He could retire right now and would be, without a doubt, a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
He's playing because he feels he has something left to do as an NFL player. After Saturday, all he has left is a bad taste in his mouth.
Winner: Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers
Colin Kaepernick may have been a winner over the weekend, but let's be honest—what was he really going to lose? Kaepernick could have thrown a bajillion interceptions and still would have been the 49ers' starting quarterback in 2013 and beyond.
Jim Harbaugh, on the other hand, needed a little postseason validation that his long-term move of replacing Alex Smith with Kaepernick wasn't going to make life difficult in the short term.
Check and double check.
Kaepernick made his head coach proud and looking like a genius as he ran for 181 yards and threw for 263—accounting for four total touchdowns. Was he perfect? No, he still looked like a young passer at times. Was he good enough to trounce a good Green Bay Packers team? Absolutely.
Loser: Green Bay Packers' Quickly Closing Window
There's a lot to love about the Green Bay Packers even after their playoff loss. Frankly, Aaron Rodgers has a decade of elite play ahead of him and the Packers should be in the conversation for that entire decade.
Yet, there's also a bit of a question mark around this team that has lost (and will continue to lose) tons of talent in both the front office and from the coaching staff.
Jeff Saturday didn't pan out as a free-agent acquisition and is likely done. Charles Woodson is a shadow of his former self. Greg Jennings is likely gone at his desired price tag. Donald Driver is an afterthought in the offense.
The Packers need to restock the cupboards, or their immediate window as Super Bowl contenders may have been slammed shut by Colin Kaepernick and company.
Winner: Matt Ryan's Monkey-Free Back
The narrative around Matt Ryan was starting to look awfully Peyton Manning-like (circa 2005). The Falcons have put more weapons around him than Darth Vader had on the Death Star and he still was looking for his first playoff run.
Now, he's got it.
While we can quibble about all the other NFL quarterbacks who could be amazing with Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, let's let Ryan bask in his playoff-win glory and prepare for the stout 49ers defense next weekend.
Loser: Richard Sherman and the Seahawks Defense
You mad, bro?
While the Seahawks put up a valiant effort in the fourth quarter, the only reason they needed that epic comeback attempt was a spate of serious defensive lapses, punctuated by a 47-yard pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White that left Richard Sherman looking like all bark and no bite.
Without Chris Clemons and Jason Jones, the pass rush just wasn't there for the Seahawks against the Falcons (at least not as much as they're accustomed to), and the Falcons were able to expose the back seven.
Winner: New England Patriots' Mystique
Want to face the Patriots?
No, really...I promise, you don't want to face the Patriots.
These aren't your daddy's Patriots. They're not even your older brother's. This is a new team with a lot of the old faces. Bill Belichick has reinvented this team in a way that hasn't gotten enough credit this season.
The defense is no longer a liability and the running game is legit. The passing game is stacked with multidimensional players not named Wes Welker to free up Brady's ability to progress through reads.
This is a more balanced team than the Patriots have brought to the playoffs in the past few seasons, and the rest of the AFC field is going to pay the price.
Loser: "You Are What Your Record Says You Are"
Sorry to end this season (and article) on a downer for the Houston Texans, but let's not pretend we didn't see this coming. Remember the game against the New York Jets? Remember how they stuck around?
The Texans won that game, but they should've won by 40.
Remember going to overtime around the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Detroit Lions? Yeah, that shouldn't happen to teams as talented as the Texans. On paper, the Texans still might be the best team in the NFL. Sadly, games aren't played on paper and the Texans need to learn how to be one of the best teams on the field as well.
The Texans lost, but hopefully the loss puts that silly maxim to bed once and for all.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.