The NFC South was the most competitive division in the NFL — and the last one to crown a winner this year. The three NFC South teams that made it to the playoffs pounded on each other, but the Saints took home the title thanks to their season sweep of the Panthers in 2017.
Now it just so happens that the Saints and Panthers will meet again in New Orleans in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. If it’s hard to beat a team once, not to mention twice, then the odds seem stacked against the Saints for a third win this weekend.
Or are they?
There have been 20 different times since 1970 that a team has swept a division rival in the regular season and then faced them again in the playoffs, according to Elias Sports Bureau. That team completed the three-game sweep 13 of those 20 times. So history is on the Saints’ side in this one.
Panic index: Cam Newton’s coming off a three-interception performance and the worst quarterback rating of his career against the Falcons in Week 17. He’s got a career 7-7 record against New Orleans. If anyone should be panicking, it’s Panthers fans.
89 percent of the Rams roster has never seen the playoffs
The Rams have been a symbol of gridiron failure since 2004. They suffered through a 12-year playoff drought and four-plus seasons of Jeff Fisher’s “7-and-9 bullsh*t” while maintaining a constant presence in the top of of each year’s draft. Those lamentable years finally faded into the background in 2017, but LA’s renaissance has largely been a function of young and unappreciated players making plays — and that could be a major obstacle in the postseason.
None of the team’s most important players have ever played in an NFL playoff game. Not Jared Goff. Not Todd Gurley. Not Aaron Donald. Not Robert Quinn.
In fact, only six members of the team’s roster have ever played in the postseason before 2018. The most experienced player on that list is offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, and he doesn’t exactly inspire confidence — his past with the Bengals gives him an 0-6 record in the playoffs. Former Viking John Sullivan is 1-3. Connor Barwin? 2-3. Lance Dunbar? 1-2.
That’ll be a disadvantage against a Falcons team that stands as the NFC’s only holdover from the 2017 playoffs. Atlanta peaked at just the right time to run to the Super Bowl, then cratered at just the worst time to become an overplayed meme. The team will almost certainly use that experience as a guide in January.
Panic index: The Rams have “youthful energy working for them and plan to use it, though history does not favor Los Angeles. The last time the Rams were in the playoffs, they lost to ... the Falcons.
The Falcons have a lousy record against playoff teams this season
The Falcons slid back into the postseason with a win over the Panthers in the final week of the season, giving them a shot at redemption after being humiliated by the Patriots in Super Bowl LI last year. But the Falcons’ record this season against playoff teams is reason to worry.
Atlanta played seven games this season against playoff teams. It won just two of those matchups: against the Alvin Kamara-less Saints and Week 17 against the Panthers.
That’s not encouraging, especially since none of those wins came against non-division foes and their Wild Card round opponent is the Rams. The NFC West wasn’t nearly as tough as the NFC South this year, but the Rams did finish with a winning record against playoff teams. Los Angeles played five games against teams that landed in the postseason and won three of them.
Panic index: Last year the Falcons went just 2-2 against playoff teams before January. It didn’t slow them down against the Seahawks and the Packers to make it to the Super Bowl. They also finished the 2017 season ranked in the top 10 in both scoring defense and total defense for the first time since 1998. That 1998 Falcons squad went to the Super Bowl, too.
The Bills have a good omen on their side ... and bad playoff mojo
The Bills are officially the feel-good story of the playoffs after beating the Dolphins and getting a little help from Andy Dalton to sneak into the final AFC Wild Card spot.
Snapping a 17-year playoff drought is one hurdle; winning their first postseason game since 1995 is another one entirely.
But there’s a statistical anomaly working in their favor.
The Bills are the seventh NFL team to make the playoffs with a point differential of minus-50 or worse. All six previous teams won their first playoff game. pic.twitter.com/z29atg0igV— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 1, 2018
The 2010 Seahawks won with the Beast Quake. And who can forget the 2011 Broncos for helping create the legend of Tim Tebow and giving us media types a story to obsess over well past its expiration date. Could these Bills join this exclusive ring of overachievers?
Maybe! But they’ll have to overcome some of their own tragic history in the playoffs.
Perhaps you’re even old enough to remember their brutal run of four straight Super Bowl losses from 1991 to 1994, tainting the words “Wide Right” forever. Or maybe you recall the last time they went to the playoffs, in January 2000. They lost that game to the Titans, thanks to the Music City Miracle (the play that kept Jeff Fisher gainfully employed 15 years past his expiration date).
Maybe things are different this time.
Panic index: The Jaguars are favored by nine points. Oh, and their best offensive player, LeSean McCoy, might not play against the league’s most ferocious defense. Still, there’s too much fate tied up in this team ... right?
The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game at home since 1994
The Chiefs don’t have quite the same level of playoff futility as their Midwestern brethren. Unlike the Lions, Bengals, and Browns, they’ve won a playoff game in the last two decades. A playoff game, literally.
Two seasons ago, the Chiefs got their first taste in 22 years of a postseason victory, crushing the Brian Hoyer-led Texans, 30-0, in Houston. The nine other playoff appearances in that time were all losses; five of them came at home, including last year’s agonizingly close 18-16 loss to the Steelers.
It’s now been 24 years since Kansas City has won a home playoff game. The Chiefs will get another chance to end that dreary skid this Saturday when they host the Titans, who are making their first trip to the postseason in nine years.
The Chiefs, despite their lack of recent playoff success, are the more experienced team in this matchup. They’ve made the postseason for three straight years and four out of the last five.
Two years ago, the Chiefs rebounded from a horrid 1-5 start to shock the league with a 10-game winning streak. Last year, they entered January as winners of eight of their last 10 and got a first-round bye because of it. This year, they shook off a midseason slump to end 2017 with four straight wins.
Yet, they still found ways to lose in gut-punching fashion in January. Their three playoff losses since 2014 have come by a total of 10 points. So while they’re favorites again this weekend, they’ve still got that Arrowhead Stadium curse hanging over them.
Panic index: The Chiefs’ last home playoff win came against the Steelers. Guess who they beat the next week (albeit on the road)? The Houston Oilers, aka the pre-Tennessee Titans. Does that mean much? Nothing at all. Is it a good sign? Sure, why not.
The Jaguars are out for revenge against the Bills
The Jaguars aren’t really ones to let bygones be bygones, so good luck to anyone standing in their way of some sweet revenge.
On the surface, you wouldn’t expect there to be much beef between two teams in different divisions who both ended significant playoff droughts. But that’s not the case for the Jags and the Bills, who will meet Sunday in a postseason game not many of us would have predicted.
Three years ago, Doug Marrone opted out of his contract with the Bills and now he’ll be the one trying to end Buffalo’s first trip to the playoffs in 18 years.
“The past is the past," the Jags head coach said at his Monday press conference. "I’m happy for them. We’ve earned it as well as they’ve earned it. My focus, obviously, is going to be on our football team. It’s as easy as that for me. My job is to coach this team. Plain and simple.”
But Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus may have a little more reason to take Sunday personally. Buffalo traded him to Jacksonville in October for a sixth-round pick, and it’ll be the first time he faces the team that drafted him third overall in 2011.
Panic index: OK, that’s just a dig at the Titans. Either way, there’s a good chance there will be some hurt feelings after the game Sunday.