SportsPulse: After all the ups and downs of the NFL regular season we know the 12 teams that will compete for the Lombardi trophy. Trysta Krick looks ahead to the playoffs and where each playoff team stands.
The 32 things we learned heading into the 2018 NFL playoffs:
1. The 2009 Saints are the only Super Bowl-winning team in New Orleans history. They were the NFC’s No. 1 seed that year, and their only losses were to Dallas, Tampa Bay and Carolina.
1a. The 2018 Saints are the NFC’s No. 1 seed … and their only losses have been to Dallas, Tampa Bay and Carolina. Discount New Orleans Voodoo at your peril …
2. Since Drew Brees and Sean Payton came to New Orleans in 2006, the Saints are 5-0 in playoff games at the Superdome.
3. Saints TE Ben Watson announced he will retire at the end of the season. The 15-year vet broke in as a first-round pick of the Patriots in 2004 and won a Lombardi Trophy. He’s been waiting a long time for his second ring but could go out in style.
4. New Orleans backup QB Teddy Bridgewater, who sustained a horrific knee injury days before the 2016 regular season dawned in Minnesota, made his first start Sunday in a meaningful game since the Vikings lost to Seattle in the wild-card round on Jan. 10, 2016. Bridgewater threw his first TD pass since Dec. 27, 2015, but it’s hard to tell if he’s primed for a Foles-esque run if Brees goes down given the Saints weren’t playing with a full arsenal in their loss to the Panthers.
5. The AFC’s top-ranked team is Kansas City. But is that a good thing? The Chiefs have lost six consecutive postseason games at Arrowhead Stadium dating to the 1995 playoffs.
5a. The last quarterback to win a playoff game for K.C. in K.C.? Joe Montana on Jan. 8, 1994.
5b. But the first Chiefs quarterback (and third ever, joining Peyton Manning and Tom Brady) to throw 50 TD passes in a season is MVP front runner Patrick Mahomes. Without Kareem Hunt, Kansas City will likely need all of Mahomes’ magic moving forward. And the team has done a fairly nice job adapting to life without Hunt, who was dismissed Dec. 1. Despite his absence, Kansas City is the first since at least 1940 to score at least 24 points in 21 consecutive games. Good luck slowing down this onslaught.
6. FWIW, the last five Super Bowl champions have been No. 1 seeds. The most recent team to win it all without enjoying home-field advantage? The 2012 Ravens, a No. 4 seed, knocked off Colin Kaepernick and the second-seeded 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
7. FWIW, NFC teams are 2-0 (1993 Cowboys, 1999 Rams) in Super Bowls staged in Atlanta, site of Super Bowl LIII. But both Super Bowl XXVIII and XXXIV were played in the Georgia Dome, while this season’s game will occur at resplendent Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
8. As much as this may have felt like a “down” season in New England, the juggernaut is alive and well — extending league records with a 12th consecutive season of at least 400 points scored, 10th straight with a division title and ninth in a row securing a first-round bye.
9. Though the Patriots’ 11 wins are their fewest since 2009, are you betting against their seemingly annual trip to the AFC title game? The last time New England slipped in the divisional round was when they were upset by Mark Sanchez and the Jets in 2010.
10. And maybe 41-year-old Tom Brady is rounding into peak form at just the right time. He’s been battling a knee issue lately but threw a season-high four TD passes Sunday — to four different receivers. With WR Josh Gordon suspended and TE Rob Gronkowski clearly not his dominant self, the Pats will have to rely on their depth moving forward … and, almost certainly, more Herculean efforts from TB12.
11. As if the Nick Foles vs. Carson Wentz debate wasn’t already hitting a new gear for the resurrected Eagles, now both quarterback are hurt. Figure on Foles (and his battered ribs) again being at the helm for the playoffs as Wentz’s back continues to heal.
11a. But shoutout to another “Nate the Great.” Third-string Philadelphia QB Nate Sudfeld tossed his first NFL TD pass Sunday and posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating in relief of Foles. (Sure, Sudfeld threw just one pass, but the facts are the facts.)
12. If you thought the Eagles’ last playoff visit to Chicago was the controversial “Fog Bowl” in 1988, then you clearly forgot about the time Donovan McNabb accounted for three TDs — he, um, “outdueled” the Bears combo of Shane Matthews and Jim Miller — in a 33-19 win in the 2001 divisional round.
13. Foles and Co. better be prepared to come back against an elite 2018 Bears defense, the first in a dozen years with at least 50 sacks and 25 interceptions and the only one in the league staked to a second-half lead in every game this season.
14. And don’t dismiss Chicago’s offense. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are the first pair of Bears backs with 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 28 years. Mitch Trubisky’s 66.6 completion rate is the best ever for a quarterback to make more than five starts in a season for the Monsters.
15. Still, will the Bears rue not “resting” against a Minnesota team they swept with the plucky Eagles now headed to the Windy City?
