Seattle host the NFC title game? Egads - NBC Sports

Seattle host the NFC title game? Egads
AP
The Seattle Seahawks' Jordan Babineaux, left, celebrates with fans after the team upset the New Orleans Saints on Saturday.
January 10, 2011, 4:01 pm

Though the regular season has ended, the Monday 10-pack will continue.

And even though only four games were played this weekend, they entailed enough intrigue to easily generate 10 takes.

That's nearly as many takes as Saints who had a crack at tackling Marshawn Lynch on Sunday.

1. Mike Mayock is a genius.

Mike Mayock is best known as NFL Network's answer to Mel Kiper. Plenty of people think that Mayock, a coach's son who played defensive back at Boston College, understands the process of rating and scouting players even better than Kiper.

We think Mayock has found an even better skill.

Mayock, who worked as an analyst for the Saints-Seahawks game on NBC, was one of the few national voices to give the Seattle Seahawks a "fighter's chance" against the Saints. Double-digit underdogs that had won seven games and lost nine during the regular season, no one expected Seattle to be competitive against the defending Super Bowl champions. But in his visit to PFT Live on Friday, Mayock made a sufficiently compelling case to prompt Rosenthal and yours truly to second-guess our mutual decision to pick the Saints to win.

Apart from the travel and the hostile outdoor crowd and the injuries, Mayock explained that the first game between the Seahawks and Saints was far more competitive than most realize. The Seahawks had been able to move the ball against the New Orleans defense, and Seattle was keeping it close until the Saints uncorked a typical (for 2009) Drew Brees-led touchdown drive at the end of the first half.

Mayock believed when others scoffed. Appearing on a St. Louis radio station, Mike Ditka's analysis of the game consisted entirely of "you've gotta be kidding me," or words to that effect.

So from this point forward we will regard Mayock as a genius. Which means that whenever he appears with me on PFT Live in the future the genius average will be 0.5.

2. Seattle's win makes the reseeding argument stronger, not weaker.

Plenty of people argued in the aftermath of Saturday night's win by the Seahawks that talk over reseeding the playoff teams had been rendered moot because the supposedly lesser team was the better team in the game at hand. But the fact that Seattle won the game only makes the case for reseeding stronger.

Did playing at home help the Seahawks win? Of course. Would it have been harder for the Seahawks to play that game on the road? Absolutely.

The fact that they took advantage of home-field advantage doesn't make the Seahawks more worthy of advancing to the division round of the playoffs. And though we previously were firm believers in each division winner not only securing a playoff berth but also playing at least one game at home, we're (or at least I'm) now thinking that no 7-9 division winner has any business hosting a playoff game, ever.

3. Reseeding looms over NFC title game, too.

Two years ago, the 9-7 Cardinals hosted the 11-5 Falcons in the first round of the playoffs. And the Cardinals won the game. The following week, the Cardinals upended the Panthers in Charlotte and the sixth-seeded Eagles shocked the Giants, the top seed at the time.

Thus, even though the Eagles finished the season with a better record than the Cardinals, including a Thanksgiving-night thrashing in Philly, the Eagles were forced to hit the road, and Arizona advanced to the Super Bowl.

Apart from being guaranteed a home game in the playoffs, the division winner with the worst record still receives a seed higher than two other teams, setting the stage for a team like the Seahawks hosting the conference title game.

What's that, you say? The Seahawks will never advance to the next level of the playoffs? Well, they go to Chicago, where the Seahawks won during the regular season. And the Packers now return to Atlanta, where the Falcons are good but not invincible.

It would be a surprise but not a shock for the road teams to win next weekend, setting the stage for Seattle to host the NFC championship. And possibly opening the door for the Seahawks to steal a berth in the Super Bowl. Where the AFC representative would be a 22-point favorite.

So even if a division winner with a record worse than the wild-card teams deserves to host a playoff game, it should be only one playoff game that the division winner with a bad record hosts.

4. Patriots have to be puckering.

In early December, when the Ravens and Steelers and Jets and Patriots got together for prime-time games on consecutive nights, we suspected that the second game of the season between these division rivals would merely determine the location for the third game.

But when the Patriots dismantled the Jets, running up the score to finish the night with a 45-3 win, we feared that the Pats were given the Jets fodder to fire themselves up for a playoff meeting - until we realized that the Pats were hoping to induce a tailspin that would wash the Jets right out of the postseason altogether.

If that was the objective, it didn't work. After losing six days later to the Dolphins, the Jets pulled together a win in Pittsburgh and gained plenty of confidence by beating the Colts in Indianapolis. Now, the Jets are heading back to Foxboro, and they'll surely find extra motivation in the trouncing they endured.

Of course, the Jets have a bad habit of talking too much, and there's a decent chance they'll squander the moral high ground by talking tough and otherwise riling up a Patriots team that otherwise has to be thinking that there's no guarantee that they'll do in January what they managed to do in December.

