11 teams will fight for the right to hold the Lombardi Trophy, while one team (Seattle) hopes to retain the trophy and perhaps add another one to its collection.

It’s the 2014 playoffs. It’s what 32 teams have fought and sweated through training camps in August, a 16-game schedule and now the playoffs with one small differnce.

Win and you and advance.

Lose and your next game is in 2015.

Many close games and great comeback victories…new teams making the playoffs and winning divisions…consistent teams excelling once again…records falling…young players making their mark…and so much more.

The 2014 season really did have it all, including a fantastic finish.

Week 17 came right down to the wire as 10 of the 16 games scheduled for the final day of the regular season had playoff implications. Sunday’s excitement was due in part to having 16 divisional games played on the season’s final day, a tradition instituted in 2010.

Each of the 12 teams still in Super Bowl XLIX contention can look back at the wild ride that was the 2014 regular season and appreciate how challenging the road to the playoffs was.

Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before. Five teams – Dallas (12-4), Arizona (11-5), Detroit (11-5), Pittsburgh (11-5) and Baltimore (10-6) – accomplished the feat this year.

“It is rewarding to have earned a playoff spot,” says Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who became the seventh coach in NFL history to win at least eight games in each of his first eight seasons and the fourth to do so with one franchise. “We know that this is just the beginning and there is a lot of work and preparation ahead of us.”

The 2014 season also proved that consistency is difficult but not impossible, to maintain in the NFL as New England won their sixth consecutive AFC East division title (2009-present), tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history. The Patriots, who also won five consecutive division titles from 2003-2007, became the first team in NFL history to win 11 division championships in a 12-year span. Bill Belichick (230 wins) also surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer Curly Lambeau (229) for the fourth-most total victories by a head coach in NFL history.

Denver defeated Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego on the road this season and have won 12 consecutive divisional road games (2011-14), tying San Francisco (12 from 1987-90) for the longest such streak in NFL history. The Broncos have not lost to an AFC West opponent on the road since December 19, 2010 (39-23 loss at Oakland).

The Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) secured their franchise-record fourth consecutive playoff berth and head coach Marvin Lewis earned his 100th career victory. Lewis now has a 100-90-2 (.526) career record in 12 seasons.

Two of the winningest quarterbacks in league history – Tom Brady of New England (12-4) and Peyton Manning of Denver (12-4) – led their teams to the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the AFC. Brady (12th division title) and Manning (11th) rank first and second, respectively, for the most division titles won among starting QBs in NFL history. Manning (179-77) also joined Brady (160-47) as the only starting quarterbacks in NFL history to be at least 100 regular-season wins above the .500 mark.

One of the NFL’s most significant passing records fell in 2014. Peyton Manning (530) surpassed Brett Farve (508) for the most touchdown passes in NFL history. Manning (5,927 completions, 69,691 yards) trails only Favre (6,300 completions; 71,838 yards) in those two major career passing categories.

Quarterback play around the league proved to be reliable in 2014, as 16 teams started the same quarterback in every game, tied for the fourth-most in a season in the Super Bowl era. Over the past three seasons, 53 teams (20 in 2012; 17 in 2013; 16 in 2014) have started the same quarterback in every game, which is the most ever in any three-season span.

The NFL is never short on surprises and that leads to the excitement we witnessed in 2014:

SCORING
· Nine teams scored at least 400 points this season – Green Bay (486), Denver (482), Philadelphia (474), New England (468), Dallas (467), Indianapolis (458), Pittsburgh (436), Baltimore (409) and New Orleans (401) – tying the 2009 and 2012 seasons for the second-most all-time. Those nine teams combined for a .674 winning percentage, and seven qualified for the playoffs.

COMPELLING COMPETITION

· Five teams that missed the postseason in 2013 – Dallas (12-4), Arizona (11-5), Detroit (11-5), Pittsburgh (11-5) and Baltimore (10-6) – advanced to the 2014 playoffs. 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.

· Four NFL teams – New Orleans (411.4), Pittsburgh (411.1), Indianapolis (406.6) and Denver (402.9) – averaged more than 400 total yards per game, the most of any season in NFL history.

· Since realignment in 2002, Carolina (7-8-1) is the first NFC South team to win a division title in back-to-back seasons.

· The Dallas Cowboys finished the regular season 8-0 on the road and became the sixth team with a perfect 8-0 road record since the 16-game schedule was adopted in 1978. Four of the previous five teams to accomplish the feat advanced to the Super Bowl.

·  The 2014 season featured an average game time of 3:05:53, the shortest average game time since 2010 (3:03:30). It is also the first time the average game time has declined from the previous season since 2008.

· Games continued to have a flare for the dramatic, as comebacks were a frequent theme and if you like comebacks, 2014 was your year.

In 2014, there were five comeback victories of 21+ points, the most in a single season in NFL history.

The most comeback wins of 21+ points in a single season in NFL history:

SEASON – 21+ POINT COMEBACK WINS
2014 – 5
2013 – 4
2011 – 4
1999 – 4

There were also 43 comeback wins of 10+ points, tied for the most in a season in NFL history (43 in 2013).

The most comeback wins of 10+ points in NFL history:
SEASON – 10+ POINT COMEBACK WINS
2014 – 43
2013 – 43
2011 – 41
2002 – 40
2012 – 38

PASSING

· NFL QBs put together a historically proficient and prolific year in 2014.

