I've compiled a list of what each team has at stake going into this weekend's round of Divisional Playoffs. This post explores the angle of teams that may "feel the heat" and succumb to a letdown performance in their game.
It should be noted, being that they are the #1 and #2 seeds in their respective conferences:
Indy, San Diego, New Orleans, and Minnesota are all coming off the bye week while others played in WildCard games last weekend.
Is there any chance we could see a couple of those teams feeling the effects of the layoff and coming out rusty? Or will they use it to practice and draw up crafty winning drives to get them early leads out of the gate?
Join me after the bump, as we break down exactly what each NFL team has to lose in this weekend's slate of Divisional games..... (and who has the benefit of having NOTHING to lose...)
Dallas- With all the talent they've had this decade, it's safe to say that they and the Redskins have been the two biggest disappointments over the last ten years regarding NFL teams with high payrolls. Both have been front-office nightmares. On Saturday they finally won their first playoff game since 1996, and Wade Phillips also got his first career playoff win as a head coach (he was previously 0-4 w/ Broncos, Bills, and Cowboys).
This team has always been a favorite for "front-runners" and "fair-weather fans." Analysts are once again drinking the Dallas kool-aid, as some even went as far as to say that the winner of last week's Philly/Dallas game would win the Super Bowl. The defense has been playing exceptional since November, and they are the only team remaining in the NFC that plays smash-mouth football, which gives them an advantage over these other spread-based passing attacks.
Saints/Colts - Both had 12-0 starts, and were the media darlings this season as the press had them on ‘undefeated watch' all season. Both of them are currently listed as favorites to win their respective conferences (oddsmakers have the Colts at even money to win AFC and Saints slightly more than even money to win NFC [+125]).
Let's face it. with the explosive offenses these two employ, if either should not make the Super Bowl, it'd be a huge disappointment. The Saints offense is prolific and ranks #1 in yards/game AND points/game. The colts rank #6 and #9 in those categories, but they have Peyton Manning -- the AP Most Valuable Player. It should be noted however that the stats for Indy are skewed as: A) they rested offensive players in weeks 16 and 17 and B) the colts face much tough defenses in the AFC, while the Saints division has found them in many "track meets" this season.
San Diego-This team was picked pre-season by both analysts and also sharps in Vegas to win the Super Bowl, and the Bolts now come into the playoffs riding the most momentum of any team. After their obligatory slow start/September struggles, they come into the playoffs rested on an eleven game win streak. The Chargers need to make a postseason run badly, or Norv Tuner's team will soon be compared to the Bills' teams of the ‘90's, as they have made the playoffs five times in the last six years, but have no super bowl appearances to show for it.
They also face the issue of a banged-up LT. The NFL is changing, and the old-school, workhorse guys that used to take 25+ carries a game now tend to have short careers. The game is moving towards splitting carries with two or even three backs. LT unfortunately, is one of the old-school backs, and in three of his first six years as a RB, he received 400+ touches in a season. He's lost a couple of steps, and even though his contract stipulates him being in SD till 2011, his effectiveness and future as a Bolt is uncertain. Being a workhorse takes its toll.
Vincent Jackson also becomes a restricted free agent in 2010, and it is possible he won't be there next season as he has complained about being underpaid. Lastly, Gates is also a free agent in 2011,
Minny- This one is simple -- Favre and Childress. Childress was on the hot seat as it is over the last couple of seasons for his inability to make noise in the postseason --- although he did just receive a big extension this year back in November. Still, over the years this team has fielded one of the top defenses, and also one of the best power-rushing attacks with nothing to show for it.
While Favre is contractually-bound to one more year, Jets fans know all too well that anything is possible in the offseason with this drama queen. There is already talk from the Eagles homers of shipping McNabb to Minnesota in the offseason if Brett chooses to retire.
Arizona - They are the defending NFC Champs. Also, Kurt Warner is aging, and will likely retire after his contract runs out next season as he turns 40 years old. And behind him, Leinart has certainly not been the star everyone expected him to be.
There is a also a strong possibility that Boldin will be traded in the offseason. With his injury this year the Cardinals have bumped-up Early Doucet and are learning to play without him. Boldin's contract runs out in 2010, but he has continually complained about the lack of money he is currently paid, and has entertained the idea of being traded since last year's Super Bowl ended.
That Leaves the Jets and the Ravens. The #5 and #6 seeds that "shouldn't even be here", yet both won their WildCard games on the road in tough environments last week.
It's safe to say, that both teams are "freerolling." While the sky is the limit for both, it's certainly fair to say both teams are happy with how their seasons have turned out thus far.
The teams have a lot of similarities between them. They are the only two remaining teams (besides Dallas) that play smash-mouth football, and the Ravens are obviously Rex's old squad. Both teams field veteran defenses, but also are both young at QB/RB.
Nothing to lose for these two teams --- A good feeling to have. Similar to the feeling the '07 Giants had when they made their run. With my theory, being that neither of these two teams have any pressure to overcome, we will find at least one of them playing in the AFC Championship game.
Feel free to add thoughts/comments. These are just off the top of my head, I'm sure you all can think of plenty more!