As Tom Brady and the Patriots sit comfortably at home with their first-round bye, the NFL playoffs begin this weekend with an exciting slate of wild card games. With a week before their team plays, we wouldn’t blame Patriots fans for extending their long winter’s naps and skimming over some of the details of this weekend’s matchups. We’ve done the work of breaking down the biggest story lines of the playoffs for you. Next
The defending champs are out
In a league where parity is king, maybe it shouldn't come as a shock to see the Baltimore Ravens on the outside looking in at the playoffs. The Giants missed the playoffs in their Super Bowl defense last season; the Patriots were the last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls, in 2003 and 2004.
Patriots fans might not have feared the Ravens after their team's 41-7 victory in Baltimore on Dec. 22, but the playoff-tested Ravens would have presented a bigger challenge in the AFC bracket than the San Diego Chargers, who snuck in with the No. 6 seed. Next
It's going to be freezing in Green Bay
Way below freezing, to be specific. The forecast for Sunday's game calls for a high of minus-4 degrees and a low of minus-18 degrees. That's got to sting even more for the 12-4 San Francisco 49ers, who are forced to travel to Green Bay to face the 8-7-1 Packers, who barely squeezed into the playoffs. Next
The Patriots aren't favored to win it all
The Seattle Seahawks are. Vegas oddsmakers have given the Seahawks 2-1 odds for winning the Super Bowl, followed by the Denver Broncos at 5-2. The Patriots and 49ers are tied at 7-1, followed by the Carolina Panthers at 10-1. Next
Peyton Manning still has a lot to prove
Manning is one of the best regular-season quarterbacks of all time, but his 9-11 playoff record leaves much to be desired. Manning has been one-and-done in the playoffs eight times. He lost his first three playoff games and has lost his last two.
Only once in his last five playoff trips did Manning win a game – he won three games in 2009 when the Colts won the Super Bowl. Next
If the Bengals win they're automatically New England's opponent
The Patriots will host the AFC's highest remaining seed following this weekend's wild-card games, while the Broncos will get the lowest seed. If the third-seeded Bengals win, they'll come to Foxborough for the divisional game on Sat., Jan. 11 at 8:30 p.m. Cincinnati is an unproven team, but with talented offensive players like receiver A.J. Green and a big, fast defense, they're dangerous. And the Bengals have already beaten the Patriots once. Next
No one's talking about the Chiefs
Kansas City started the season 9-0 before running into the Denver Broncos in Week 11. The Chiefs lost twice to the Broncos in three weeks and finished the season losing five of their last seven games (they rested their starters in the season's final game). Kansas City's recent losses mask the fact that they're a very good defensive team and a passable offensive team featuring weapons like running back Jamaal Charles (pictured). Three teams from the AFC West made the playoffs, meaning the Chiefs are well tested and well rested. Next
The Patriots have only beaten two playoff teams
Both wins were at home, and one of them happened to be the against the top seed in the AFC. The Patriots beat the Broncos and Saints by a combined six points during the regular season. They lost to the Bengals, 13-6, on Oct. 6, and the Carolina Panthers, 24-20, on Nov. 18.
New England wasn't supposed to have a schedule this easy, but several games that were supposed to be difficult – like the Falcons, Steelers, and Texans – didn't pan out that way. Next
It's wide open
There are major offense/defense disparities in the playoff bracket. The top six teams in the NFL in points allowed this season – Seattle, Carolina, San Francisco, New Orleans, Cincinnati, and Kansas City – all made the playoffs. So did six of the top seven teams in yards/game (Denver, Philadelphia, Green Bay, New Orleans, San Diego, and New England).
Notice how only one of those teams, the Saints, overlaps. The Broncos are first in total yards but 22d in points allowed. The Eagles are 2d in yards per game on offense and 29th in that category on defense. There isn't one team that really excels at everything. Back to the beginning
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