NFL Playoffs: Labeling Our Contestants
There are many stereotypes and labels for unique people. All of them are different in their own way, and are given certain titles to represent that.
For the 12 playoff teams that are going to be playing this postseason, all twelve are different in certain ways—whether it be on the field, or off of it.
Several storylines and players are under the spotlight, and in honor of that, I give you my anointed titles for each playoff team.
Dallas Cowboys: The Redemption Team
For the past 13 seasons, the Dallas Cowboys have been one of the league's biggest disappointments.
The 'Boys in big D haven't lived up to the expectations inherent in the "America's Team" moniker in December stretch runs or January playoff games. The swagger and cockiness of the 1990s teams is a thing of the past.
Tony Romo was supposed to be the next superstar for Dallas, but from a botched field goal snap against Seattle and throwing the game-ending interception against the Giants in playoff matchups, to not even getting into the playoffs after a 44-6 loss to the Eagles, Romo has been (and still is being called) a playoff choke artist.
However, this year, Tony Romo and the Cowboys played close games that were losses against the Giants and the Chargers, and finally got their due against the undefeated 13-0 New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.
After dominating the Eagles 24-0 to win the NFC East championship, it seems that Dallas has all of the momentum in the NFC, and is poised to win their first playoff game since 1996, and maybe win something even bigger.
Time for redemption? We shall see.
Arizona Cardinals: The "Under-The-Radar" Team
The only reason why people are talking about the Cardinals is because of their meaningless blowout loss to the Packers last week, the team they face going into the playoffs.
Once again, Arizona is being looked down upon, just because they are the Cardinals.
However, it is easy to look past them. For their history, they have not been a team that deals with success in a positive manner.
It seems like just when you think they are elite, they end up getting embarrassed. It's just natural for NFL fans to see that. There is no surprise at all.
But the 2009 Cardinals are a resilient bunch. They have played tough road games and won most of them. They are playing better at home.
Their defense gets after the opposing quarterback, and the Cardinal offense is still one of the most potent in the league. Even the running game is coming alive.
Don't look past the Cardinals; they might just sneak their way back into the Super Bowl again.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Team with the Heavy Heart
There has been no other team in the league this year that has had to deal with more dramatic, and sometimes heartbreaking, moments than the Cincinnati Bengals.
In the first game of the season, the Bengals scored a touchdown against the Broncos to give themselves a 7-6 lead with less than 40 seconds left.
But Brandon Stokley caught a tipped-up pass from Kyle Orton, taking it for a touchdown; the Broncos stole the lead with 12 seconds left and held on for the win.
Against the Steelers twice this year, the Bengals had to have a offensive and defensive stand in the final minutes to secure two upset victories.
Against Baltimore, the Bengals scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than 30 seconds to go in the fourth quarter.
But none of those dramatics could match the pain of losing wide receiver Chris Henry to death from a domestic dispute. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's wife also died unexpectedly, just a couple of weeks prior.
The Bengals beat the Ravens in honor of Zimmer's wife, but Cincinnati saw San Diego beat them on a last-second field goal after Chris Henry's death.
So much heartbreak, but so much resilience and grit. Can the Bengals keep their storybook season alive?
New England Patriots: The Veteran Team
Tom Brady is back in the playoffs, and while it might be a bad omen that David Tyree is on the Ravens' sideline, he shouldn't have to worry about things like that. Nor should the Patriots.
They have been here before; most of the decade, in fact.
The Patriots have won three Super Bowl championships in the span of 10 seasons, and have won all kinds of playoff games. Blowouts, close games, you name it. The team has the experience of Brady, Bill Belichick, and most of the coaching staff.
The big questions for New England are the defense and the loss of Wes Welker. Julian Edelman is not Wes Welker, but Brady should turn him into a factor for this game against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots might not be dominant going into postseason play, but they are a veteran group that has seen it all and conquered it all.
(Well, except for Super Bowl XLII, but whatever.)
New York Jets: The True Underdog Team
Let's face it: The New York Jets do not deserve to be in the playoffs. They got very lucky with their schedule, and faced the Colts in the second half without Peyton Manning out on the field.
Also, it was a fluke win against the Bengals, because they had nothing to play for.
The Jets are simply one-and-done. Overachievers.
That is what everyone is saying. The critics and pundits are putting down the Jets for being 9-7, and beating teams that showed little to no effort in meaningless games.
However, is having the No. 1-ranked defense and the No. 1-ranked running game a fluke? Is that meaningless?
I think it is a formula for winning in the playoffs. And it is a formula for keeping your rookie quarterback relaxed and in control.
That is the key for the Jets: Can Mark Sanchez step up in the playoffs? Everyone is saying he can't.
That is what everyone was saying about Eli Manning in 2007, and we know what happened.
Underdogs never get respect. It could be time for Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets to get theirs.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Explosive Team
All season long, the Phliadelphia Eagles have been defined by words, such as "explosive," "dynamic," "unstoppable," and "potent."
Their offense is one of the best in the NFL, with a solid running game and a dangerous passing attack. Brent Celek and Jason Avant, along with rookie Jeremy Maclin, can move the chains in big ways.
But no Eagles player gains yardage (and points) better than DeSean Jackson. He is one of the most dynamic and scariest players to play against in the game today.
On defense, you have corners in Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel that make big stops and interceptions. Trent Cole is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. "Explosive" is the right word to describe the Eagles.
However, they tend to rely on "big" plays too much. If Philly wants to win the Super Bowl, it must try to move the sticks methodically in order to wear out defenses, and slow down the opponent's offense.
The explosive Eagles have what it takes to make a run for a championship, but they need to strike when the opportunity is given.