The league-wide completion percentage (62.6), league-wide passer rating (88.9) and league-wide touchdown pass totals (807) were at historic levels, topping the previous records set in 2013 (61.2 completion percentage; 86.0 passer rating; 804 TD passes).

The league-wide interception percentage of 2.52 percent was the lowest of any season in NFL history, surpassing the previous mark of 2.63 in 2012.

· Games averaged 696.2 total net yards per game, the second-best mark in NFL annals (697.0 in 2013). Explosive passing offenses fueled that trend, with an average of 473.6 net passing yards per game, an all-time high (471.2 in 2013).

The league-wide yards per attempt average of 7.21 was the highest in the Super Bowl era, topping the previous high of 7.20 yards per attempt in 2011.

· There were 58 individual performances with three touchdown passes without an interception in 2014, the most of any season in NFL history (55 in 2013).

· There were nine individual games with five or more TD passes this season, the second-most in a single season in NFL history (11 in 2004).

· An NFL-record nine quarterbacks had 30+ touchdown passes – Andrew Luck (40), Peyton Manning (39), Aaron Rodgers (38), Tony Romo (34), Tom Brady (33), Drew Brees (33), Ben Roethlisberger (32), Philip Rivers (31) and Eli Manning (30) – surpassing the previous high of five (2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013).

· Drew Brees and Tom Brady both climbed higher on the all-time list for career passing yards and extended their career touchdowns total. Brees now ranks fourth in both yards (56,033) and TD passes (396). Brady is now fifth in both passing yards (53,258) and TDs (392).

Brees has passed for at least 30 touchdowns in seven consecutive seasons, extending his NFL-record streak.

· Ben Roethlisberger became the first player in NFL history with six touchdown passes in back-to-back games (Weeks 8-9), joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Y.A. Tittle (1962) as the only players with multiple six-touchdown games in one season.

· Aaron Rodgers finished the season with a 112.2 passer rating and is the only player in NFL history to register a 100+ rating in six consecutive seasons (2009-14).

· Andrew Luck (4,761 in 2014; 4,374 in 2012) joined Peyton Manning and Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino as the only players in NFL history to pass for at least 4,000 yards in two of their first three seasons.

Luck now has 12,957 career passing yards, eclipsing Manning (12,287) for the most in a player’s first three seasons in NFL history.

· Seattle’s Russell Wilson now has 36 career regular-season wins and 22 home victories, the most in the Super Bowl era in a quarterback’s first three seasons. Wilson passed Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino (33) and Matt Ryan (33) in wins and Ryan (20) in home victories.

RUSHING & RECEIVING

· Several running backs enjoyed historic seasons in 2014. Dallas’ De Marco Murray finished the season with an NFL-best 1,845 rushing yards. Murray had 12 100-yard rushing games, the second-most 100-yard rushing games in a season in NFL history. Murray passed Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith (11 100-yard games and 1,773 rushing yards in 1995) in both categories to set single-season franchise records.

Murray also became the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 100 yards in each of his team’s first eight games to start a season.

· Pittsburgh’s Le’ Veon Bell amassed 2,215 scrimmage yards (1,361 rushing, 854 receiving), the most in franchise history. From Weeks 11-14 (Pittsburgh had a Week 12 bye), Bell had at least 200 scrimmage yards, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Walter Payton (1977) as the only players in NFL history with at least 200 scrimmage yards in three consecutive games.

· Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy rushed for 1,139 yards and scored 13 scrimmage touchdowns, becoming the first player in franchise history to rush for at least 1,000 yards and score 10+ scrimmage touchdowns in each of his first two seasons.

· Cincinnati rookie running back Jeremy Hill led all rookies with 1,124 rushing yards. Hill had four 140-yard performances, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Erick Dickerson (five in 1983) and Curtin Martin (four in 1995) as the third rookie with at least four 140-yard rushing games.

· Five players registered at least 100 receptions in 2014 – Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown (129), Denver’s Demaryius Thomas (111), Atlanta’s Julio Jones (104), Chicago’s Matt Forte (102) and Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders (101).

Brown’s 129 receptions are the second-most in a season in NFL history. It is the first time a Steeler has led the NFL in receptions in a season.

Brown also became the fourth player in NFL history with consecutive 110-catch seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (1994-95) and Cris Carter (1994-95) and Wes Welker (2007-09, 2011-12).

· Four players recorded at least 1,500 receiving yards in 2014 – Antonio Brown (1,698), Demaryius Thomas (1,619), Julio Jones (1,593) and Jordy Nelson (1,519) – tied for the most in a season (1995).

· Detroit’s Calvin Johnson has 44 career 100-yard receiving games, the second-most in a player’s first eight NFL seasons. The only player with more? Randy Moss with 45.

Johnson, who has 10,405 career receiving yards, is one of 44 players in NFL history to reach 10,000. Johnson reached the milestone in his 115th game (Week 13), surpassing TORRY HOLT (116 games) as the fastest player in NFL history to reach 10,000 receiving yards.

Also in Week 13, Johnson caught 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the Lions’ 34-17 win over Chicago on Thanksgiving Day. Johnson has eight career touchdown receptions on Thanksgiving, surpassing CLOYCE BOX (seven) for the most TD catches on the holiday.

· Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne(1,070) surpassed Isaac Bruce (1,024) for seventh place on the all-time receptions list.

· Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson recorded his 1,000th career catch in Week 16, becoming the 10th player in NFL history to reach 1,000. Johnson finished the season with 85 receptions and now has 1,012 career catches, surpassing HINES WARD (1,000) for No. 9 on the all-time receptions list.

