Posted: Tuesday December 11, 2012 6:59AM ; Updated: Tuesday December 11, 2012 12:27PM
Peter King
Peter King>MONDAY MORNING QB - TUESDAY

Texans, Falcons ugly losses give Super Bowl race wide-open feel

Story Highlights

Falcons and Texans could win home-field advantage, but they're not playing like it

Only one of the top seeds over the past seven seasons has won the Super Bowl

Challenging helmet-to-helmet hits; Arguing for Adrian Peterson; more of your mail

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Matt Schaub
Matt Schaub (left) and coach Gary Kubiak couldn't get anything going in a 42-14 loss to New England.
Steven Senne/AP

Not too excited about the top seeds in the NFC and AFC, are you, in the wake of bad losses by the Falcons and Texans in Week 14? There's a reason. Atlanta and Houston are clearly vulnerable entering the last three weeks of the regular season.

In the last five weeks, Atlanta is 3-2. Composite score: Falcons 117, Foes 116.

Houston has played four current division leaders and is 2-2 in those games. Composite score: Foes 122, Houston 112.

Atlanta wins home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by winning two of its last three games. Houston gets AFC home-field by sweeping its last three. But does it matter? I don't think so.

Increasingly, the NFL postseason is ruled by the teams playing the best at the end of the season, not the teams playing at home. That's obvious just by looking at the seeds that have won the last seven Super Bowls: 6, 3, 5, 2, 1, 6 and 4. The home field in January is nice but not the sort of edge it used to be (the first or second seed won the Super Bowl for eight straight years, from 1989 to 1996), as these numbers show:

• Road Sweet Road: Five of the last seven Super Bowl winners have won at least one road game on the way to the world championship. Three (Steelers in 2005, Giants in 2007, Packers in 2010) were wild cards that won three in a row on the road before winning the Super Bowl.

• Low Seeds Rule. Since 2005, Super Bowl winners are 12-0 on the road in the playoffs. The last seven champs have played only seven home games in all, in addition to the 12 road games, which means the champ has come out of the pack of those teams that often end up scrambling to make the playoffs at the end.

• The 41 Percent Rule. In the last seven years, road teams have won 41 percent of playoff games -- 29 in all. That's an average of four of the 10 games (prior to the Super Bowl) played each postseason won by the visitor.

BANKS: TEXANS MAKE WEAK STATEMENT IN BLOWOUT LOSS

Last point: If I'm Atlanta coach Mike Smith or Houston coach Gary Kubiak, I'm not taking my foot off the pedal in any of these last three games, health be damned, even if home-field through the playoffs is clinched. Too often we've seen what happens to teams that have clinched the home-field edge in the playoffs resting guys entering the postseason, mostly with bad results. Aaron Rodgers looked like the preseason Aaron Rodgers in losing to the Giants after going 20 days without playing in a game last year. It never helped the Colts to rest their guys. Football's a game of momentum. For players who skip Week 17, have a bye, then have to play a team that's been building momentum, it's not smart to expect them to play well after having three weeks off.

Now for your email:

IT'S ABOUT TIME. "I think I speak for all Ravens fans when I say the Ravens waited too long to fire Cam Cameron. Our offense has been stagnant, not growing. What do you think?''
-- Gary B., Timonium, Md.

I agree with the coaching change. Watching from the perimeter, I think it was evident that Cam Cameron and Joe Flacco co-existed more than they meshed as partners in the offense. That's not good. Not blaming either side; just stating the reality that Flacco (who should not escape blame for being one of the league's most inconsistent quarterbacks) often chafed at Cameron's offense and his play-calling.

And the running game ... I get the frustration of Ray Rice, which was evident over the last few weeks. Shonn Greene has more carries than Rice. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has more carries than Rice. Now, I like Cameron, and I like him as a coach, but the offense wasn't humming in Baltimore, and I support the change, even at this late date in the Ravens' season.