So with the Pats having everything to lose and the Jets having everything to gain, there's a chance that the Jets could shock the team that everyone assumes will advance to the Super Bowl and win it.

5. Caldwell could be on the hot seat next year.

When Jim Caldwell was named the Colts' coach in waiting three years ago, the most common reaction was, "Who's Jim Caldwell?"

Hardly a short-list candidate for head-coaching jobs in any other city, Caldwell assumed the position once Tony Dungy retired. Last year, Caldwell basically kept out of the way and rode the existing team and coaching staff to a Super Bowl appearance.

This year, change and injuries and at times ineffectiveness dropped the Colts to 6-6 through 12 games. They pulled things together down the stretch, but inexplicably lost at home to the Jets in the wild-card round. To make matters worse, Caldwell made a bizarre decision to take a late time out - something he'd done late in a regular-season loss to the Jaguars.

Though we've seen coaches fired after a playoff loss, there's no reason to think that Caldwell currently occupies a spot on the hot seat, especially with the uncertain labor situation potentially wiping out the offseason training program, and possibly all of training camp. Come 2011, however, whispers will commence regarding Caldwell's job status. If the Colts fail to qualify for the postseason or otherwise lose in the wild-card round next season, the Colts could be looking for a new coach to preside over the final seasons of Peyton Manning's career.

6. Humble pie could help Todd Haley.

Jason Whitlock of FOXSports.com recently penned (does anyone actually use pens anymore?) a damning indictment of Chiefs coach Todd Haley, who is developing a reputation for being a real jerk. Like most people, Haley thinks a lot of himself. Unlike most people, Haley apparently lacks the ability to make his self-love anything other than obvious.

The departure of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who's leaving for the same job with a college program, tends to confirm the concern that Haley thinks he can become the next Bill Parcells by simply acting like him. And the thinking in league circles is that Haley's insecurities will keep him from making the no-brainer hire to replace Weis - hiring former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels.

The good news? Today's 30-7 spanking by the Ravens could possibly humble Haley, forcing him to look in the mirror in the hopes of making the kinds of changes that will be critical to getting to the next level, and beyond.

If he doesn't, he may not last long in Kansas City.

7. Rubber match in the `Burgh.

For the second time in three years and the third time ever, the Ravens and Steelers will rendezvous in the postseason. In 2001, the two teams split their postseason series and the Steelers won in the division round at Pittsburgh, 27-10. Two years ago, the Steelers completed a three-game sweep with a 23-14 win in the conference title game.

This year, it's another rubber match, with the Steelers winning in Baltimore and the Ravens winning in Pittsburgh. And they'll meet once again in Pittsburgh.

If recent history holds, the score will be close, and the outcome could go either way. Though it's hard not to favor the home team, the Ravens could be ready to finally knock off their biggest division rival in a game that couldn't get much bigger.

8. Ravens are true road warriors.

On Saturday, the Ravens will play their seventh playoff game in three seasons. Making the accomplishment even more impressive is that they've played none of them at home.

The Ravens are 4-2 in road playoff games under coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco. They can push that mark to 5-2 by winning in Pittsburgh, the site of a regular-season victory against the Steelers.

Maybe next year, they'll finally play a playoff game at home. But with sixth-seeded Jets having a better shot than most would admit to beat the Patriots, the Ravens could get that home playoff game this year, with a rematch of the Week One Monday nighter.

9. Packers finally exorcise the Favre demon.

Since nudging Brett Favre out of Green Bay three years ago in the weeks after an overtime loss to the Giants in the NFC title game, the Packers hadn't won a single playoff game. And in the three seasons that Favre played elsewhere, he had won, well, a single playoff game.

The Packers have now matched Favre's feat, finally winning a postseason contest without him.

Against the Eagles, quarterback Aaron Rodgers delivered, the defense stepped up, and rookie running back James Starks provided a performance that could relegate Ryan Grant to backup status come the 2011 season.

Before then, these Packers have a chance to do that which Favre's Packers did only once - win a Super Bowl. Based on how they played against the Pats in Foxboro with Aaron Rodgers on the bench, it's not that really that crazy of a possibility.

10. Struggles against NFC North doomed the Eagles.

For Philadelphia, the season began just as it ended, with a home loss to the Packers. In all, the Eagles won only one of five games against teams of the NFC North, losing to the Bears, Vikings, twice to the Packers, and nearly to the Lions.

Slightly better luck against the teams of the black-and-blue division would have allowed Philly to avoid wild-card weekend altogether, waiting instead to play in the division round after a bye.

Instead, the team that only three weeks ago seemed destined to parlay the Miracle in the New Meadowlands into a return visit to Cowboys Stadium lost three in a row to finish the season, ending a promising campaign far earlier than anyone thought it would.



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