Home-field advantage in the NFL playoffs doesn't matter much anymore.
The only road team to lose on the first weekend of the playoffs was the Chiefs, who led by 28 points and let it slip away. We were one amazing choke job/comeback away from having all four wild-card teams advance on the first weekend.
New Orleans, which had never won a road playoff game, won at Philadelphia. San Diego beat Cincinnati, which hadn't lost at home all year. San Francisco traveled from the West Coast to beat the Packers in horribly cold conditions.
There are reasons for the wild-card dominance. One is that the better team is often the road team. In three of four games, the road team had a better or the same record as the home team. There's a reason the NFL will consider reseeding based on record, not division championships.
And, as we've seen in the past few years, any playoff team can make a run. There was one team to go from a wild card to champion in the first 31 Super Bowls. There have been five wild-card champions since then, including three in the last eight playoffs. Getting a wild-card spot was a nice consolation prize and a death sentence in the playoffs for many years, but it's just not that way anymore
That should make New Orleans, San Francisco and San Diego feel pretty good going into round two. We're bound to have some upsets next weekend. Being at home doesn't provide much of an edge anymore. We think a team like Seattle is invincible at home, but recent history suggests that nobody is.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from the first round of the playoffs:
Andrew Luck: Fine, this is an obvious pick. But nobody did more to enhance their profile this weekend than the Colts' quarterback, and it's not like he was an unknown before Saturday.
The Colts aren't a great team. There are some good pieces, but overall the roster isn't elite yet. The defense gave up 44 points at home and 513 yards to a Chiefs team not known for its offense. The offensive line has had significant struggles at times this season, Trent Richardson was a total failure at running back and the receivers without Reggie Wayne are limited.
But the Colts are still alive, because Luck is that good.
He threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns. His game-winning touchdown to T.Y. Hilton was a breathtaking pass. He threw three interceptions, but he's a second-year quarterback with a mediocre supporting cast. Overall, his performance was superb.
This weekend's incredible playoff performance is simply the first of many in Luck's career.
Alex Smith: This is why "quarterback wins" is a nonsensical stat. Are you going to tell me Smith "lost" that playoff game?
Smith was great in the Chiefs' 45-44 loss. He made plays running the ball. He threw the ball downfield with good results. He had 378 passing yards and 57 rushing yards. He's viewed as a game manager, and the Chiefs' staff played to that all season. After seeing what Smith did on a big stage in the playoffs, the Chiefs should feel comfortable opening up the playbook for Smith. That might help them take another step next season.
Aaron Rodgers' fourth-and-2 escape: Lost in Colin Kaepernick's heroics was Rodgers' phenomenal play in the fourth quarter to set up a go-ahead touchdown. He was hemmed up by two defenders and, much like Eli Manning's escape on the famous David Tyree play in Super Bowl XLII (down to the uncalled holding penalties on both plays), Rodgers wiggled free somehow and made a huge play.
Rodgers is headed into the offseason after the Packers' loss, but we'll look forward to more plays like that from him next season. Not many quarterbacks can do what he can.
Nick Foles: There will be questions about Foles until he has a larger sample size of success. His great 2013 season can be fairly viewed as a product of a great offensive system, and that will be a tag he stuck with until he proves he's more than that.
Saturday's playoff game didn't help.
Foles wasn't very good in the Eagles' 26-24 loss. He had 195 yards on 33 attempts, a fairly anemic 5.9 yards per pass. He wasn't necessarily bad, but he wasn't great either.
Foles is in just his second season, had a very promising 2013 and should have more opportunities to impress in the playoffs. His first shot didn't go too well.
Andy Reid: There's a reason there are so many jokes about Andy Reid's game management issues.
It's tough to swallow that the Chiefs had no timeouts left after Alex Smith's incompletion to Dwayne Bowe just after the two-minute warning. It's unfathomable that the Chiefs had to call their last timeout before running that fourth-down play after the two-minute warning. With one timeout, the Chiefs could have gotten the ball back with at least a few seconds left. Instead, the game was over once Bowe's right foot landed out of bounds.
The Chiefs' season is hard to gauge. An 11-win season after an ugly 2-14 is a success, of course. However, (and Chiefs fans don't like hearing this) Kansas City had a remarkably soft schedule that every NFL team dreams of, with the only decent win coming against an Eagles team early in the season before it hit its stride, and then the Chiefs capped the season with a monumental playoff choke.
Reid has nothing to be ashamed of, obviously. He did a phenomenal job in his first season in Kansas City. But he'll spend the offseason wondering how a 28-point lead against the Colts turned into a playoff loss.
Bengals management: What do you do now if you're the Cincinnati Bengals?
Do you fire Marvin Lewis after a division title? Do you find a new quarterback after Andy Dalton threw for 4,293 yards and 33 touchdowns this season?
It seems like the Bengals are stuck. They're good enough to get to the playoffs three straight years, which isn't an easy accomplishment in the parity-fueled NFL. And they might not be good enough to get over the hump to anything truly special.
Lewis has been Cincinnati's coach for 11 seasons and still hasn't won a playoff game. And Sunday's failure wasn't a turn of bad luck. The Chargers, who were seven-point underdogs, completely outplayed the Bengals in a 27-10 win. At some point, the Bengals will run out of patience with Lewis.
Part of the reason the Bengals lost Sunday, and in their first playoff game each of the last two seasons, is Dalton. His game Sunday, with a 56.9 completion percentage, three turnovers and a 67 rating, was the best playoff performance of his career. Seriously. He put up ratings of 51.4 and 44.7 in his first two playoff games. He's a player that fans love to rip whenever he makes a mistake, but his lack of even moderate playoff success invites that.
So the Bengals, one of the more talented teams in the NFL, go into another offseason without a playoff win. They'll go into that offseason with no clear answers on what to do next.
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