In NFL playoffs it’s all about proven quarterbacks
Philadelphia and Minnesota’s hopes hit by injury to Carson Wentz and Sam Bradford
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees celebrates victory over Carolina Panthers in the NFL American football NFC wild card playoff game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photograph: Dan Anderson/EPA
Over the last 42 years the regular season’s top teams have gone to the playoffs with an expectation of winning their first postseason game.
They often don’t, of course, but the people who set sports betting lines have named the No1 seed as favourites every time in their playoff opener. Never have they wavered on this. Their faith in the higher seed has been automatic.
But faith never met Nick Foles, the unfortunate replacement for Carson Wentz as the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback in these playoffs. For the first time since the NFL began using team records to set seeding the sports books are picking a No1 seed to lose a first playoff game, naming the Atlanta Falcons as 2.5 point favourites for their divisional round game next Saturday in Philadelphia.
This is unfair to Foles whose reputation as a serviceable but uninspiring back-up does not match his career statistics, which are pretty decent (this, remember, is a man who once threw seven touchdowns in a single game).
But Foles is not Wentz, who may be the league’s best young quarterback. And since Foles only completed 4-of-11 passes for 39 yards in the handful of minutes he played in his last game (one where the Eagles rested their key players for the coming postseason) there is an impression Philadelphia, who were 13-3 in 2017, are going to be trampled by the Falcons.
That perception may be right.
Not because of Foles but because of the way Atlanta played in their 26-13 smothering of the Los Angeles Rams in Saturday’s wild card round. The Falcons linebackers and defensive backs swarmed over the Rams’ fleet of top receivers, batting away passes, crashing into LA’s players and in some cases, knocking them down. It was clear they had intimidated Los Angeles and quarterback Jared Goff, just as they must intimidate the Eagles as well.
This has been an unusual NFL season, one in which many of the game’s best players went out with season-ending injuries. The rush to build bigger, stronger and faster players has only led to more horrific injuries and probably has contributed as much as anything to lower ratings.
Top two seeds
Who wants to watch an NFL without Odell Beckham Jr, JJ Watt and Aaron Rodgers?
While the Eagles and Minnesota Vikings became the NFC’s top two seeds they finished the year without their starting quarterbacks. Just as it is hard to believe in Foles it’s also an enormous leap to expect Case Keenum, who came into the year with almost as many interceptions as touchdowns before filling in for the injured Sam Bradford, will take the Vikings to the Super Bowl that will be held in their own stadium.
Much like the Eagles are underdogs to the Falcons, many will expect Minnesota to lose to the New Orleans Saints.
On Sunday, the Saints beat rival Carolina 31-26 as quarterback Drew Brees threw for 376 yards and two touchdowns.
Just days from turning 39, Brees is not the same player he once was. He threw for fewer yards and touchdowns this year than in any of his 12 seasons with the Saints. But he might have been more efficient, and with New Orleans having a more complete attack and an aggressive defence the Saints feel a lot like the team that won the Super Bowl in 2010. The Vikings, while balanced, don’t feel like a championship team.
It’s probably unfair to say this but Atlanta and New Orleans probably are on a collision course for the NFC championship game because they have Matt Ryan and Brees while their opponents have Foles and Keenum. But this is the reality of the NFC in the 2018 postseason.
The AFC doesn’t have such a dilemma. The AFC’s top two seeds, New England and Pittsburgh, are still led by Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, who have both won Super Bowls. Their presence on the field next weekend against Jacksonville and Tennessee all but guarantee the Pats and Steelers will meet in an AFC championship. This is the state of football today: great quarterbacks usually win in the postseason.