After an exciting finish to the regular season, the NFL’s second season has arrived.
“The only thing that matters is what we do now,” said Dallas head coach Jason Garrett, who led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC. “We’ve put ourselves in a great position. It’s time to get back to work.”
Week 17 came right down to the wire. Sunday’s excitement was due in part to having 16 divisional games played on the season’s final day, a tradition instituted in 2010. Two divisions (AFC West and NFC North) were decided on the last day of the regular season, including the NFC North in game No. 256 of 256 as Green Bay defeated Detroit to claim the division title.
“It’s a huge accomplishment to win the NFC North,” said Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. “Now we get a home game and can keep this playoff atmosphere and vibe that we’ve had for the past six weeks going. We didn’t want to limp into the playoffs. We finished strong. Now that we’re in the playoffs, it’s all about taking it to the next level.”
The NFL playoffs, which conclude on February 5 with Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas (FOX, 6:30 PM ET), begin this Saturday and Sunday with Wild Card Weekend.
“Playing in the postseason is a great tribute to the way we’ve played all season and found ways to win games,” said New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. “We’re excited about the opportunity to be in the playoffs and having a chance to win a championship.”
The Giants are one of six new teams in this year’s playoff field, joining Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Miami and Oakland.
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.
A look at the four games on Wild Card Weekend:
OAKLAND RAIDERS (12-4) at HOUSTON TEXANS (9-7)
This is the first postseason meeting between the two teams. Houston leads the all-time regular-season series 6-4. The Raiders defeated the Texans 27-20 in Week 11 (November 21, 2016) in a game played at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
Oakland has qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2002. That season, the Raiders won the AFC West with an 11-5 record and advanced to Super Bowl XXXVII.
Raiders Pro Bowl defensive end Khalil Mack was the only player in the NFL this season with at least 10 sacks (11) and an interception-return touchdown.
Houston has won the AFC South four times in the past six seasons (2011-12, 2015-16). The Texans have won their Wild Card playoff game in two of their previous three postseason appearances.
Texans Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had a career-high six sacks and 16 tackles for a loss, one off the NFL lead (17).
DETROIT LIONS (9-7) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (10-5-1)
This is the first postseason meeting between the two teams. Seattle leads the all-time regular-season series 8-5. The teams last met in Week 4 of 2015 (October 5) with the Seahawks winning 13-10 at home.
The Lions are in the playoffs for the second time in the past three seasons. It marks the first time Detroit has advanced to the postseason twice in a three-season span since 1997-99.
In two career postseason games, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has two 300-yard passing games and is averaging 351.5 yards per game.
The Seahawks have advanced to the postseason for the fifth consecutive year. During that span, Seattle has won three division titles and advanced to the Super Bowl twice, winning Super Bowl XLVIII.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is 4-0 in his postseason career at home. In home games played in December and January (regular and postseason), Wilson is 14-3 in his career.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (10-6) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (11-5)
The teams will meet in the postseason for the fourth time and first since January 6, 1985 when the Dolphins defeated the Steelers 45-28 in the AFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl XIX. Miami has won two of the three playoff matchups between the clubs. The all-time series (including the postseason) is tied 13-13. The Dolphins knocked off the Steelers 30-15 in Week 6 (October 16, 2016).
The Dolphins are making their first playoff appearance since 2008. Miami’s all-time postseason record is 20-20.
Miami running back Jay Ajayi ranked fourth in the NFL – and second in the AFC – with a career-high 1,272 rushing yards. He rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns in the Week 6 meeting against Pittsburgh, one of three 200-yard rushing games he recorded this year, tied for the second-most 200-yard games in a season in NFL history.
The Steelers, who are in the postseason for the third consecutive season, have won 34 playoff games, tied with Dallas for the most in NFL history.
Pittsburgh Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown ranked second in the NFL – and led the AFC – with 106 receptions. He joined Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison (1999-2002) as the only players in NFL history to record 100 catches in four consecutive seasons. Brown’s 481 catches since 2013 are the most in any four-year span.
NEW YORK GIANTS (11-5) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (10-6)
The teams will meet in the postseason for the eighth time and first since January 15, 2012 when the Giants defeated the Packers 37-20 in the Divisional Playoffs en route to winning Super Bowl XLVI.
New York has won the past two postseason meetings between the clubs and went on to win the Super Bowl in each of those seasons (2007 and 2011). The Packers lead the all-time series (including the postseason) 32-26-2, including a 23-16 home victory over the Giants in Week 5 (October 9, 2016).
The Giants are in the postseason for the first time since 2011 when the team won Super Bowl XLVI.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning is 8-1 in his past nine postseason starts, including a perfect 2-0 record at Green Bay. Manning is one of five players in NFL history to be named Super Bowl MVP multiple times.