· Anquan Boldin of the 49ers had 83 receptions this season, the 12th straight season he has caught 50+ passes since entering the league in 2003. Boldin’s streak is the most consecutive seasons with 50+ receptions to begin a career.

Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (63 receptions) had more than 50 catches for the 11th consecutive season, tied for the second-longest such streak.

· Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys led the NFL with 16 touchdown receptions. He is the first Cowboy to lead the league in TD catches since Terrell Owens (13) in 2006.

·  Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson (1,519 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Randall Cobb(1,287 yards, 12 touchdowns) became just the third set of teammates with at least 1,200 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns each in the same season, joining Minnesota’s Cris Carter and Randy Moss in 1999 and Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in 2013.

· Three rookie wide receivers posted at least 1,000 receiving yards – the New York Giants’ Odell Beckham, Jr. (1,305), Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans (1,051) and Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin (1,008) –the most rookies to reach the milestone of any season in NFL history.

Beckham and Evans each had 12 touchdown receptions, the first time two rookie wide receivers have had at least 10 TD catches in the same season.

· Odell Beckham, Jr. had 91 receptions for 1,305 yards with 12 touchdowns in 12 games this season. Beckham surpassed Reggie Bush (73 receptions with New Orleans in 2006) for the most receptions and Billy Howton (1,231 with Green Bay in 1952) for the most receiving yards in NFL history for a player in his first 12 career games.

· Chicago’s Matt Forte set the NFL single-season record for catches by a running back (102).

· Jason Witten (10,502) of the Dallas Cowboys and Antonio Gates (10,014) of the San Diego Chargers became the third and fourth tight ends in NFL history with 10,000 career receiving yards, joining Tony Gonzalez (15,127) and Pro Football Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe (10,060).

· San Diego’s Antonio Gates (12) and New England’s Rob Gronkowski (12) became the first tight ends in NFL history with 10 or more touchdown receptions in four different seasons, surpassing Tony Gonzalez, who had three such seasons.

VERSATILE PERFORMANCES

· The league-wide kickoff return average of 23.8 yards was tied for the best in NFL history (23.8 in 2011).

· Atlanta’s Devin Hester now has 20 return touchdowns in his career, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders (19) for the most in NFL history.

· The Philadelphia Eagles scored 11 return touchdowns (three blocked punts, two kick returns, two punt returns, two interception returns and two fumble returns) this season, the third-highest total in NFL history. Ten different Eagles scored a return touchdown, the most in a single season all-time.

Philadelphia’s Chris Polk (102 yards, Week 3) and rookie Josh Huff (107 yards, Week 12) both had 100+ yard kickoff-return touchdowns in 2014, making Philadelphia the first team since the 1970 Green Bay Packers to have multiple players with a 100+ yard kickoff-return touchdown in a season.

· Indianapolis’ Adam Vinatieri (2,146) surpassed John Carney (2,062) for fourth place on the all-time scoring list. With 140 points this season, Vinatieri became the only player in NFL history to score 100+ points in 17 different seasons

Vinatieri (478) also moved passed Matt Stover (471) and tied Carney (478) for the fourth-most field goals made in NFL history.

· Philadelphia kicker Cody Parkey scored 150 points, setting the NFL record for points scored by a rookie.

· Houston defensive end J.J. Watt once again made his presence felt on defense – 20.5 sacks, 10 passes defensed, four forced fumbles, an interception-return touchdown, a fumble recovery-touchdown and a safety – and contributed on offense as well, catching three touchdowns in 2014. Watt became the first player in NFL history with at least three offensive touchdowns, two touchdowns on takeaways and a safety in the same season.

DEFENSE

·  With all that offense, defenses were heard from as well. The top three NFL teams in total defense all qualified for the playoffs and won at least 11 games each – Seattle (267.1), Detroit (300.9) and Denver (305.2). Those three clubs had a combined win percentage of .729.

· The Seattle Seahawks (15.9 points per game) led the NFL in fewest points allowed for the third consecutive season – the first team to lead the league in scoring defense in three straight seasons since Minnesota in 1969-71.

· The St. Louis Rams recorded back-to-back shutout wins (Week 13, 52-0 vs. Oakland; Week 14, 24-0 at Washington) for the first time since 1945 (September 30 and October 7). St. Louis is the first team to post consecutive shutout victories since 2009 (Dallas, December 27 and January 3).

· Justin Houston (22 sacks) of Kansas City became the first Chiefs player to lead the NFL in sacks since JARED ALLEN (15.5) in 2007.

· J.J. Watt recorded 20.5 sacks this season, becoming the first player in NFL history with multiple 20-sack seasons. Watt also had 20.5 sacks in 2012.

Since entering the NFL in 2011, Watt has 57 career sacks, surpassing De Marcus Ware (53.5, 2005-08) for the third-most sacks in a player’s first four seasons since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.

· Seattle’s Richard Sherman recorded four interceptions this season, bringing his career total to 24, tied for the third-most interceptions in a player’s first four seasons since

· Charles Woodson (60) surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Thomas (58) for 11th place on the all-time interceptions list. Woodson also recorded his 20th-career sack and is the only NFL player with at least 20 sacks (20) and 50+ interceptions since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.

The first rounds is Saturday and Sunday and the third seeded teams in the NFC and AFC host the sixth seeded teams, while the fourth seeds host the fifth seeds. The first and second seeds? They get a week off to rest up, heal up and prepare and they wait the winners of those first round games.

