The first round of the playoffs, with a single week between the regular season close and the actual wildcard round, leaves much less time and room for analysis and overexposure. For those four teams advancing to the next round, that nonstop train continues.
For the four top seeds, that has not been the case. Each had had a different story to close the year, but a similar result, pressure, and something to prove.
Indianapolis shut it down in the final two games They allowed the Jets into the playoffs and dashed their perfect hopes. The team now has the pressure to prove to fans that it was the right move, and anything short of a Superbowl appearance will have fans of the Colts coming away bitter over the decision to let up to prevent injury.
New Orleans stumbled to finish the season. In the final game they followed the same method of pulling starters early for safety. What figures different is that the team was still trying to fight for victories in two prior losses to Dallas and Tampa Bay.
The team now is eager to show that they are not a regular-season wonder or a flash in the pan. They don’t have the pressure of Indianapolis, but would still see the season as a tremendous disappointment should they falter.
Minnesota was always the "third" team talked about. They incurred one loss early enough to prevent the "perfect season" talk, but spent the bulk of the year with only one loss. That changed as they held the worst record among bye teams as the year closed at 12-4.
With the long term mortgaged in exchange for the potential for a deep playoff run by bringing in a proven veteran quarterback, the team has the immediate pressure that they might not be able to make another run for a few years after this one, with two major cogs in Favre and Williams not long for the league.
San Diego is no different. They had a much more optimistic close, with eleven straight wins behind a 13-3 record. But they also have pressure to advance. The Chargers have been a preseason favorite for several years, holding a great array of weapons on either side of the ball. What they have lacked is a bid for the super bowl in that time.
Fans and pundits have had two weeks to tear apart these teams. San Diego gave the experts the least room to second across the final weeks, with no major injuries in the final games, no losses in the final months, and overall signs of improvement.
In place of those more direct looks, critics are now looking to history in their approach to San Diego. The Chargers have been eliminated by the Jets before. They have failed to go as deep as expected. They are a team that has not been able to translate late-season success into the playoffs.
Fans of the team write that off. This team has a different approach, and the players are tempered by past experiences to not overlook any week. They also never went into the as hot as this. They have not lost in December in the Norv Turner era, but they have never put a double-digit winning streak together. They are less vulnerable to injury, spending the entire year with rotations at nearly every position due to players missing time.
When it all boils down, however, the time for pundits is over. The wildcard round is interesting, but the divisional is what separates teams. For San Diego (as well as the other three) this is now the time for the teams to go out and make all analyzing, all praise, and all criticism idle chatter. It does not matter what anyone has to say about them now, it has come to the time where the team itself will do the talking in their play on the field.
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