The Eagles victory over the Giants earlier this afternoon underscored two important points I think have typified this season. First off is one point that I think holds true over any postseason, which is that the bye (and to a lesser extent, clinching early) is overrated. The number of low seeds or underdogs advancing through the playoffs are classic examples of teams that built momentum while other top seeds rested on their laurels.
The Giants and Titans had wrapped up postseason births early on, and coasted to the end of the season, losing games here and there and generally not keeping on top of things. This clearly hurt both teams, as the Titans had costly red zone turnovers by Alge Crumpler, LenDale White, and Kerry Collins. If the Titans had even held themselves to the lofty goal of merely two turnovers in the red zone instead of three, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But as it is, the top three seeds (New York, Carolina, Tennessee) are gone, and upstarts like the Ravens, Cardinals, and Eagles are moving on.
The second point which has brought the surprising number of low seeds advancing this postseason is a fact which I reiterated this season: There were no dominant teams, and the top seeds had potential upsets waiting for them. The Titans and Giants were the top seeds going into the playoffs, but neither had a lot of momentum, so when the Eagles and Ravens came to town, people weren't surprised when the game was close.
The Colts were one team most people assumed would succeed. They had won nine in a row, Peyton Manning wrapped up his MVP and appeared to be playing excellent, and Joseph Addai was back from his various injuries during the year. Yet even the Colts, who some considered the prohibitive favorite even with their #5 seed, fell to the Chargers, who built momentum by winning four in a row to finish at 8-8.
I'd even go as far as to say that there are teams who missed the playoffs who could easily have won a game or two, the Cowboys and Patriots being the examples that spring quickest to mind. In a season in which we had some of the worst teams ever to step on the field, there was a lack of stability at the top of the league.
As for the later game, I'm still betting that the Steelers will win this game, but at this point, you can't argue with the Chargers momentum. Phillip Rivers is a shaky QB, LaDanian Tomlinson being out would seem to be an insurmountable hurdle against the #1 defense, and players like James Harrison and Troy Polamalu are going to wreak havoc all day. Yet, a part of me feels the exciting Chargers could easily pull an upset. As long as Darren Sproles is out there racking up all-purpose yards, and Mike Scifres is pinning Pittsburgh back inside their own 10 and 20 drive after drive, I could see the Bolts pulling it out. After all, the Cardinals are hosting the NFC championship game. At this point, anything can happen.
So sit back on your couch, grab your favorite drinks and snacks, and don't let anything interrupt your game viewing, unless the phone rings. It could be Donovan McNabb calling to make some hotel reservations in Tempe.