New guys jump into play­off mix as par­ity reigns supreme

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Sam Farmer

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.

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