Grab your popcorn and your favorite drink and get ready for the best weekend of NFL football all year. Eight great teams with everything on the line. There are too many storylines to get into all of them but here are a few things to keep in mind.
Two styles of quarterbacks
What a weekend for the two styles of quarterbacks in the NFL. No one has won a Super Bowl with a run-around QB but we are getting closer for sure. This weekend there are four classic drop-back passers (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees) and four mobile, run-around guys (Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck).
All eight quarterbacks played all 16 games so there's no case to be made for which way is safer, it's just a matter of which style can get your team to the Promised Land. The four drop-back passers generated more touchdowns even when you include rushing as well as passing. The four from the pocket delivered 155 touchdowns while the athletic group got to the end zone on land and through the air 109 times.
The rushing numbers for the classic QBs was almost funny with 127 rushes for 111 yards (.87 yards per run) with four rushing TDs, and just 17 total first downs with their legs. The young, athletic QBs ran 362 times for 2,025 yards, 15 touchdowns and 127 first downs! When it came to wins the athletes trumped the classics 48-16 to 45-19. Let's see who's standing after this round of the playoffs.
Wide-open offenses/Shutdown defenses
The AFC final four got here with wide-open offenses, no-huddle packages and not a defense in the top half of the league. In fact, the four teams left (Broncos, Patriots, Chargers, Colts) have an average rank of No. 23 in defense. Over in the NFC it is the exact opposite with the four teams remaining (Seahawks, Panthers, 49ers, Saints) ranked 1-2-3-4 on defense.
The "old school" fans who believe championships are won with defense have to be cheering for the NFC teams. The "new wave" fans who believe it's all about high-powered offenses are pointing right to the AFC teams.
Just a year ago Bill Cowher said to me defense gets you to the Super Bowl but offense wins the game. We will see, but one thing is for sure -- we are headed toward the two philosophies in a great collision.
Will they fade?
Take a look at the past five teams that broke the scoring record for a regular season and what happened to them in the playoffs. None of them won the Super Bowl and one of the five lost in the divisional round (The 2011 Packers scored 560 points, averaging 35 points a game, but only managed 20 in a divisional loss to the Giants). The 2007 and '11 Patriots both averaged well over 33 points a game and lost in the Super Bowl, averaging under 20 points.
The 2013 Broncos just scored 606 points, more than any team in history and now face the playoffs. They averaged 40 points a game at home this year but already lost to San Diego when they only mustered 20 points.
In the past four years home teams have dominated this round of the playoffs with an 11-5 record. The interesting twist is the past three Super Bowl winners won on the road in this round. Can you see the road team with the chance to make it four in a row? Your choices are New Orleans, San Francisco, Indianapolis or San Diego.
Things to remember
1. This stage of the playoffs over the past four years has been a fairly high-scoring round of games. Here are the average points scored per team in this round. 2012: 35; 2011: 27; 2010: 29; 2009: 19.
2. New Orleans is the only team in the playoffs that is averaging less points for on the road than points against (19-23).
3. The No. 1 seed in the NFC has been one and done in four of the past six years.
4. No QB who has led the NFL in passing yards has ever won the Super Bowl the same season.
5. Tom Brady is 3-5 in his past eight postseason games after a 14-2 start.
6. If Carolina makes it to the Super Bowl they would be the lowest-ranked offense to make the game.
7. San Diego has won more games against this year's playoff teams (6) than any team in the tournament.
8. Peyton Manning has not lost to the same team twice in the same year since 2007. Then, it was San Diego.