It’s football’s answer to musical chairs. As long as the music plays, everyone’s got a chair. It’s when the music stops that there’s chaos.

After an exciting finish to the regular season, the NFL’s second season has arrived.

“The message is pretty much the same for everybody,” says New England head coach Bill Belichick about playing the postseason. He told the Boston Globe and the Christian Scientist Monitor, “We all know that this is single elimination and you put everything you have into it. There’s nothing to save it for, nothing to hold back. You compete with all you’ve got. I think that’s true for everybody. This should be the best we all have.”

Week 17 came right down to the wire as 10 of the 16 games played on the final day of the regular season had playoff implications. Sunday’s excitement was due in part to having 16 divisional games played on the season’s final day, a tradition instituted in 2010. And four divisions were decided on the last day of the regular season, including the AFC North in game Number 256 of 256 as Pittsburgh defeated Cincinnati.

“We’re excited about getting to where we are,” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson told KING-TV about the team winning the NFC West and clinching the No. 1 seed in the conference. “The first goal that we had was winning the NFC West and getting to the playoffs and we were able to do that. It’s definitely exciting going into the playoffs.”

The final 12 teams are now set. It doesn’t matter how you got here. All that matters is that you’re here.

“Now everybody is 0-0,” says Arizona Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson. “It is a fresh season. We can’t wait to start this postseason,” he told the Arizona Republic.

The NFL playoffs, which conclude on February 1 with Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium, begin this Saturday and Sunday with Wild Card Weekend.

“We’re excited about being in the playoffs,” says Dallas head coach Jason Garrett. “This is what we worked for. Winning the division is the first goal and now we’ve got the opportunity to play in the playoffs. Now it’s time to take advantage of it.”

The Cowboys are one of five new teams in this year’s playoff field, joining Arizona, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before.

With regard to this year’s playoff opponents…

Seattle, who defeated St. Louis 20-6, won the NFC West and clinched home-field  advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Green Bay , who defeated Detroit 30-20, won the NFC North, earned a first-round bye and secured the Number 2 seed. Dallas, winners at Washington 44-17, are the NFC East champions and the Number 3 seed, while Carolina won 34-3 at Atlanta to lock up the NFC South in a win-and-in contest and are the Number seed.

Arizona wound up being the Number 5 seed and Detroit picked up the number six seed. This weekend in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs, Arizona will visit Carolina and Dallas will host Detroit.

New England clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs in Week 16. Denver, who defeated Oakland 47-14, secured the Number 2 seed and a first-round bye.

· Five teams that missed the postseason in 2013 – Dallas (12-4), Arizona (11-5), Detroit (11-5), Pittsburgh (10-5) and Baltimore (10-6) – advanced to the 2014 playoffs. 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.

· Nine different quarterbacks threw at least 30 touchdown passes, the most ever in a season. The previous mark was five set multiple times.

The nine quarterbacks with at least 30 touchdown passes this season: Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck (40), Denver’s Peyton Manning (39), Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (38), Dallas’ Tony Romo (34), New England’s Tom Brady (33), New Orleans’ Drew Brees (33), San Diego’s Philip Rivers (31), the New York Giants’ Eli Manning (30) and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (30).

· Dallas defeated the Redskins 44-17 at Washington. The Cowboys finished the regular season 8-0 on the road and are the sixth team with a perfect 8-0 road record since the 16-game schedule was adopted in 1978. Four of the previous five teams to accomplish the feat advanced to the Super Bowl.

Dallas running back De Marco Murray rushed for 100 yards – his 12th 100-yard game – and finished the season with 1,845 rushing yards. Murray passed Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith (11 games and 1,773 yards) in both categories to set single-season franchise records.

Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant had two touchdown catches and finished the season with 16 receiving touchdowns, passing Terrell Owens (15) for the most in a season in team history.

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo finished the season with a 113.2 passer rating, the highest in a season in club history.

· Houston defensive end J.J. Watt had three sacks and a safety in the Texans’ 23-17 win against Jacksonville, finishing the season with 20.5 sacks. Watt, who led the league with 20.5 sacks in 2012, is the first player with at least 20 sacks in two different seasons since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.

Watt is the first player in NFL history with at least three offensive touchdowns, two touchdowns on takeaways and a safety in the same season.

· Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a 139.6 passer rating in the Packers’ 30-20 win over Detroit. Rodgers finished the season with a 112.2 passer rating and is the only player in NFL history to register a 100+ rating in six consecutive seasons.

· Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck had two touchdown passes in the Colts’ 27-10 win at Tennessee. Luck led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes in 2014 and is the eighth player in NFL history with at least 40 TD passes in a season.

Since entering the NFL in 2012, Luck has 12,957 passing yards, the most of any NFL player in his first three seasons and 86 TD passes, which ranks second only to Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino (98) for the most in a player’s first three years.

UNPREDICTABLE NFL: 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.

Five teams – Dallas (12-4, NFC East champions), Pittsburgh (11-5, AFC North champions), Arizona (11-5, Wild Card), Detroit (11-5, Wild Card) and Baltimore (10-6, Wild Card) – accomplished the feat this season.

