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Monday, December 22, 2014
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Published: Friday, 1/3/2014

SPORTS COMMENTARY

NFL playoffs are all about staying hot

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Many thanks to the nice reader who informed me via e-mail that my preseason NFL predictions column included the Houston Texans advancing to the Super Bowl. The Texans, of course, won’t be there. Nor even in the playoffs. Maybe 14 straight losses had something to do with it.

The Texans will get a new coach out of the whole debacle. Bill O’Brien is leaving Penn State, which has some Nittany Lions fans up in arms. Why? He’s an NFL guy and never hid his interest in returning while keeping an all-but-dead program upright and breathing in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal/​NCAA sanctions. Seems like both sides got what they wanted.

Anyways, the NFL playoffs, a 12-team tournament, begin this weekend with the wild-card round. I’m not sure why anybody would keep reading considering the Texans reminder, but we’ll break it down by teams that are hot, warm, and frigid. The latter have no chance, albeit a slightly better chance than Houston.

HOT:

■ Eagles — Guess Chip Kelly’s offense works in the NFL. Philly is the first team in history to have a quarterback with a 100-plus passer rating (Nick Foles), a 1,600-yard rusher (LaSean McCoy), and a 1,300-yard receiver (DeSean Jackson). How far they advance may depend on whether their divisional-round game goes through Carolina or Seattle.

■ Seahawks — The near-impossible happened on Dec. 22 when Seattle lost at home to Arizona. So the Hawks can lose at CenturyLink Field. It is unlikely to happen in the playoffs, though. The joint is deafening and, weather aside, is the biggest home-field advantage in the league.

■ Patriots — This has long been a tight end offense. One of them is injured and the other is in jail. Their best receiver is a Denver Bronco. It is the magic of Tom Brady and, of course, the league’s best coach, Bill Belichick. Bet you can’t name five starters on either side of the ball, and we’re spotting you Brady. Pats still managed 12 wins and the AFC East title.

■ Broncos — One word. Peyton Manning. OK, that’s two words.

WARM:

■ 49ers — San Francisco went 12-4 and opens the playoffs at Lambeau Field against the 8-7-1 Packers. Never been a better argument for seeding teams based on records, not based on titles in divisions that are not equal.

■ Panthers — Defense makes Carolina a legitimate contender. Plus, they’ve been on a prolonged roll since a 1-3 start. Still, the thought here is the Panthers, who are off this weekend, have won for the last time this season.

■ Colts — Andrew Luck’s pass production has really stepped up of late, and Indy won’t turn it over. Colts get a home game against a Chiefs team they recently blew out on the road.

■ Bengals — Andy Dalton can generate points, but he has to protect the ball because Round 2 goes through New England.

FRIGID:

■ Chiefs — Can you say swoon? The 9-0 start under Andy Reid was a feel-good story early, but K.C. has lost five of its last seven.

■ Chargers — The Bolts have no business being in the playoffs. Of course, the Steelers would have had no business either.

■ Saints — When they lost the NFC South and the home-field advantage, they lost any real chance, even with Drew Brees.

■ Packers — They have Aaron Rodgers back, they get to play on the Frozen Tundra, and they are a dangerous team for those reasons. They’re just not very good.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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