The Packers have advanced to the postseason for the eighth consecutive season, tied with New England for the longest active streak. Green Bay enters the playoffs having won six consecutive games to close out the regular season.
Packers Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes and became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 40 touchdown passes in multiple seasons. Rodgers closed out the season with 15 touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 121.0 passer rating during the team’s six-game winning streak.
In other NFL news . . .
Cleveland Browns hold first pick in 2017 NFL Draft
A disastrous season can have its rewards, as the Cleveland Browns' one-win effort this year led to the franchise receiving the number one pick of the 2017 National Football League Draft. The Draft will be held on April 27-29 in Philadelphia.
The draft order is determined by the following procedures:
(A) The Super Bowl champion will select last and the loser of the Super Bowl next-to-last in all rounds, regardless of the record of such participating clubs in the regular season.
(B) The losers of the Conference Championship games shall select 29th and 30th in all rounds, according to the reverse order of their standing.
(C) The losers of the Divisional playoff games shall select in the 25th through 28th positions in all rounds, according to the reverse order of their standing.
(D) The losers of the Wild Card games shall select in the 21st through 24th positions in all rounds, according to the reverse order of their standing.
(E) Clubs not participating in the playoffs shall select in the first through 20th positions in all rounds, according to the reverse order of their standing.
Indianapolis and Minnesota have the same strength-of-schedule, and neither the divisional nor the conference tie-break applies; therefore, the tie for the 14th and 15th positions will be determined by a coin flip.
Cowboys roll into postseason on all cylinders
The Dallas Cowboys (13-3) wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the first time since 2007.
The Cowboys won the NFC East division title for the second time in the past three seasons, and ranked first in the NFL in rush defense, allowing 83.5 yards per game. The team also won 11 consecutive games from Weeks 2-13, tied for the longest winning streak in franchise history.
“It is a whole new season now,” said rookie quarterback Dak Prescott of advancing to the postseason after finishing with the top record in the NFC. “Everything you do from this point on is really how you get looked at at the end of the year. So that is important to us, looking forward and playing a long time in this postseason.”
Prescott finished the regular season with a 104.9 passer rating and surpassed RG3 (102.4 in 2012) for the highest single-season passer rating by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.
Prescott completed 311 of 459 passes (67.8 percent) for 3,667 yards with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions this season. His 0.9 interception percentage is the lowest by a rookie quarterback in NFL history (minimum 200 passing attempts).
Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott leads the league with 1,631 rushing yards. Elliott, who has the third-highest rushing total by a rookie in NFL history, would be the fifth rookie since 1970 to lead the league in rushing yards.
Elliott had 1,994 scrimmage yards (1,631 rushing, 363 receiving) this season, the third-highest total by a rookie in NFL history.
Dallas became the only team in NFL history to have a rookie pass for 20 touchdowns (Prescott, 23) and a rookie rush for 15 touchdowns (Elliott, 15) in the same season.
NFL Announces Rookies of the Month
Running back Jordan Howard of the Chicago Bears and defensive end Joey Bosa of the San Diego Chargers are the NFL Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Month for December.
NFL announces AFC and NFC Players of the Month
Running back Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers, safety Quintin Demps of the Houston Texans, and wide receiver-return specialist Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs are the AFC Offensive, Defensive, and Special Teams Players of the Month for December.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. of the Atlanta Falcons, and punter Johnny Hekker of the Los Angeles Rams are the NFC Offensive, Defensive, and Special Teams Players of the Month for December.
NFL announces its Players of the Week
Wide receiver Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots, retiring defensive end Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts, and wide receiver-return specialist Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs are the AFC Offensive, Defensive and Special Teams Players of the Week for games played the 17th week of the 2016 season (January 1).
Quarterback Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of the New York Giants, and punter Bryan Anger of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the NFC Offensive, Defensive and Special Teams Players of the Week for games played the 17th week of the 2016 season (January 1).
NFL Hall of Fame 2017 finalists announced
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017 will be announced during NFL Honors the night before Super Bowl LI on Saturday, February 4, at 8:00 PM ET on FOX.
The entire list of 15 modern-era finalists is:
Morten Andersen – Kicker
Tony Boselli – Offensive Tackle
Isaac Bruce – Wide Receiver
Don Coryell – Coach
Terrell Davis – Running Back
Brian Dawkins – Safety
Alan Faneca – Guard
Joe Jacoby – Offensive Tackle
Ty Law – Cornerback
John Lynch – Safety
Kevin Mawae – Center/Guard
Terrell Owens – Wide Receiver
Jason Taylor – Defensive End
LaDainian Tomlinson – Running Back
Kurt Warner – Quarterback
By Staff of TheDailySportsHerald.com and news services