The teams since 1990 to make the playoffs a season after failing to qualify:

SEASON – PLAYOFF TEAMS NOT IN PREVIOUS SEASON’S PLAYOFFS
1990 – 7 (Cincinnati, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles Raiders, Miami, New Orleans, Washington)
1991 – 5 (Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, New York Jets)
1992 – 6 (Miami, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco)
1993 – 5 (Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, Los Angeles Raiders, New York Giants)
1994 – 5 (Chicago, Cleveland, Miami, New England, San Diego)
1995 – 4 (Atlanta, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Philadelphia)
1996 – 5 (Carolina, Denver, Jacksonville, Minnesota, New England)
1997 – 5 (Detroit, Kansas City, Miami, New York Giants, Tampa Bay)
1998 – 5 (Arizona, Atlanta, Buffalo, Dallas, New York Jets)
1999 – 7 (Detroit, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Washington)
2000 – 6 (Baltimore, Denver, New Orleans, New York Giants, Oakland, Philadelphia)
2001 – 6 (Chicago, Green Bay, New England, New York Jets, Pittsburgh, San Francisco)
2002 – 5 (Atlanta, Cleveland, Indianapolis, New York Giants, Tennessee)
2003 – 8 (Baltimore, Carolina, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, New England, St. Louis, Seattle)
2004 – 5 (Atlanta, Minnesota, New York Jets, Pittsburgh, San Diego)
2005 – 7 (Carolina, Chicago, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, New York Giants, Tampa Bay, Washington)
2006 – 7 (Baltimore, Dallas, Kansas City, New Orleans, New York Jets, Philadelphia, San Diego)
2007 – 6 (Green Bay, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Washington)
2008 – 7 (Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Miami, Minnesota, Philadelphia)
2009 – 6 (Cincinnati, Dallas, Green Bay, New England, New Orleans, New York Jets)
2010 – 5 (Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Seattle)
2011 – 6 (Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Houston, New York Giants, San Francisco)
2012 – 4 (Indianapolis, Minnesota, Seattle, Washington)
2013 – 5 (Carolina, Kansas City, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Diego)
2014 – 5 (Arizona, Dallas, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Baltimore)

HISTORIC GATES: San Diego tight end Antonio Gates caught four passes for 67 yards on Sunday against Kansas City.

In his 12-year career, Gates has 10,014 receiving yards, joining Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten and Pro Football Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe as the only tight ends in NFL history with at least 10,000 career receiving yards.

The tight ends with at least 10,000 career receiving yards:

PLAYER – TEAM(S) (YEARS, RECEPTIONS/RECEIVING YARDS)
Tony Gonzalez – Kansas City, Atlanta (1997-2013, 1,325/15,127)
Jason Witten – Dallas (2003-Present, 943/10,502)*
Shannon Sharpe – Denver, Baltimore (1990-2003, 815/10,060)
Antonio Gates – San Diego (2003-Present, 788/10,014)*
*Active

BOOMING BECKHAM: New York Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. had 12 receptions for 185 yards and one touchdown in Week 17, marking his 9th consecutive game with at least 90 receiving yards.

Beckham joins Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Irvin (1995) as the only players in NFL history to have at least 90 receiving yards in nine consecutive games.

Beckham’s and Irvin’s streaks of 90+ receiving yards:

ODELL BECKHAM, JR.

WEEK – REC./REC. YARDS, TD REC.
9 – 8/156, 0
10 – 7/108, 0
11 – 6/93, 0
12 – 10/146, 2
13 – 7/90, 0
14 – 11/130, 1
15 – 12/143, 3
16 – 8/148, 2
17 – 12/185, 1
TOTAL – 81/1,119, 9

MICHAEL IRVIN
WEEK – REC./REC. YARDS, TD REC.
1 – 7/109, 1
2 – 6/94, 0
3 – 8/107, 1
4 – 5/105, 0
5 – 7/105, 1
6 – 8/150, 1
7 – 7/103, 0
9 – 10/135, 1
10 – 8/115, 1
TOTAL – 66/1,023, 6

TREMENDOUS TEAMMATES: New York Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. led all NFL rookies with 91 receptions and Miami rookie wide receiver Jarvis Landry ranked second with 84.

Beckham tied Eddie Royal for the second-most receptions in a single season by a rookie, while Landry surpassed Earl Cooper for the sixth-most catches by a rookie.

Beckham and Landry, who were college teammates at Louisiana State, also become the first rookies from the same college to lead their teams in receptions in the same season since the 1970 merger.

The players with the most receptions in their rookie season:
PLAYER – TEAM / YEAR, RECEPTIONS
Anquan Boldin – Arizona / 2003, 101
Odell Beckham, Jr. – New York Giants / 2014, 91
Eddie Royal – Denver / 2008, 91
Terry Glenn – New England / 1996, 90
Reggie Bush – New Orleans / 2006, 88
Jarvis Landry – Miami / 2014, 84
Earl Cooper – San Francisco / 1980, 83

12 teams.

1 goal.

Win.

Advance.

Lose.

Next game’s 2015.

As for the end of the regular season, we didn’t do too bad, going 12-4 for that span (155-89 for the year). The regular season is over. 20 teams are at home, trying to figure out what went wrong and have fired coaches (New York Jets, Atlanta and Chicago; San Francisco’s coach chose to step down) and are preparing for the 2015 draft in April in Chicago.

Four games are on the docket this weekend. Seattle, Green Bay, New England and Denver have the weekend off and wait for the winners of this weekend’s matchups and two of the four games are rematches from the regular season, so that means that there’s little if any need for further preparation. For the winners, it’s a chance to move on. The losers? They get the lovely parting gifts and get to prepare for the draft and the 2015 season.

