This year’s NFL playoffs have something for every football fan to enjoy.
Underdog quarterbacks, bruising defenses, future Hall of Famers and games that could go either way have made this the most compelling postseason in recent memory, and the league should be extremely pleased this is the way the year has played out.
This season was close to not happening—or at least not happening in full, the way we are all used to—thanks to the lockout.
Training camps were truncated, rookie players couldn’t contact their new coaches and players had to work out on their own.
This could have resulted in a lackluster 2011 season, but instead most teams appeared unaffected by the months-long work stoppage.
In fact, this has been a banner year when it comes to offense. Three quarterbacks threw for over 5,000 yards, and two others—the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and New York Giants’ Eli Manning—came extremely close hitting that mark themselves.
All five of those quarterbacks have appeared in this year’s playoffs, with just one, Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions, not making it beyond the Wild Card round.
The New Orleans Saints, who take on the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday afternoon, broke nearly every offensive passing record a team or player can hold, aside from most single-season receiving yards by a tight end, which was broken this year by New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The Packers entered the season as favorites to repeat as Super Bowl champions and they find them just one win away from reaching the conference championship game and remain favorites to win it all.
And then, of course, there’s the Denver Broncos and quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow’s presence in the NFL has been a major storyline of the past two seasons, and since being named the Broncos starter during their Week 6 bye, has dominated media coverage of the league.
It’s not just that the Broncos won games with Tebow under center—it was how they won them, in the waning minutes, that made the legend of Tebow balloon into the most talked-about topic of this year’s playoffs.
His team’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round only made that discussion more ubiquitous, with the quarterback’s performance only adding fuel to the ever-burning fire that is round-the-clock Tebow coverage.
But offense isn’t the only thing featured in this year’s playoffs—there are also a number of brutal defenses featured in the postseason. This week, the Houston Texans face the Baltimore Ravens in what is likely to be a low scoring defensive effort.
The Texans and Ravens employ a similar offensive strategy, which is to run the ball heavily and then rely on their respective defense to hold down opposing offenses. Both have had a great deal of success utilizing this approach in 2011, and it’s going to be an impressive win for whichever team manages it.
The San Francisco 49ers have the best defense in the NFC and are featured in the divisional round’s most compelling matchup, facing the New Orleans Saints on Saturday afternoon.
The Saints have the league’s best offense but have yet to take on a defense anywhere near as tough as San Francisco’s.
While the Saints have a wealth of offensive playmakers, if the Niners can muster yet another top-tier defensive effort, the NFL’s highest-scoring team might find itself knocked out of the playoffs.
The playoffs also feature perennial powerhouse, the New England Patriots, who take on Tebow’s Broncos on Saturday night. If last week’s Steelers—Broncos contest is any indication, this game is going to break playoff television ratings records as one of the NFL’s biggest teams face one of the NFL’s biggest names.
Ratings, increased fan interest and a wholly fascinating collection of teams has made this year’s NFL playoffs even more exciting than usual. The league must be thrilled that the season has played out in this manner, considering how bleak everything seemed in the spring and summer.
There’s not a football fan in the world who can look at this week’s slate of games and complain. It’s matchups like these that make the NFL the most-watched sports league in the nation. We’re glued to our televisions and our computers while the league rakes in money hand-over-fist.
It’s a win-win in my books. This has been an incredibly enjoyable NFL season and the fact that the playoffs have only managed to surpass it means that these final weeks leading up to February’s Super Bowl aren’t a eulogy on the season that was, but a celebration of everything that’s great about the game.