16. Dallas QB Dak Prescott heads into January on fire on the heels of his first NFL game with four touchdown passes. (Prescott became the first player in league history to throw for at least 20 TDs and rush for at least five in each of his first three seasons).
17. Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott will be seeking their first postseason victory next week. Remember, both players performed exceedingly well as rookies in their maiden playoff voyage in 2016, Prescott passing for 302 yards and three TDs while Elliott ran for 125 yards.
17a. And, fortunately for them, this Dallas defense won’t have to defend Aaron Rodgers and Jared Cook with the game on the line.
18. Did the Cowboys discover a new weapon? Second-year TE Blake Jarwin had three TD receptions Sunday, giving him more career three-TD games (1) than Jason Witten had in 15 seasons.
19. After wrapping up his fourth season with at least 16 sacks, Houston’s J.J. Watt is now averaging 0.88 per game in the regular season during his eight-year career.
19a. In postseason, Watt has five sacks in five games and has only been shut out once. Beware, Andrew Luck.
20. Texans QB Deshaun Watson was sacked a league-worst 62 times this season, the most in the NFL since Detroit’s Jon Kitna was bagged 63 times in 2006. Darius Leonard and the Colts roped Watson five times when they ended Houston’s nine-game winning streak Dec. 9.
21. Houston joined the 1992 San Diego Chargers as the only teams in the Super Bowl era to win their division after an 0-3 start to the season. Those Bolts won on wild-card weekend before bowing out in the divisional round.
22. The Colts, meanwhile, join the 1970 Bengals and 2015 Chiefs as teams that reached the playoffs despite a 1-5 start. Neither of those clubs reached the AFC Championship Game.
23. The Seahawks, who finished 10-6, rushed for 138 yards combined in their first two games, both defeats. They’ve ground out at least 154 yards on the ground in all but two games since, including 182 in Sunday’s win.
24. Russell Wilson threw for his 35th TD on Sunday, a new career high. He had 34 TD passes in 2015 and 2017.
25. The Seahawks are 2-4 in road playoff games under Pete Carroll but are 6-0 at home over the same period. The only way they’ll play another game at CenturyLink Field this season would be if they were to host the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.
26. Aaron Donald’s 20½ sacks tied for seventh-best in a single NFL season, but he’s the first defensive tackle to notch at least 20.
27. The Rams certainly welcome a week off, but lack of a depth no longer appears to be such a pressing issue. RB C.J. Anderson rushed for 299 yards in two games while Todd Gurley rested his knee. Gurley averaged 89.4 rushing yards per game this season, about 60 fewer per game than Anderson has as a Ram.
27a. The Rams averaged 212 yards rushing in two games without Gurley, albeit against the lowly Cardinals and 49ers. They averaged 129.1 in 14 games with their star back.
27b. Josh Reynolds, who replaced injured Cooper Kupp as L.A.’s No. 3 receiver, finished the season with five TD catches. Kupp had six in half a season.
27c. However Rams LT Andrew Whitworth, who just turned 37, can definitely use the additional time for rest and recovery after leaving Sunday’s game with a knee injury that isn’t believed to be serious.
28. The Chargers have dropped four of their past six playoff games at home — all in San Diego, of course — with both wins coming against AFC South teams. So maybe it’s just as well they’re going on road for the wild-card round, especially since StubHub Center, er Dignity Health Sports Park, provides virtually no competitive advantage and is typically overrun by opposing fans.
29. The Bolts should be more worried about QB Philip Rivers, who’s thrown two picks in each of the past three games, including a Week 16 loss against his next opponent, the Ravens.
30. Nobody wants to see Baltimore. Rookie Lamar Jackson has averaged 79.4 rushing yards in his seven starts (six of them wins), a record for quarterbacks since the 1970 merger. As a team, the Ravens have averaged a gaudy 229.6 rushing yards since Jackson joined the lineup Nov. 18.
30a. Combine a new-look Baltimore backfield — it also includes recently integrated RBs Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon and Ty Montgomery — a defense ranked No. 1 most of the season, and the game’s best kicker (Justin Tucker), and you could have a championship formula.
30b. And Ravens players could be in an even better mood with Eric Weddle vowing to share his $1 million bonus (for making the Pro Bowl and the playoffs) with his teammates. “I’ve been thinking about it all week that if it happened, I’m going to do something nice for all my teammates and my coaches because I’m nothing without my team,” said Baltimore’s star safety after Sunday’s win.
31. Chin up, @BortlesFacts — after a virtually flawless 2017 postseason run, BB5 is guaranteed to make even fewer mistakes this January.
32. Dearest mother — @CaptAndrewLuck and the Colts added their most distinguished battle streamer yet. But the Men will get nary a respite, marching as they must for the Third Battle of Texan Run on Saturday. Morale is high. Onward.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis