1. Green Bay (15-1). Four years ago next week, in minus-23 wind chill at Lambeau Field, in the game that launched Aaron Rodgers' career, Brett Favre and the heavily favored Packers lost to Eli Manning 23-20 in overtime. Now it's time for a rematch. And revenge.
2. New Orleans (14-3). The grass isn't always greener on the other side. In San Francisco, however, grass is often more slippery than elsewhere.
3. San Francisco (13-3). This is why the Niners desperately needed those last three wins in the regular season, to get home field. Bad news for the NFC West champs, at least until the meteorologists change their minds: The forecast for today through Saturday in San Francisco is glorious, 60 degrees and sunny almost all week. So if you were hoping for the kind of muddy track to throw the Saints off this weekend, that's not happening. Long-range forecast for the 1:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday by the bay: Abundant sunshine, 62 degrees.
4. New England (13-3). How weird it'll be to see Josh McDaniels walk into Gillette Stadium today. How comforting for Tom Brady, knowing he'll have the McDaniels security blanket when current offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien walks out for State College soon to be Penn State's new head coach.
5. Baltimore (12-4). Smart move by owner Steve Bisciotti to give director of player personnel Eric DeCosta a rich, multi-year contract, for general manager money, because it prevented DeCosta from exploring his options in Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis. Smart for Bisciotti because he made DeCosta make a decision before he could seek his fortune elsewhere, and because the Ravens put a clause in the contract that DeCosta can't negotiate with other teams for a GM job for the life of the contract. Smart for DeCosta because he'll make more money than any No. 2 guy in any front office (and more than lots of current GMs) in the league, and because he'll be Ozzie Newsome's heir whenever Newsome retires. The grass wouldn't have been greener anywhere else.
6. New York Giants (10-7). It's beginning to feel a lot like '07.
7. Denver (9-8). I don't know how you watch that game -- that event -- in Denver Sunday evening and think the Tebow Broncos aren't the best, coolest, most fun story in the NFL in years.
8. Pittsburgh (12-5). Too beat up to compete for anything right now. But that was a heck of a comeback while it lasted. I've got to think that safety Ryan Clark, who didn't play because of his sickle-cell trait, wouldn't have sold out as much as Ryan Mundy to play the run on the first play of overtime. And then, who knows what would have happened.
9. Atlanta (10-7). The day started badly when vital cornerback Brent Grimes was declared inactive 90 minutes before the playoff game in Jersey. And it got worse.
10. Houston (11-6). The Texans can play defense.
11. Detroit (10-7). The Lions can't.
12. Philadelphia (8-8). Andy Reid's job one: whether to replace defensive coordinator Juan Castillo with Steve Spagnuolo. Important decision, obviously, and one that will be a tough call for Reid because of his affection for Castillo.
13. Arizona (8-8). Rod Graves' job one: sign Calais Campbell.
14. San Diego (8-8). Just wondering if A.J. Smith saw former Charger Darren Sproles playing at 110 mph Saturday night with the Detroit defense playing at 55.
15. (tie) Tennessee (9-7). Good thing for the Titans that Mike Munchak, while being torn, didn't want the Penn State job more than he wanted the Tennessee job.
15. (tie) Miami (6-10). Sometime this morning, owner's designee Carl Peterson (don't know what else to call him right now) will pick up the phone and call Marvin Demoff, the agent for Jeff Fisher, and try to get negotiations going. And I think he'll be put off a day while Fisher continues to go over the pros and cons of the Miami and St. Louis jobs.
Offensive Players of the Week
Denver QB Tim Tebow. He wrecks games. Sometimes for the Broncos, but mostly for the opposition. His 316-yard, two-touchdown passing performance against the Steelers (Tebow passer rating: 125.6; Matthew Stafford rating in New Orleans: 97.0) will be Colorado legend forever. That was the most exhilarating touchdown drive by the Broncos since The Drive.
Detroit WR Calvin Johnson. He was targeted 15 times by Stafford Saturday night in New Orleans, and I bet on 12 or 13 of those he had a second man in coverage about to lay a hit on him. Yet he caught 12 balls for an wild-card-playoff record 211 yards -- 17.6 yards per catch -- and two touchdowns. A brilliant, unforgettable playoff game, almost as impressive a performance in defeat as Larry Fitzgerald's day in the Super Bowl three years ago.
New Orleans QB Drew Brees. Just when you think Brees can't play better, you see him complete 33 of 43 for 466 yards, with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a whole lot of "Take the MVP and shove it'' sentiment from his loyal Superdome fans. For the season now, Brees has played 17 games ... and averaged 349.5 yards passing per game. We've never seen a run this prolific. It used to be 300 yards was a big day passing the ball. Brees has done it eight weeks in a row.
Houston RB Arian Foster. With the Bengals knowing Foster was going to get the ball early and often and late, Foster morphed from a classic Denver-style, one-cut-and-get-upfield back to a stretch-the-line-and-get-upfield-all-day back against Cincinnati. In his first playoff game ever, Foster rushed 24 times for 153 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensive Player of the Week
Houston DE J.J. Watt. A 6-foot-5, 290-pound defensive end doesn't make the kind of catch Watt made at the end of the first half Saturday. He somehow Velcroed a line drive from Andy Dalton and ran it in 29 yards for the deciding touchdown late in the second quarter. Watt also had a sack of Dalton, and he was part of an excellent run defense that held Bengal back Cedric Benson to seven carries for 14 yards.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Houston P Matt Turk. In a game that looked for 30 minutes like it'd be a field-position game, Turk booted five punts for a 50.2-yard average (a 42.2-yard net). Turk is 43. This is his 16th NFL season. He's seen it all, and now he's seen a playoff victory in Houston.
Coach of the Week
New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin. With five minutes left in the third quarter Sunday, Coughlin saw the Falcons, with a 3rd-and-10 from the New York 30, gather with 12 men in the huddle. That's illegal. The Falcons called timeout before running a play, and during the break Coughlin argued vehemently that there had been 12 men in the huddle. The officials huddled, and they ruled there were indeed 12 men in the huddle. That's a five-yard penalty.
That brought up 3rd-and-15, and the Falcons were likely out of field-goal range on a breezy day at the Meadowlands if Ryan threw an incompletion. He didn't; his pass to Roddy White took the Falcons to the Giants' 21. Fourteen-yard gain, a gain that would have been a first down (assuming they had make the same gain on a 3rd-and-10, which you can't guarantee). Then Atlanta went for it on fourth down and was stopped. Three plays later, Eli Manning threw a 72-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks, and the game was iced.
Coughlin never gets the credit he deserves for being on top of game management. Who knows if the Falcons would have converted 3rd-and-10; all I know is they were a yard short of converting 3rd-and-15, and moments later the Giants iced the game.
Goats of the Week
Atlanta coach Mike Smith. Went for it on 4th-and-1, bypassing a 41-yard field goal in a scoreless game in the second quarter; Matt Ryan got stuffed. Went for it on 4th-and-1, bypassing a 38-yard field goal in a 10-2 game in the third quarter; Matt Ryan got stuffed ... and this one came with an empty backfield, with 245-pound back Michael Turner on the sidelines.
"It was less than a yard, it was about half a yard, maybe even less than that,'' Smith said. "That was the play, again, we go through and sequence those things all through the week and felt like that was the play we had up and we just didn't execute it. We felt like at any point and time we ought to be able to move less than a half-yard with the quarterback sneak.''
Either his line blew it or Smith overestimated its ability to move a stout Giants' front. Either way, Smith misjudged the situations, particularly the second one.
Cincinnati S Chris Crocker, with an assist from CB Adam Jones. Midway through the third quarter, Houston led 17-10, and quarterback T.J. Yates threw a duck over the middle -- right into the hands of Crocker. Crocker dropped it at the Houston 40. Had he caught it, he might have returned it for a touchdown, or simply put the Bengals in position with a short field to tie the score. The dropped pick led to a touchdown that gave Houston a 24-10 lead.
So instead of a short field to tie, Crocker's drop -- leading to a T.J. Yates-to-Andre Johnson touchdown pass with the formerly talented Jones getting faked out of his jock by Johnson -- put Cincinnati in a two-touchdown hole with 19 minutes to play. And one postscript: On Foster's insurance touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, Crocker flailed and tried to tackle him, failing, on one of the worst missed tackles you'll ever see.
Detroit CB Aaron Berry. After the Lions secondary got wrecked by Drew Brees Saturday night -- and Berry dropped what would have been a crucial interception -- Berry took to Twitter to rip the fans who were ripping him. "Y'all can go back to being Broke & Miserable ... now back to regular scheduled programming.''
Smart thing by Berry -- your defense gets shredded for 626 yards, most in playoff history. Your secondary (with help from a pass rush that didn't bother Brees much) yields 466 yards. And you drop an interception. That's just the time to fire back at fans.