Four teams rested and watched Wild Card weekend by virtue of their well earned byes. Accordingly, the head coaches of those teams should not have any problems with motivation, as the victors stated their case as worthy opponents.
In the NFC, the Cowboys surely got the undivided attention of the Vikings players with another domination of the Philadelphia Eagles. The 'Boys followed their season ending masterpiece with an encore performance that may have been even more impressive. With memories of the Vikings and Saints late season failings, Dallas now appears to be the NFC team to beat and has vaulted up in the rankings.
Of course, a week of rest and "home dome advantage" provide an edge to the Vikings, as they host the white-hot Cowboys. And Minnesota was at least able to recover from a three-game losing streak in December by crushing the disinterested Giants in the regular season finale, so the self doubt swirling in players' heads may have been erased.
New Orleans had looked like the team to beat all season, but questions and concerns have emerged after its own three-game reverse trifecta to close out the season. The NFL's most prolific offense wilted down the stretch, and their defense showed some cracks.
Kurt Warner's and the Cardinals' playoff performance has Arizona fans buzzing about a repeat of last year's magical postseason run and Saints coaches feverishly studying game film. This week has the look of another shootout in New Orleans that could take 50 points again to win.
In Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers has made it easy for fans to forget Brett Favre. Rodgers has clearly arrived as a top flight NFL quarterback, and although his team heads home for the winter, they made their case as the best team not still in the hunt. In fact, they are better than some of the teams still playing this weekend.
Like the Saints and Vikings, the Colts closed a highly successful regular season with a dismal finish. Head Coach Jim Caldwell elected to pull MVP Peyton Manning and the plug on a chance at perfection in Week 16. Although most players expressed support of their rookie coach, disappointment was plainly apparent. With the decision and a pair of losses, the excitement of chasing a special place in NFL history shifted to questions of whether the team could overcome the nemesis Chargers.
After watching the Ravens dismantle "The Team of the Decade" in the first round, memories of previous seasons' early exits must be running through Colts players' minds. Baltimore possesses a scary defense, a strong running game with the emergence of Ray Rice, and a solid second year quarterback in Joe Flacco. A turnover here or there, and 14 straight victories to start the season might be ancient history.
Although they ended the season with an 11-game winning streak and jumped to the top of our rankings, the Chargers realize that Sunday's game will be "no gimme". The Jets come to town full of Rex Ryan fueled adrenaline and a lock-down corner in Darrelle Revis, who has the ability to disrupt an entire game plan. Charles Woodson had a great season, but Revis should have been the "Defensive Player of the Year".
Based on their lackluster playoff performances, the Eagles, Patriots, and Bengals all fall in the rankings. The abrupt ending to their seasons and the manner in which it occurred have all three heading into the offseason with many questions to address. Meanwhile, the other first round loser has "Cheese-Heads" already counting the days to training camp.
- Chargers (13-3)- Will be challenged by Jets Reves-led D
- Colts (14-2)- Can players move past disappointment?
- Cowboys(11-5)-Ho hum, another Philly route, Vikes next?
- Saints (13-3)-Looking to end losing ways with shootout
- Packers (11-5)-Best team out of the Super Bowl hunt
- Vikings (12-4)-Hoping home dome advantage slows 'Boys
- Ravens (9-7)- Can they repeat performance against Colts?
- Jets (9-7)- Ryan has them believing in New York with Reves
- Cardinals (10-6)-Spell "prolific"- W-A-R-N-E-R, need some D
- Eagles (11-5)-No more "do overs", season's over
- Patriots (10-6)-What happened to "The Team of the Decade?"
- Bengals (10-6)- Crashed after a promising start to season
- Steelers (9-7)- Pulled out another, but too little, too late
- Texans (9-7)- First winning season, but no postseason
- Falcons (9-7)- Strong finish to disappointing season