CAN JIM CALDWELL GET THE JOB DONE? "I liked Jim Caldwell when he was our coach here [with the Colts], but he wasn't a play-caller. I'm surprised the Ravens chose him to replace Cameron.''
-- Art Taylor, Carmel, Ind.

Sometimes you have to be inside the building to judge something like that -- and it's true Caldwell hasn't been an every-down play-caller since he was the Wake Forest coach more than a decade ago. But Caldwell and Flacco get along well. He's not a dictator type, and Flacco will feel more invested in a game plan he has more say in -- at least that's what I'm told. You know, at the end of the day, I'm sure what the Ravens felt was this: Right now, they're an average playoff team. They might win one playoff game, but there's no way they'd be a major playoff factor the way they were playing on offense. We'll see if this works.

I DOUBT IT, AT LEAST FOR TEBOW. "Peter, with this option/pistol offense that is working so well for the Redskins, do you think it's possible that the Jets institute something like this next year? To me, it seems pretty similar to what Tim Tebow ran at Florida, and with the Jets QB situation as it is. Why not?''
-- John, Tacoma, Wash.

I don't see Tebow with the Jets next year. I think he'll be released. Just too much of a sideshow. I do think the Pistol with Tebow would be smart and productive. But he needs to lose a little weight. I don't think a 250-pound quarterback running the option is a good idea, because of his loss of speed and quickness.

PETERSON DESERVES THE COMEBACK PLAYER. "You missed possibly the most compelling reason to choose Adrian Peterson over Peyton Manning as Comeback Player of the Year. Manning took an entire year off from football to recover from his injury. In contrast, Peterson was back mere months after ripping his knee up. Manning's comeback (as well as that of Thomas Davis) is remarkable, but Peterson's comeback is otherworldly. Peterson is the choice.''
-- Dave Moore, Pasadena.

Otherwordly. Hmmm. I have great, great respect for Peterson's comeback, but it's the same thing as Wes Welker did three years ago. Welker had his knee reconstructed four weeks later than Peterson after his nasty injury in the last game of the regular season ... and Welker had an eight-catch game in the season-opener the next year. So, I understand everyone has an opinion on this, and I understand what Peterson is doing is tremendous; I have noted it many times this year. But it has happened to an offensive player who needs quickness to be good, like Peterson. And it has happened recently.

MAKE PENALTIES CHALLENGEABLE. "After watching so many incorrect calls (Bengals/Cowboys anyone?) on the helmet-to-helmet hits, I think the NFL should make that a challengeable play. This isn't like pass interference, where 100 people will call it 100 different ways. A blow to the head is easy to see in a slow motion replay. This would at least give the defense a chance, because now if it's a big hit on a receiver, the flag is coming out.''
-- Tony Perry, Dallas.

I like the idea. If a coach wants to risk one of his challenges on a play like this, let him risk it, knowing it could affect his ability to challenge something later in the game. The NFL needs to understand this is a very difficult call to see at full speed, and I think it's smart to consider making it reviewable.

ARE YOU LISTENING, MIKE SHANAHAN? "You think that Washington might get a first-round pick back by trading Cousins after the season to say Arizona? Or Kansas City, or Oakland, or Jacksonville? So many questioned picking Cousins at the time, just like Seattle's choice of Wilson.''
-- David Carpenter, Stockton, Calif.

A great idea. Arizona should consider it -- but not for the first-round pick, which will be in the top 10. A second-rounder, smart.

I FORGOT MCCARTHY. "You have forgotten more about professional football than I will ever know, but failing to mention Mike McCarthy in the coach of the year conversation? He has kept this team together after being robbed in Seattle, offense continuing to sputter, Rodgers playing not quite to his expected level, AND dealing with more injuries to top line players than any other team in the league, yet they can win the division next week and are still in line for a first-round bye.''
-- Tom Horky, Madison, Wis.

You're right. I blew it. McCarthy deserves to be considered for the award. Thanks for keeping me honest.

GALLERY: THE 100 GREATEST SPORTS PHOTOS

 
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