The NFL Divisional Playoffs did not disappoint one bit. Two home teams came in rested and ready, and were victorious. Two road warriors trying to climb their way to the Super Bowl kept their dreams alive with wins.
In the four divisional playoff games, there were 232 points scored -- an average of 29 per game. If you like a lot of scoring, this was an entertaining weekend. Last year in the divisional playoffs, there were 150 points scored, or just under 19 per game.
Here are six storylines from the weekend:
1. One puzzling drive
I'm not inclined to question coaching decisions, knowing that there are often circumstances we on the outside just don't have enough information about to criticize. However, one drive in the fourth quarter of the Jets-Patriots game was puzzling, and I wonder if Tom Brady was feeling sick, or the Jets' defense was presenting so many problems.
New England was trailing 21-11 and started a drive at the 12:55 mark. The Patriots huddled up after every play, even though Brady is a master of the no-huddle, up-tempo attack. The Patriots ran the ball seven times in the 14-play drive for 28 yards, and those seven run plays used up close to five minutes of precious fourth-quarter time. There were seven pass plays with just three completions for 25 yards -- with the longest completion being 9 yards -- and a sack. The Patriots came away with no points in that drive and left themselves short on time as the game wound down. It just didn't look like a classic Brady drive.
Later on with time running down, Brady went to his no-huddle offense and moved the ball right down the field for a touchdown. In fact, after that strange time-consuming drive that led to nothing on the scoreboard, Brady employed eight no-huddle pass plays that wound up in 11 points as Brady went 6-for-8 for 66 yards.
2. Could we see a 3-4 Super Bowl?
The 3-4 offers more flexibility with all of the speed sets and empty formations, and it does set up well to pressure the quarterback. The three teams in the 3-4 defense that advanced to this point in the season all sacked the opposing quarterbacks five times apiece in the divisional playoffs, or once every eight pass attempts. As Bill Cowher said to me as the divisional games were coming to an end on Sunday, "(The Steelers') Dick LeBeau and (the Packers') Dom Capers were both my defensive coordinators (in Pittsburgh), and they really know how to pressure quarterbacks."
More teams will be heading to the 3-4 if these tendencies continue to surface during the rest of the playoffs.
3. Rodgers moves into 'elite' status
I am not one to rush into speaking of emerging players in terms of being "elite," but it is time to start talking about Aaron Rodgers in those terms. His performance against the Falcons was almost flawless, completing 31 of 36 passes for three touchdowns on the road. Rodgers' throwing mechanics are so good, his field vision is superior to most quarterbacks and his velocity on the ball -- and more importantly accuracy -- put him in the top four quarterbacks in the NFL.
Right now, I think Rodgers is the best quarterback left in the playoffs. His ability to escape the pass rush and running skills make him even more dangerous. In two playoff games -- both on the road -- he has completed 78 percent of his passes for 546 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. His two best receivers are Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, yet they have not yet caught a touchdown pass in this postseason. Rodgers is an equal-distribution passer, and if defenses want to try and take his best receivers away, then he just goes to Jordy Nelson, James Jones or the tight ends and running backs.
The Packers never even punted against the Falcons on Saturday. In his last 10 games, Rodgers has thrown 22 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He has also run for 246 yards, two touchdowns and 14 first downs. Even the great Brady and Peyton Manning can't get that kind of production out of their legs.
4. Young, speedy WRs impressive
The Steelers really dug themselves into a deep hole against the Ravens and, as expected, Pittsburgh came out for the second half and played dominating defense, forcing turnovers and shut down Baltimore. What jumped out most, besides the defense and a few controversial calls, was the speed and talent of the Steelers' young wide receivers. Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are all fast and coming on even faster. Wallace is a second-year player who already is an alternate for the Pro Bowl, which is impressive for a third-round pick. Sanders is a 2010 third-round pick, and Brown was a sixth-round selection.
In the past two years, the Steelers have really upgraded their receiver position without signing a veteran or using a first- or second-round pick (Limas Sweed -- currently on injured reserve -- was a second-round pick in 2008), which is a tribute to Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations. Wallace, Sanders and Brown combined for 10 receptions and 149 yards against the Ravens, and they will need to deliver again when the Jets come to town. In the two teams' Week 15 meeting, those three receivers grabbed 16 passes for 195 yards.
5. Another big-name QB falls
I have to hand it to the Jets under the leadership of coach Rex Ryan. His team beat Brady in Foxborough, Mass., for the first time in his two years as Jets coach. Brady had averaged 318 yards and two to three touchdowns against the Jets at Gillette Stadium, but that meant nothing even though Brady finished near those numbers in Sunday's loss. Brady joins Manning as two of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, but also suffer defeats against the Jets in back-to-back weeks in their own stadium. The Jets did a masterful job of blending three-man rush calls with four-man rushes and five-man pressure calls to keep both quarterbacks uneasy in the pocket.
Now, Ben Roethlisberger gets another chance to attempt to solve the Jets' defense, something the Steelers QB came up short on back in December. As for Jets QB Mark Sanchez, he has never played a home playoff game, but has four victories. He has now gone head-to-head and won against Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Manning, and Brady.
6. Just get in ... who knows what can happen?
Last year, the No. 1 seeds in both conferences advanced to the Super Bowl. The Colts (14-2) and the Saints (13-3) were supposed to make it to the Super Bowl; they were the two best teams all season long. Well, this year is shaping up as an anyone's-guess playoffs. Divisional weekend knocked both No. 1 seeds right out of the playoffs. Fans are now left with two No. 6 seeds (Jets and Packers), and those two teams face teams in the conference championships that they already defeated this year in No. 2-seeded Pittsburgh and Chicago, respectively.
So, it really doesn't matter how you got to the playoffs and it's never been more true that anything can happen if you just get in the tournament.