Here’s this weekend’s playoff games.

Arizona (11-5) at Carolina (7-8-1), 4:35 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium Saturday on ESPN. The 2014 playoff season gets underway in the Tar Heel State as Carolina, who won the NFC South on the last day of the 2014 regular season campaign hosts the Arizona Cardinals in Charlotte.

Arizona tied a franchise record with 11 wins and has won 21 games under Bruce Arians, the most wins by a Cardinals head coach in his first two seasons with the club. Arizona has won four of its past six postseason games, including a 33-13 win at Carolina in the 2008 playoffs (January 10, 2009).

“It’s a whole new season now,” says Arians about the postseason. “We’re all 0-0 and we’re in the tournament. We’re going to get ready for this playoff game. We’re not planning on being one-and-done.”

Arizona let a 17-13 lead at San Francisco slip from their hands as they would eventually fall to the 49ers 20-17. The 49ers took the lead for good in what would eventually be Jim Harbaugh’s last game along the San Francisco sidelines when QB Colin Kaepernick and RB Bruce Miller connected on a 3-yard pass with 25 seconds left in the third quarter for the 20-17 lead. The two teams went through the fourth quarter scoreless and the game ended with the 20-17 score. Frank Gore ran for 144 of the 49ers’ 206 yards (Arizona was held to 98, while Ryan Lindley was sacked twice) and San Francisco took advantage of three Lindley interceptions in the contest. The Desert Angry Birds were 4-10 on third down tries and kept the ball for 30:36, while the 49ers were 5-12 and held on to the pigskin for 29:24.

Carolina enters the playoffs on a four-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 111-43. Under head coach Ron Rivera, the Panthers have won back-to-back division titles, clinching the NFC South with a commanding 34-3 win at Atlanta last week. In December, the Panthers ranked second in the NFL in rushing offense (199.3 yards per game) and points allowed (10.8 points per game).

“We put ourselves in this position by playing the way we did in December,” Rivera told the Charlotte Observer about advancing to the postseason. “We’ve won the NFC South two years in a row and that’s something to build on as we move forward as a football team.” The Panthers led from start to finish in Atlanta, taking the Falcons to task 34-3. Carolina led 24-3 at the half and never looked back, holding Atlanta to 63 yards rushing, sacking Matt Ryan six times and picking him off twice for a pair of TDs, while Carolina QB Cam Newton threw for a TD and ran for a TD in the win in his home state. Carolina was 4-10 and 0-1 on third and fourth down tries and kept the ball for 31:13, while Atlanta kept the pigskin for 28:47, going 7-16 and 1-3 on third and fourth downs.

They’ve only met once in post-season play and the Desert Angry Birds won that meeting in the 2008 NFC Divisional Playoffs by a final of 33-31 in Charlotte. The last regular season meeting between the two clubs took place last year in Glendale and Arizona came away with the 22-6 win over the Panthers in week five. In that contest, the Panthers blew a 6-3 lead at the half as Arizona rallied to shutout Carolina 19-0 in the final 30 minutes of play. Carolina did manage to outrush the Desert Angry Birds 95-90 but Newton threw three interceptions in the game (Carson Palmer also threw three picks as well). Arizona was 4-12 on third down conversions in the desert and held the ball for 28:56, while the Panthers were 5-12 on third down and 0-1 on fourth down, keeping the ball for 31:04.

Carolina is favored by 5 1/2 and the over/under is 37 1/2. Could Carolina be too high from their win in Atlanta last week? It could happen. After all, the Desert Angry Birds are in somewhat of a “fowl” mood after losing to San Francisco last week. An upset could be brewing in Charlotte. Arizona pulls off the upset and takes Cam and the Panthers to the woodshed, even though they may not cover the 5 1/2.

AFC: Baltimore (10-6) at Pittsburgh (11-5), 8:15 p.m. at Heinz Field Saturday on NBC. AFC North rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh will meet on Saturday night at Heinz Field for the third time in the 2014 season. The Ravens had luck on their side and qualified for the postseason with a 20-10 win over Cleveland combined with a San Diego loss in Week 17 while the Steelers clinched the division title with a 27-17 win over Cincinnati in the regular-season finale last Sunday night.

“Anything can happen when you get into the playoffs,” says Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who guided Baltimore to a Super Bowl title in 2012 as the No. 4 seed. In their win over the Browns last Sunday in Charm City, Baltimore erased a 10-3 deficit after three quarters of play by scoring their 17 fourth-quarter points unchallenged. Baltimore’s Justin Forsett ran for 119 of his team’s 129 yards, while they held the Browns ran for 109 in the contest and sacked QB Chris Shaw four times. The Ravens were 4-13 and 0-1 on third and fourth down tries and kept the ball for 29:17, while the Browns held on to the pigskin for 30:43 and went 3-13 and 1-1 on third and fourth down tries.

The Steelers used a perfect December (4-0) to lock up the AFC North. Pittsburgh boasts an offense featuring quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (4,952 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, 103.3 passer rating), running back Le’Veon Bell (1,361 rushing yards, 854 receiving yards, 11 total touchdowns) and wide receiver Antonio Brown (129 receptions for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns). All three players were selected to the Pro Bowl.

