During the playoffs, we often hear the popular refrain from players and coaches, "It's hard to win on the road." But is that really the case after watching Wild Card Weekend?
Three of the four home teams lost. No one thought -- including me -- Seattle, the only team to protect its home turf, had a chance of advancing. In fact, going into the weekend, all the road teams appeared to be stronger on paper and, barring a complete meltdown, they should win.
So as Meat Loaf once said, three out of four ain't bad. Or was that two out of three? Either way, you get the point.
Let's take a closer look at how Seattle pulled off the shocker and where the other home teams went wrong.
Seahawks imitate Saints
We might have seen a run for the ages Saturday. Marshawn Lynch showed the world why he was originally a first-round pick and why Seattle was right in giving up a fourth-round selection to acquire him from Buffalo. Lynch was amazing, showing the power and the stiff arm that made him so effective at California. He always has run with a sense of urgency and he saved the best for last on his 67-yard yard touchdown, which put the Saints away and ended any talk of a repeat champion.
The defending champs had a banged-up backfield, yet more costly than losing players was the inability to slow down Seattle's offense. The Saints are a scheme defense and if the tactics work like they did in Atlanta a few weeks ago, the unit looks great. If the schemes are a little off, the Saints get into a dial a defense game, which is what happened against the Seahawks.
All game, the Saints' pad level was high, the tackling was bad, and, when they had to defend a pass, they could not make a play against an offense that had no areas of strength. In the end, the Seahawks beat the Saints at their own game -- playing Canadian rules.
I love to watch the Saints, especially when coach Sean Payton is in his CFL mood, meaning calling plays to get first downs in just two downs. He is aggressive with each call, attacking the defense with every play. When this rhythm is flowing, the offensive tempo is fun to watch. However, on Saturday, the Seahawks adopted the same approach.
Seattle knows it is not a well-rounded offense -- nice way of saying the unit knows it stinks -- therefore the Seahawks must stay out of third and long. To meet this goal, the offense was aggressive with each first-down call, trying to get into a second-and-short situation. Instead of wasting a play on second and short, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates went into attack mode, hoping to get chunks of yards along with first downs.
Seattle only had 14 third downs in 13 possessions and this aggressive play-calling forced New Orleans to be on its heels all game and it could not gain control of the line of scrimmage.
Credit Seattle for playing at an up-tempo pace and beating New Orleans at its own game.
Colts lack line of defense
Let's face it, the Colts were not a good team all year. The secondary struggled to tackle and the offensive line lacked power. In fact, if Indianapolis did not have Peyton Manning, it might be picking at the top of the draft.
This is not to take anything away from the Jets, who battled all game and found their rhythm in the second half. Quarterback Mark Sanchez was erratic with his accuracy, as always, but when he made a few quality throws down the stretch, it allowed the Jets to dominate the game.
The Colts' biggest problem was the same issue that team president Bill Polian complained about after the Super Bowl XLIV loss -- the offensive line. The Colts failed to convert on third-and-1 four times in the game, which forced them to punt and kept the ball out of Manning's hands. Manning has consistently been forced to move around in the pocket, never getting comfortable or in a flow. Since the Colts lack speed at receiver, or the ability to separate against tight man coverage, Manning has had to hold the ball longer, which put pressure on the offensive line. Ultimately, the Colts' inability to control the line ended their season.
For the Jets, they head to New England for the deciding game in the best of three with the Patriots. Sanchez will have to prove he can handle the elements, because the burden of winning will be placed squarely on his shoulders.
Chiefs not playoff ready
The Chiefs had a great season, but they have much work to do before they become a viable playoff team. While they took a giant step forward, a kind schedule and some special teams errors from the Chargers allowed the Chiefs to win the AFC West.
Teams must be able to play different styles in the playoffs. One-dimensional teams never win and are always the first to leave the tourney. The Ravens took the Chiefs' running game away, made Dwayne Bowe non-existent and once the Chiefs ran out of "coach them up plays," they were done.
Baltimore gave Kansas City every chance to hang around, but the Chiefs just did not have enough talent or overall toughness to deal with the Ravens. Baltimore is mentally tough and might get knocked down a few times in the game -- Ray Lewis for sure -- but the Ravens always bounce back up and keep fighting, competing and playing hard. To beat the Ravens, a team must be mentally tough for 60 minutes.
Packers keep Eagles off guard
The Packers opened the playoffs the same way they opened the season, with a win in Philadelphia. Slowing down the Eagles' offense with Michael Vick at quarterback for an entire game proved to be a bigger challenge, but the Packers proved to be up to the task.
A big part of the victory can be attributed to a perfect day in the red zone. The Packers came away with three touchdowns in three trips inside the 20-yard line. They were also effective on third down, converting eight of 13 tries.
More than anything, the Packers made the Eagles work hard for every yard, not allowing the quick scores Vick and Co. became known for this season. The longer the drive, the more plays and chances for the offensive line to breakdown.
Green Bay started the game not blitzing, which caught Philadelphia off guard. When the Eagles are off guard, either offensively or defensively, they never seem to recover. Trailing 14-0, Philadelphia worked hard to get back in the game, but without being able to control the line of scrimmage or make a field goal, the Eagles failed to close the gap.
The two misses by David Akers go further. On the stat sheet, the Eagles appear to have won the turnover-takeaway column with a plus-one advantage. In reality, they were minus-one when you count the two missed field goals as turnovers. Those two misses were as costly as Vick's interception on the final drive.
Green Bay is an extremely dangerous team because it has a solid pass rush and a great quarterback. I wish they would not go into a four-corner offense in the fourth quarter and let Aaron Rodgers put the game away with his arm and accuracy. If the Packers stay aggressive and adopt the Saints' CFL approach, they might be in the Super Bowl.
» I know everyone loves Chiefs WR Dexter McCluster, but unless he can become a better all-around player within the offense, instead of needing to run a specific play for him, he won't have a great career. He must learn to pass protect or to run routes, because, right now, everyone knows he is a gadget player. â¦
» The Eagles must improve their offensive line this off season. Had Kevin Kolb kept his job, he would have never stayed healthy behind the unit. â¦
» The Eagles should be worried about Vick playing 16 games. He took a pounding this year and to think he can last is a little naive. And that might impact his overall contract talks moving forward. â¦
» The Saints must find a replacement for Jonathan Stinchcomb at right tackle. The longer the drive, the chances of Stinchcomb breaking down significantly increase. They have to improve in this spot. â¦
» I keep hearing that Hue Jackson is formulating his staff for Oakland and calling potential defensive coordinators. Does he think he will gain that much control? â¦
» The word on the street has not been positive about the changes in Denver's front office. Having John Elway back is great for public relations, but the Broncos will need someone to help him learn on the job. â¦
» The Ravens are slow at the skill positions on offense, which will bother them when they play the Steelers. Baltimore's best play is the check down to Ray Rice and let him make everyone miss. How good is Rice? â¦
» It's been reliably reported to me that Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and some of his staff would like to work their way from Miami to Dallas to join Jason Garrett. League rules prevent this from happening, but the power of persuasive talk might work. â¦
» Congratulations to my good friend Jim Harbaugh as he tries to restore the 49ers back to their glory days. There is no finer man or coach for this assignment, and I wish him all the luck in the world.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.