NFL wild-card essentials: Experience matters

Experience in the playoffs seemed to matter on Wild Card Weekend.

Three of the four teams with the most playoff experience in NFL history survived, and one of them had to exit since two of those four teams were playing each other.

The Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and New York Giants entered the weekend tied for the most playoff berths in NFL history (32), with the Packers hosting the Giants on Sunday and winning.

The Cowboys had the weekend off as the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, in fourth with 30 postseason berths, easily handled the Miami Dolphins.

This year, there were six new teams in the playoffs that didn’t make the postseason last year. Two of them – the Atlanta Falcons and the Cowboys – had byes. The other four – the Detroit Lions, Dolphins, Giants and Oakland Raiders – all lost, so maybe there is something to be said for recent playoff experience, too. Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs in every season that were not in the postseason the year before.

Home teams also had the advantage this year. All four wild-card winners were hosting games, but their challenges will increase this coming weekend as they face teams that had a bye. The No. 1 seed from both the AFC and the NFC have advanced to the Super Bowl in three consecutive seasons for the first time since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990.

Overall, only 52 percent of the No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Super Bowl, with 12 No. 1 seeds winning the title (23 percent).

Experience also seemed to matter at the quarterback position. Four starting quarterbacks either made or will be making their first career playoff start in this postseason. Dallas QB Dak Prescott is the only one of the four that didn’t get that process started, but he and Houston Texans QB Brock Osweiler are the only first-timers remaining.

Osweiler and the Texans beat the Raiders and rookie QB Connor Cook, 27-14, on Saturday, and the Dolphins and QB Matt Moore went down to the Steelers, 30-12.

WILD CARD RESULTS

Saturday
Houston 27, Oakland 14
Seattle 26, Detroit 6

Sunday
Pittsburgh 30, Miami 12
Green Bay 38, New York Giants 13

OTHER WILD CARD ESSENTIALS

  • The three B’s get high A’s for their performance as Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown were dominant on Sunday against the Dolphins. Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown on 50- and 62-yard touchdown passes in the first quarter and completed his first 11 passes, the second-longest streak by a Steelers player in a playoff game (14, Terry Bradshaw, 1983), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
  • Brown became the only player in NFL history to score touchdowns on plays of 50 yards or longer in the first quarter of a playoff game.
  • The Steelers proved they effectively attack on the ground, too, as Bell carried the ball on all 10 plays of a touchdown drive, the first time in the expansion era that a team ran the ball on every play of playoff TD drive that long, according to Elias. Bell also set a Steelers playoff record with 167 yards on 29 carries.
  • Aaron Rodgers set the Packers postseason record at Lambeau Field with 362 yards passing and four touchdowns. However, two Packers opponents – Neil Lomax (385 yards) in 1982 and Jeff George (366) in 1995 – have thrown for more yards in a postseason game at Lambeau Field, according to Elias.
  • The Seattle Seahawks found good balance in Saturday’s 26-6 win over Detroit when RB Thomas Rawls set a Seahawks playoff record with 161 yards rushing and WR Doug Baldwin caught 11 passes. They became the third pair of teammates to have at least 150 yards rushing and 10 catches in a postseason game, per Elias, joining Barry Sanders and Brett Perriman (1993) for the Lions and DeShaun Foster and Steve Smith (2006) for the Giants.
  • Texans DE Whitney Mercilus showed once again that his game elevates in the playoffs. He sacked Cook twice in Houston’s 27-14 win, giving him five sacks over two postseason games to tie for the most in a two-game span by any defensive player since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. The others, per Elias, were Kevin Greene (1988 and 1989 Rams), Terrell Suggs (2010 Ravens) and Von Miller (2015 Broncos).
  • Eli Manning’s narrative of winning it all or winning nothing at all in the postseason continued. This time, it was winning nothing, as the Giants fell 38-13 in Lambeau. The only times Manning wins playoff games are in seasons in which he wins the Super Bowl, and he’s done that twice.
  • Lions kicker Matt Prater became the first player to connect on two field of at least 50 yards – he hit from 51 and 53 yards – in an NFL playoff game, according to Elias. He scored the Detroit’s only points in a 26-6 loss to the Seahawks.
  • The Lions were the only one of the 12 playoff teams that hadn’t won a division title since the NFL realigned in 2002. Of the other 11 playoff teams this year, New England has won 13 division titles, Green Bay nine, Seattle eight, Pittsburgh seven, Atlanta four, Dallas four, Houston four, New York Giants three, Kansas City three, Miami one and Oakland one since 2002.

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