“Hopefully the journey is not over,” says Roethlisberger. “We’re still going.” Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati 27-17 last Sunday night in the Steel City, carrying a 20-10 lead with them to halftime. Roethlisberger out-paced Andy Dalton in passing 317-244 and each threw a pair of TD passes in the contest. The contest itself was not the high point, it was who was knocked out of that contest (Le’Veon Bell – knee; A.J. Green – concussion) and things afterward got a bit on the chippy side when Steelers coach Mike Tomlin confronted a Bengals player after the game and words were exchanged. Bengals RB Jeremy Hill managed to rush for 100 of Cincy’s 119, while they held the Steelers to 29 in the Sunday night affair, which was a rematch from two weeks prior. Third and fourth down tries? Pittsburgh was 3-11 and 0-1, while the Bengals were 6-14 and 2-3 and the clock was the ally of Cincy at 34:58 to Pittsburgh’s 25:02.

They’ve met twice in the regular season and split the two meetings, with both teams winning in their home stadiums and they have met in the post-season three times and the Steelers have won all three meetings, including a 23-14 win in the Steel City in the 2008 AFC Championship. In the first regular season meeting in week two in Charm City, the Ravens came out on top 26-6. The Steelers were outrushed 157-99 and Roethlisberger was sacked twice and picked off once, while Flacco threw a pair of TDs in the win. Baltimore was 5-12 and 1-1 on third and fourth down tries and kept the ball for 35:08, while the Steelers were 6-12 on third down conversions and held the ball for 24:52.

Pittsburgh got revenge in the Steel City in the second meeting in week nine, winning 43-23 at Heinz Field. Neither club shattered the 100-yard rushing barrier in the second contest (Baltimore outrushed the Steelers 63-55) and Flacco (4) and Roethlisberger (3) were sacked a combined seven times in the contest. The Ravens on third down were 3-13, while the Steelers were 6-14 (both teams were perfect on fourth down tries; Baltimore was 2-2, Pittsburgh was 1-1) and the clock was on the side of the Steelers at 31:26 to Baltimore’s 28:34.

The Ravens won by 20 in the week two contest (Baltimore was favored by 2 1/2) but the 44 over/under was not reached, as both clubs only scored 32 points. Pittsburgh covered the 1 point spread, winning by 20 and both teams easily passed the 48 over/under with 60 points. The Steelers are favored by 3 at home in the Steel City and the over/under’s 46 1/2. A lot is at stake here, with the winner moving on and the loser going home until 2015. Steelers cover the 3 at home and takes the win.

Cincinnati (10-5-1) at Indianapolis 11-5), 1:05 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday on CBS. Part two of Wild Card Weekend gets underway in the Hoosier State as the Indianapolis Colts host the Bengals in the great indoors.

The Bengals have won five of their past seven games and are in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season under head coach Marvin Lewis.

“At the end of the day, there are only so many teams that get this opportunity,” says Cincinnati tackle Andrew Whitworth about the playoffs. “It doesn’t matter what your record is anymore. It doesn’t matter where you’re seeded. All that matters is if you win.” The Bengals trailed Pittsburgh 20-10 last Sunday night at Heinz Field and fell to the Steelers 27-17. Bengals RB Jeremy Hill ran for 100 yards in the contest as Cincinnati managed to outrush the Steelers 157-99 in the 10-point loss, which saw Andy Dalton get sacked three times and picked off twice. The contest had its moments as the Bengals’ A.J. Green left the contest with a concussion and Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell left with a knee injury and after the contest when Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlinson exchanged words with a Bengals player. Pittsburgh was 3-11 and 0-1 on third and fourth down conversions, while the Bengals were 6-14 and 2-3 and the clock was the ally of Cincy at 34:58 to Pittsburgh’s 25:02.

The Colts have won nine of the past 12 AFC South division titles. In Week 7, quarterback Andrew Luck threw two touchdown passes as Indianapolis shut out Cincinnati 27-0. Luck led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes and was named to the Pro Bowl for the third time in his first three seasons.

“It’s one-and-done now,” says Colts head coach Chuck Pagano about the postseason. “We all know the stakes get higher and it’s single elimination. Whatever we have to do to win a game, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do whatever it takes.” Luck threw for a pair of TDs in their 27-10 win over Tennessee to close out the 2014 regular season and led 17-7 at halftime, outscoring the Titans 10-3 in the final 30 minutes of play and although they were outrushed by the Titans 142-64, Indy did manage to sack Charlie Whitehurst four times in the win. The Colts were 5-16 on third down tries and kept the ball for 33:26, while Tennessee was 4-16 and held the pigskin for 26:34 (both teams were 1-3 on fourth down tries).

Indy and Cincy have met once in post-season play and the Colts won that only meeting way back in 1970, when the Colts were in Baltimore by a 17-0 final in the AFC Divisional Playoffs in Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium. They met in week seven at Lucas Oil and Luck and the Colts pitched a 27-0 shutout against the Bengals. Cincy was held to 32 yards rushing (the Colts ran for 171 yards), Dalton was sacked three times and Luck burned them for 344 yards and a pair of TDs, including one to RB Amhad Bradshaw. The Bengals were 1-13 and 0-1 on third and fourth down conversions and kept the ball for 20:17, while the Colts, who did not have a fourth down try, were 5-13 on third down and held the pigskin for 39:43.

In the week seven contest, the Colts easily covered the 3 point spread with their 27 point shutout but the 49 over/under went untouched. The Colts in this second meeting are favored by 4 and the over/under’s 49. Both numbers make a lot of sense and both teams can put up points and a lot of offense. The only difference here is that this one’s for the right to face either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning next week for the winners, while the loser will play their next contest in September 2015. Bengals make it close but Colts win at home and cover the 4.

