Are the Bears the team that went 13-3 with a nearly impenetrable defense or the team that was slapped around by Green Bay in their season finale? Are the Philadelphia Eagles this year’s hot commodity? They’ve won five straight under backup quarterback Jeff Garcia right when all seemed lost — or are they a mirage that will disappear under the pressure of playoff football?
What about the fading New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys? Both were once considered NFC title contenders only to end up at the bottom of the playoff ladder. The Giants lost six of their last eight, while Dallas lost its last three home games and ended its season with an embarrassing defeat to the toothless Detroit Lions.
In the AFC, will first-year starter Philip Rivers hold up at quarterback for the San Diego Chargers? San Diego owns the league’s best record (14-2) yet Rivers no longer seems to brim with confidence.
And these aren’t the only questions.
Can the Ravens score often enough? Can the Colts stop anyone? Can the upstart Jets upset the Patriots — when the Jets’ only win over a team with a winning record is against New England? And what do we make of the Chiefs, whose own coach wrote them off when the weekend began only to have to reverse his field when they landed in the postseason?
In the AFC, the Chiefs and Jets seem the true longshots except that Kansas City’s power running game that begins and ends with Larry Johnson seems like a stylistic nightmare for Indianapolis’ porous run defense. Johnson rushed a record 416 times this season, piling up 1,789 yards and a lot of tacklers. His presence should allow Kansas City to control the clock and minimize the opportunities Peyton Manning gets to drill their sometimes shaky defense. Manning would need to be as spectacular as he was during the Colts’ win over the Chiefs in the 2003 playoffs, but good luck with with a defense that has been lacerated in the past month by every running back it’s faced.
Then the Chiefs would face the Chargers knowing they are one of only two teams to have beaten them this season.
Bill Belichick is 5-0 in playoff games at home. That coupled with the Jets’ woes against winning teams would seem to be a boon for New England — but anything’s possible. Still, as long as Tom Brady and the New England defense are in one piece, assume New England and Kansas City advance to play Baltimore and San Diego, respectively. And expect more surprises.
Flaws abound in the NFC, which makes it a wide-open race.
ProFootballTalk: Patriots QB Tom Brady addressed Wes Welker’s decision to head West to Denver. Brady says he isn’t surprised by anything after being in the league for so long and hopes that Welker has a great season with the Broncos.
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