Wild Card Weekend Follows a Wild Season in NFL
A Look Back at Another Great Regular Season:
Today, the quest for Super Bowl XVLIII begins and this year’s 12-team field offers a lot of variety and while much changes each year in the NFL in terms of playoff participants, much stays the same. However, before we get to that, let us look back at how we got to this point in what was another exciting year in the National Football League.
Week 17 came right down to the wire as 13 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 the regular-season’s final game – game No. 256 of 256 – determined the NFC East division champion as Philadelphia defeated Dallas in a win-and-in matchup. The two point Eagles victory last Sunday also continued a season long trend in the NFL of close competition.
Fans were forced to remain glued to their seats or Lazy Boys, as 68 percent of the games were within one score in the fourth quarter. In 2013, seven points or fewer decided 123 of 256 games (48.0 percent), the fourth most of any season in NFL history. When the dust settled, nine teams won 11+ games – Denver (13-3), Seattle (13-3), Carolina (12-4), New England (12-4), San Francisco (12-4), Cincinnati (11-5), Indianapolis (11-5), Kansas City (11-5) and New Orleans (11-5) – tied for the second-most in a season in NFL history (10 in 2005). The league had five new playoff teams in 2013 continuing a trend that makes the NFL the top league in the world. Carolina, Kansas City, New Orleans, Philadelphia and San Diego all qualified for the playoffs and missed them a year ago. 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. In reality, the number has been five teams, as only last season and 1995 had four teams qualify that didn’t make it the year before. Since 1990, the NFL has seen , five teams qualify nine times, six teams five teams, seven teams five times and in 2003, eight of the 12 team field qualified for the playoffs that did not the year before.
The Carolina Panthers (NFC South) and Philadelphia Eagles (NFC East) rebounded to win their respective divisions after finishing in last place or tied for last in 2012. This marked the NFL-record 11th consecutive season that at least one team went from “worst-to-first” in its division. In the 12 seasons since realignment in 2002, 28 of the 32 NFL teams have won a division title at least once. Owning the No.1 overall pick in the NFL Draft does not necessarily mean you are in for a bad season. For the second consecutive year, a team that won two games the previous season rebounded to win 11 games. The Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) tied the 2008 Miami Dolphins and 2012 Indianapolis Colts for the most wins by a team that won two or fewer games the previous season.
While no other sport can boast parity such as this, the NFL does have the model franchises, which represent the consistency fans, are in search of from time to time. Since realignment in 2002, the Indianapolis Colts have been to the playoffs 11 times, the most in the NFL. The New England Patriots are second with 10 postseason berths and the Green Bay Packers rank third with nine playoff appearances.
The Ravens quest for a sixth straight trip to the playoffs ended with a thud last week. That was the longest streak in the league. The Patriots and Packers, who both hit five straight years with their berth this season, now own that streak. The Bengals, Broncos, and 49ers will all be making their third straight trip. Seattle is coming to the tournament for the second straight year while New Orleans, who missed the playoffs last season thanks to Bounty-Gate, is making their fourth trip in five seasons.
Championships are nothing new to this year’s field, as four of this season’s 12 playoff teams have won at least one Super Bowl since 2000, capturing six of the past 13 Vince Lombardi Trophies. Those teams are Green Bay (XLV), Indianapolis (XLI), New England (XXXVI, XXXVIII and XXXIX) and New Orleans (XLIV). But we have a long way to go until we get to that point.
They say defense wins championships and offense sells tickets and if that is indeed true, the league must have sold more tickets in 2013 than in any other year (except for maybe the upcoming playoffs). The league continued to score points at a record clip in 2013. Offense was at an all-time high and even the defensive stats had an offensive tone to them. A record 11,985 points were scored during the 2013 season, with games averaging 46.8 points, the highest average in NFL history (46.5 in 1948). In all, 1,338 total touchdowns were scored, surpassing the league-wide record of 1,297, which occurred last season.
Eleven teams scored at least 400 points this season – Denver (606), Chicago (445), New England (444), Philadelphia (442), Dallas (439), Cincinnati (430), Kansas City (430), Green Bay (417), Seattle (417), New Orleans (414) and San Francisco (406) – topping the previous record of nine in 2008 and 2012. Those 11 teams combined for a .668 winning percentage, and nine qualified for the playoffs. The Broncos’ 606 points surpassed the 2007 New England Patriots (589) for the most in NFL history. Denver (37.9 points per game) also had the second-highest scoring average of any NFL team, trailing only the 1950 Los Angeles Rams (38.8).
