Homefield-advantage is nice. A top-shelf quarterback is better.
Around The League recently ranked every starting NFL quarterback based on their 2013 performance. Seven of our top eight quarterbacks are still alive. (Aaron Rodgers wasn't eligible because he missed too much time.)
Professional football is such a complicated game, but the better quarterback ultimately won three of the four games over the weekend. The only exception was the weekend's final game, with San Francisco edging Rodgers' Packers. Colin Kaepernick was outstanding in the game, and he has a far better defense on his side. The 49ers still only won by three points, showing how difficult it is to take out the best signal-callers.
Here's what else we learned Sunday and throughout Wild Card Weekend:
1. The Packers played one of their best games of the season, even in a losing effort. The defense held up relatively well considering they lost two more starters in the first quarter.
2. Sunday's performance continues Kaepernick's strong play to end the season. He has 11 touchdown passes and two interceptions since Week 11. He's making better decisions for when to run and gaining more first downs on the ground. He's also making the right call for when to stay in the pocket.
3. Crabtree is such a difference-maker. He completely changes the 49ers' offense and has surprisingly nifty moves for a guy coming off a torn Achilles tendon. After eight catches and 125 yards Sunday, it's clear he's back to being a No. 1 receiver. Jim Harbaugh repeated his oft-made declaration that Crabtree has the best hands he's ever seen.
4. The Panthers have to be frustrated with this weekend's results. If Philadelphia had won, the Panthers would have only had to beat the Eagles to get to the NFC title game. (And then possibly host that game if Seattle was upset.) Now, Carolina has to beat San Francisco, then potentially go to Seattle. Good luck with that.
5. The Packers have a very difficult decision with defensive coordinator Dom Capers. He's a great coach, but might not fit with Green Bay's young defensive talent. There is too much confusion going on annually with the Packers.
6. It's amazing that the Chargers won convincingly and needed Philip Rivers to throw just 18 passes. The Bengals had 326 yards passing, while the Chargers had just 122. San Diego is winning with its running game, timely Rivers passes and a suddenly strong defense. Speaking of which:
7. The Chargers' defense was among the worst groups in the league for most of the season. But they are giving up only 16 points per game the last six weeks. They are getting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks thanks to defensive coordinator John Pagano's creative blitzes.
8. All four games were close this weekend. The Chargers wound up pulling away from Cincinnati, but San Diego trailed at halftime. It was a one-score game in the fourth quarter. This has been a season of razor-sharp finishes, and this weekend was no exception.
9. The Chargers-Bengals game stats were misleading, just like Andy Dalton's season stats are misleading. He crashes and burns too often to be trusted, disappearing for games at a time. A quarterback with so many limitations has to make up for it with accuracy and smarts. But Dalton's decision-making is among his worst traits, and his accuracy comes and goes.