Detroit (11-5) at Dallas (12-4), 4:40 p.m. at AT&T Stadium on FOX. Wild Card Weekend concludes when Dallas hosts Detroit as two future Hall of Fame wide receivers (Dez Bryant vs. Calvin Johnson) meet in the Lone Star State.

Detroit led the NFL in rush defense (69.3 yards per game) and ranked second in total defense (300.9 yards per game). The Lions held opponents to 100 rushing yards or fewer in 14 of the team’s 16 games, including five games with 50 rushing yards or fewer.

The Lions will look to slow down Dallas’ running game, which ranked second in the NFL (147.1 yards per game) and is led by Pro Bowl running back De Marco Murray, who set a franchise-record with 1,845 rushing yards.

“Controlling the line of scrimmage is important,” says Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell, who tied a franchise record with 11 wins in his first season with the club. He told the Detroit Free Press, “Our defense has been really strong in that area throughout the year.” Speaking of defense, Lions fans breathed a huge sigh of relief Tuesday when the NFL announced that DT Ndamukong Suh would not be suspended for stomping on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers last Sunday at Lambeau. The league at first suspended him but after Suh had a hearing Tuesday in New York City, Suh was off the hook but his bank account was $70,000 lighter. The Lions limp into the playoff contest in the Lone Star State after they lost to Green Bay 30-20 at Lambeau Field. Although they trailed the Pack 14-7 at the half, Green Bay would go on to outscore the Lions 16-13 in the final 30 minutes of action on a snowy 27-degree day (wind chill, you ask? A balmy 21… now you know why Mom nagged you to dress warmly!) and Packers RB Eddie Lacy ran for 100 of the Packers’ 152 yards on the ground (the Lions weren’t exactly slouches on the ground themselves, rushing for 111).

Both teams have dynamic quarterback-wide receiver combinations: Detroit’s Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson and Dallas’ Tony Romo-to-Dez Bryant. Johnson had a franchise-record 329 receiving yards in the last game against the Cowboys – the second-best single-game total in NFL history – and recorded 211 yards in his only postseason contest. Romo led the NFL with a club-record 113.2 passer rating and Bryant’s 16 receiving touchdowns were a team record and topped the league. In the contest at Lambeau, Stafford and Johnson did manage to connect for a pair of TDs in the 10-point loss in the season finale.

“We’re just getting started and we’re excited about the opportunity in front of us,” says Romo about the postseason. Dallas took Washington to the woodshed last Sunday at FedEx Field, beating the Redskins and RGIII 44-17. Romo and Bryant connected for a pair of TDs in the win and Murray ran for 100 yards (Dallas ran for 174, Washington ran for 104), as the Cowboys led 27-10 at the half and went into cruise control in the final 30 minutes of play. Both teams were 4-12 on third down conversions (Washington was 0-2 on fourth down tries) and the clock was the ally of Dallas, who kept the ball for 30:24, while Washington possessed it for 29:36.

They’ve met twice and split the two meetings in post-season play (Detroit won the last meeting in 1991 by a final of 38-6 in the NFC Divisional Playoff; Dallas won the first meeting in 1970, also in the NFC Divisional Playoffs by a baseball-like score of 5-0. Their last regular season meeting was last year in week eight in the Motor City and the Lions came out on top by a final of 31-30. Dallas was held to 62 yards rushing (Detroit tallied 143 yards) and Stafford burned the Cowboys for 488 yards, despite being picked off twice, while Romo threw for 206 yards and three TDs, two of them to Bryant. The Stafford-Johnson combo? One TD in the 1-point win, in case you’re wondering. Dallas was 3-12 on third down tries in the contest at Ford Field and kept the ball for 24:49, while the Lions were 3-11 and 1-2 on third and fourth down tries, keeping the ball for 35:11.

The Lions in that week eight contest were favored by 3 1/2 but won by 1. That was the bad news. The good news? Both teams covered the 51 over/under by 10. This time around, the Cowboys are favored by 7 and the over/under’s 49. Just the fact that there are two QB-WR combos in this contest alone makes this one “Drill Worthy” (For those of you that know what The Drill is, you are excused. Everyone else, pay attention. We don’t want any rookie mistakes here, k?)

After you go to the 9:30 mass on Sunday (the 4:30 vigil mass on Saturday counts as a mass attended, people! Don’t make us send the nuns after you!), head to your favorite store (a trip to Wal Mart, Target, K-Mart or Costco counts) and get the vittles and the beverages (soda, beer, wine, coffee, et al… if you live in a state that allows the purchase of the items in question) and invite the co-workers, the neighbors (including that really cute kindergarten teacher that knows what to do with a cover-2 defense) and your cousin Connie (remember her? She’s the one that’s been married twice that’s just turned 55 and dates a 40-year old ex-Marine, who’s now a football coach at the high school in your town. She’s also the one that ate an entire Oreo cheesecake, two bags of Cool Ranch Doritos, two bacon cheeseburgers with blue cheese and chugged two 2-liter Cokes at your Super Bowl party last year and didn’t gain a pound. You look at her and say to yourself, “what the hell?”

Dez vs. Megatron. It’s like Ali-Frazier with football pads. This one could go to overtime and the winner could wind up in either Green Bay or Seattle next week. Make sure the dish bill is paid. This one could be better than advertised. Detroit makes it interesting but Dallas pulls this one out in the Lone Star State and could cover the 7.

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