New guys jump into playoff mix as parity reigns supreme
DENVER — With every season, churn, churn, churn …
The NFL prides itself on competitive balance among its 32 teams, and it’s hard to argue against that this season.
Of the eight clubs preparing for the first round of the playoffs, only one reached the postseason last season — and it’s the Philadelphia Eagles, who narrowly sneaked in Sunday as the NFC’s sixth seed.
Indianapolis, Houston, Seattle, Dallas, Baltimore, Chicago and the Los Angeles Chargers were all watching from the couch at this point last year. Now, they’re in the mix, along with the four teams that earned a first-round bye: Kansas City, New England, New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams.
“There will be eight teams practicing this week in the league and there are 20 that are home,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said Sunday. “We’ve been part of that 20 a handful of times, many times, so I think we’re excited to be going into January and have a chance. That’s all you can ask for.”
The postseason opens Saturday with the weekend’s only divisional matchup, the Colts at Texans, followed by Seahawks at Cowboys in the marquee slot Saturday night. Sunday, it’s the Chargers at Ravens, then Eagles at Bears.
There’s a familiar feel of redemption in this field, with both the Bears and Texans going from worst to first from one year to the next, to win their respective divisions and earn home playoff games. In 15 of the past 16 seasons, at least one team has made that bottom-to-top turnaround.
According to ESPN, the Texans are the sixth team in the Super Bowl era to make the playoffs after an 0-3 start. The only one of those previous five teams to win a postseason game was
the 1992 San Diego Chargers.
The Colts and Texans each won threepoint games on each other’s fields this season, with Houston posting a 37-34 victory at Indianapolis in Week 4, and the Colts returning the favor at the Texans, 24-21, in Week 14.
Happy as they are about winning the AFC South, which they clinched Sunday with a 20-3 rout of Jacksonville, the Texans know they have to do a better job of protecting quarterback Deshaun
Watson was sacked six times in the finale, bringing his season total to 62. The last quarterback to reach the 60 mark was Detroit’s Jon Kitna in 2006. Then again, Houston is sack city, seeing as David Carr was dragged down an NFLrecord 76 times in 2002, the Texans’ inaugural season.
“We’ve got to figure it out,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said of all the Watson wallops. “He’s getting hit too much.”
Speaking of pack-a-punch defenses, both Seattle and Dallas are on a roll. The Watson. Seahawks have won six of seven, and the Cowboys have won seven of eight. They met in Week 3, with Seattle posting a 2413 victory at home.
“We have a tough task,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson told reporters Sunday. “Dallas has been playing great. Honestly, they have been one of the best teams in the NFL the past… six, seven, eight weeks, across the board.”
Wilson threw two touchdown passes in the first meeting, and Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott was picked off twice by Seattle safety Earl Thomas. Prescott was also sacked five times.
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers launches a pass before Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller can close in on Sunday in Denver, Colo.