Baltimore Ravens: The "Tough" Team
Last postseason, the Baltimore Ravens went on the road as an AFC No. 6 seed, defeating Miami and Tennessee and almost beating Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game.
This year, the Ravens are on the road once again as the No. 6 seed, trying to win some more road playoff games.
If there is a team that is tough enough to do it, it is the Baltimore Ravens.
Offensively, while Joe Flacco has had a down year from his breakout rookie season, the offensive line has improved dramatically, letting Ray Rice and Willis McGahee run wild over defenses.
While the defense can be suspect at times, specifically at the end of games, it is still a powerful unit with Ray Lewis captaining the ship.
But what makes the Ravens a tough out for any team is their mental toughness. Sugar Ray makes sure everyone goes out and plays their game, and plays it with intensity and desire.
The offensive and defensive lines for Baltimore are physically and mentally tough enough to deal with any situation, and can open up things for the Ravens late in games.
Baltimore is not a playoff team because of the talent. It is a playoff team because of its heart and passion for winning.
Green Bay Packers: The "Really Hot" Team
The Green Bay Packers have won seven out of their last eight games to close out the regular season and secure a wild card berth in the postseason.
The one loss stemmed from a last-second touchdown by the Steelers in Pittsburgh. It is something not to cry about, and it just shows how hot Green Bay has become.
Aaron Rodgers is developing into an elite quarterback in the NFL. He has been invited to the Pro Bowl in his second season as a starter, and is only going to get better.
His receivers have developed great chemistry with Aaron, starting with Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Jermichael Finley has become a reliable target as well.
The running game for Green Bay is coming around, but Ryan Grant needs to pick up some slack left earlier in the season.
The Packers might have the best defense in football right now. Charles Woodson is playing like a Defensive Player of the Year, and Clay Matthews is a star rookie.
Green Bay is a team that has gotten on a roll. Do not be surprised to see them in Miami, where it is natural to be hot.
San Diego Chargers: The Team That is Unstoppable
While the Green Bay Packers are hot, the Chargers are like the sun. They just keep on burning and burning.
San Diego has won its last eleven games after yet another mediocre start to the season. They have wrapped up a bye and a home playoff game, and a win would probably mean a matchup with the Colts for the AFC crown. San Diego has no problem with that.
Philip Rivers is an MVP candidate, LaDainian Tomlinson is running like the old LaDainian Tomlinson, and the defense keeps creating turnovers.
The Chargers are a team that nobody wants to face, regardless of what the Patriots and Jets/Bengals do one week prior to the matchup.
However, it is interesting to wonder how this bye week will affect the Super Chargers.
If the Chargers want to be Super, they must keep their winning streak going on until it reaches fourteen in a row, along with a Vince Lombardi trophy.
Indianapolis Colts: The Favorite
The Chargers might be looked upon in some circles as a Super Bowl favorite, but right now, that title belongs to the Indianapolis Colts.
There really isn't much to say about the Colts. They have the best quarterback in the league, their defense makes clutch plays, and the running game has shown potential.
However, the team has been centered around Peyton Manning, and when hasn't it been? He is the sole reason why the Colts were 14-0 before Jim Caldwell, their rookie head coach, decided to sit him in the second half against the Jets. The Colts lost the game, and a chance for perfection.
Still, the Colts have home field, and Manning is playing the best ball of his career. Anyone that beats Indianapolis in the playoffs should be considered an upset.
Unless, of course, you're San Diego.
New Orleans Saints: The Team of "Destiny"
For most of the New Orleans Saints' history, there has been unluckiness, heartbreak, and sadness.
Back in 2003, John Carney missed an extra point after the River City Relay play against the Jaguars. That point would have sent the game into overtime; if the Saints had won that game, they would have made the playoffs.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina stuck New Orleans, and the Saints had to play in a different area for home games instead of the destroyed Superdome.
However, a inspiring run in 2006 set up some hope for Saints fans; maybe, the heartbreak and torture can end.
After two disappointing seasons in 2007 and 2008, 2009 was by far the most successful for the Saints. They started off 13-0, and had one of the most potent offenses in years.
Drew Brees was an MVP candidate early on in the season, the running game was one of the best in the game with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush, and the defense was opportunistic and game-changing.
But while the wins kept piling on, the blowouts stopped. The Saints needed a missed chip-shot field goal by the Redskins to tie the game up and win in overtime to keep their undefeated season. The Saints struggled against Atlanta and Carolina, but got wins.
However, the party ended in an upset loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Then, two more losses to the Buccaneers and the Panthers closed out a bad ending to the regular season. 13-3 is great, but not when the three losses were going into the postseason.
Still, the Saints have home field in the NFC, and have the bye week to fix some issues. There is still hope for Saints fans that these Saints will win the Super Bowl. It could still be destiny for a "star-crossed" franchise.
Minnesota Vikings: The Mysterious Team
Do you know who the Minnesota Vikings are?
Well, I don't.
They are the team that has the most questions to answer going into the divisional round game.
It all started off great for Minnesota, having the most balanced offensive attack in the league, combined with the stingiest defensive line in football.
However, ever since Brett Favre threw the game winning touchdown pass against the San Fransisco 49ers, the offense has morphed from Adrian Peterson-happy to Brett Favre-happy.
The 40-year-old gunslinger still has the rocket arm, but going down the stretch of the regular season, there really has not been a balanced attack.
Brad Childress and Brett Favre probably want to kill each other now, but now is not the time. They have a playoff game to worry about.
That is what makes Minnesota so mysterious. They are as good as any team in the league, and could definitely win the Super Bowl, but it is up to Favre to come alive again and direct his team to a Super Bowl title that has eluded the franchise forever.
The old guy could break the hex on the Vikings. The team just needs to find an identity and stick with it. They cannot stay mysterious forever.