There was a time when a second-round upset was a huge deal. They didn’t happen too often, so when Lin Elliott cost the 13-3 Chiefs a game against Jim Harbaugh and the Comeback Colts in 1995, it resonated throughout the league. Even though the AFC’s top seed would lose each of the next two seasons (Denver, and then Kansas City again to Denver in 1997), I remember these upsets being shocking on the same level of a 1-8 upset in the NCAA Tournament. The team that dominated the regular season was gone, just like that.
We’ve kind of changed that perspective the last few years, haven’t we? A second-round upset is now kind of like a 5-12 game; it isn’t a matter of if it’s going to happen, but rather to whom. Home teams are just 5-7 the last three years in the second round, with three of the four falling a season ago. Prior to 2007, the NFC’s top seed had won 17 straight in the divisional round. It’s now on a two-game slide.
It’s in this second round that the NFL has more closely resembled Major League Baseball’s playoffs, with freakish upsets happening seemingly out of the blue. On paper, the Panthers were better than the Cardinals last year, the Cowboys better than the Giants before that, the Chargers better than the Patriots before that, the Colts better than the Steelers before that. But it’s been working out less and less frequently on the field, which is what has definitively made this the most intriguing weekend of the NFL season year in and year out these days. You have all the best teams playing in four games spread across two days.
The only hard thing about it is trying to predict what’s going to happen. Continue reading