The league of the QB remained just that in 2013. The league-wide passer rating (86.0) and league wide touchdown pass totals (804) were at historic level, topping the previous records set just season (85.6-passer rating; 757 TD passes). There were 24 individual 400-yard passing games in 2013, the most of any season in NFL history (18 in 2011). Games averaged an all-time high 697.0 total net yards per game, surpassing last year’s record (694.4). Explosive passing offenses fueled that trend, with an average of 471.2 net passing yards per game, also an all-time high (462.6 in 2012). There were 24 individual 400-yard passing games in 2013, the most of any season in NFL history (18 in 2011).
They say in order to have a successful franchise in today’s NFL, you must have an above average signal caller and the following stat lends credence to that very claim. An NFL-record seven qualifying players had a passer rating of 100.0 or better – Nick Foles (119.2) of Philadelphia, Peyton Manning (115.1), Josh McCown of Chicago (109.0), Philip Rivers (105.5) of San Diego, Aaron Rodgers (104.9) of Green Bay, Drew Brees (104.7) and Russell Wilson (101.2) of Seattle – surpassing the previous high of five in 2009. All are playoff bound.
Speaking of Peyton Manning, No.18 set the NFL’s single-season passing-yard record with 5,477 yards, surpassing Drew Brees’ mark of 5,476 yards in 2011, and finished the regular season with 55 touchdown passes, also the most in a season in NFL history, surpassing Tom Brady. Manning is the first player to set both the single-season passing yardage and touchdown records in the same season since Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino in 1984.
Because of Manning’s unbelievable year, Denver became the first team in NFL history to have five players score at least 10 touchdowns in the same season. The five Broncos with at least 10 touchdowns this season were Demaryius Thomas (14), Knowshon Moreno (13), Julius Thomas (12), Eric Decker (11) and Wes Welker (10). No other NFL team has had more than three different players score at least 10 touchdowns in a season in NFL history.
On the rushing and receiving fronts, Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy (1,607 rushing yards) became the first Eagle to lead the league in rushing since Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren in 1949. Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles became the second player in NFL history to post 100+ scrimmage yards and a touchdown in each of his first seven games to begin a season (O.J. Simpson in 1975). Five players registered at least 100 receptions in 2013 – Washington’s Pierre Garcon (113), Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown (110), Houston’s Andre Johnson (109), New England’s Julian Edelman (105) and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall (100). Andre Johnson and Marshall joined Wes Welker as the only players in NFL history with five career 100-catch seasons.
It was also another banner year for tight ends. NFL tight ends broke the single-season record for receiving yards (27,287) and TD receptions (236) for the position, surpassing the previous record totals from 2011 (27,080 yards and 198 TDs). Jimmy Graham of New Orleans led all NFL players with 16 touchdown catches in 2013, which is the second most ever by a tight end in a season (Rob Gronkowski 17 in 2011).
With all that offense, defense and special teams had their say as well in 2013. There were 65 interception-return TDs this season, the second most in of any season in history (71 in 2012). The top five NFL teams in total defense all qualified for the 2013 postseason and won at least 11 games each – Seattle (273.6), Carolina (301.3), Cincinnati (305.5), New Orleans (305.7) and San Francisco (316.9). Those five clubs had a combined win percentage of .738.
Maybe defense does win championships; it certainly propelled the best team in the NFC this season. The Seattle Seahawks (14.4 points per game) led the NFL in fewest points allowed for the second consecutive season – the first time in club history; they have done so in back-to-back years.
Kickers were magnificent this season. An NFL-record 863 field goals were made in 2013, and NFL kickers converted 86.5 percent of their FG attempts. Those marks surpassed previous records set last season (852 FGs) and in 2008 (84.5 percent). Led by Denver’s Matt Prater, who kicked and NFL record 64-yard field goal in Week 14, the 2013 season also marked all-time highs in 50+ yard field-goal percentage (67.1) and 50+ yard FGs made (96), surpassing records set in 2011 and 2012.
Individually on special teams, including the postseason, Chicago’s Devin Hester now has 20 return touchdowns in his career. This season, he surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders (19) for the most in NFL history. Minnesota rookie Cordarrelle Patterson became the first player in NFL history with four receiving touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns and two kickoff-return touchdowns in the same season. In fact, he became the first player in NFL history with a 100-yard kickoff-return touchdown (109 and 105), 75-yard receiving touchdown (79) and 50-yard rushing touchdown (50) in a season.
What a year it was in the NFL and if the regular season is any indication, the playoffs, starting to today, with the Wild Card Round, will be even better.