There were some common threads amongst the four NFL Wildcard Weekend games. Here is just what I saw.....
DON'T TURN IT OVER: If any of you watched FOX's pregame show, you'd note that Jimmy Johnson stated that the key is to be the team with the least mistakes. How true this weekend! The losing teams this weekend were the Giants [5 turnovers], Buccaneers , Jaguars  and Bengals  who combined for TWELVE TURNOVERS......while the Redskins , Panthers , Patriots  and Steelers  combined for just ONE. Now, any simpleton knows that turning it over means you're not gonna have a good time, but these numbers really, really, really put that theory into a bright display.
EXPERIENCE IS KEY: In three of the games [the Washington-Tampa Bay game excluded] there was a clear experience gap between the teams. In each case, the experienced team won handily. New England just played with poise and confidence. Pittsburgh wasn't shaken by an early 10-pt defecit. Carolina had an outstanding defensive game plan. Those three teams have been to conference championship games.....with Carolina and New England bringing Super Bowl experience. On the other side, all three QBs were shaken. Obviously, the Carson Palmer injury was unfortunate. But Eli Manning and Byron Leftwich were left confused in their first playoff starts.
RARE SHUT OUT: The Giants became the first home team to be shut out in a playoff game since Tampa Bay in 1980.
DON'T TRUST THESE BYE TEAMS: Having a bye is a nice thing. You get to rest your weary players. You don't have to play that extra game to get to the Super Bowl. But don't exactly give these four bye teams a pass into the Conference Championships. All four have issues...at least prior playoff issues. We all know about the Colts inability to beat New England in the playoffs. Well, if the Pats and Colts can match up....it could be quite a fight that New England may come out as the victor. That would mean the Pats would've knocked off Denver, who've looked horrible in the recent playoff games. Over in the NFC, Seattle hasn't won a playoff game in over 20years...and have lost their only two playoff games at Qwest Field. Chicago hasn't won a playoff game in a decade...and lost their last playoff game in which they were a #2 seed .
BUT, THEN AGAIN, THEY ARE GREAT HOME TEAMS: Seattle, Chicago, Indianapolis and Denver are a combined 30-2 at home this season. Those lone two losses? Chicago lost to Cincinnati in Soldier Field very early in the season. The other loss was that Colts loss to the Chargers that ended their run for a perfect season. The road teams [Washington, New England, Pittsburgh and Carolina] are 21-11 this year away from their stadiums.
HOW ABOUT THESE COACHES: You have Bill Billichick, Mike Shanahan, Joe Gibbs and Mike Holmgren who have combined for NINE Super Bowl championships. The other coaches, John Fox, Lovie Smith, Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy are no slouches themselves. Fox and Cowher have led their teams to Super Bowls.
OH BROTHER, WHERE FOR ART THOU?: Interesting brother issues. Both Tiki [Giants] and Ronde [Bucs] Barber were ousted from the NFC playoffs this weekend. Eli Manning was bounced from the playoffs...eliminating a scenerio that he'd meet his brother Peyton in the Super Bowl. Matt Hasselbeck will lead his Seahawks against Washington.....where his brother Tim was a backup QB for the last few years [he was cut this past offseason].
FROM THE OTHER SIDE: Here is the The Buccaneers blog about the Skins victory of the Bucs:
"To be honest, Washington was the team I was more afraid of, even tho I knew Carolina was gonna beat the pants off the Giants -- as they no doubt felt as if they had something to prove. "We" won the Division, they didn't. Can't you see Fox telling his team that they "needed to show" everyone who the *real* Division Champ was? I can.
I was afraid of the Redskins because of history, and history has a way of doing things to people. We beat them on a questionable two-point conversion, and we beat them in our last playoff meeting. But I did like our chances against them.
The Skins were coming off a five win gig (as I said earlier) and looking at their total offense, the Bucs should have won this game easily.
14 points is hard to overcome -- not impossible, just hard.
One of the things I think played against us was our QB's lack of experience. Example: After a fumble he stood there looking at the ball instead of diving on it. Washington recovered.
He's been having passes tipped a lot lately .. Isn't that double-pump something designed to throw off a Defense's timing?
And that last minute TD that wasn't. I do not understand that rule. If the ball slips, even a fraction of an inch, it's ruled incomplete, but yet a ball carrier can make it one millimeter diving into the endzone, have the ball pop out, and it's still a TD. The rule on fumbling is that the ground cannot cause the fumble. So why is this "incomplete pass" rule on the books? It just makes no sense to me.
And from buccaneers.com ... This pretty much says it all.
"Don’t blame the Buccaneers’ defense if they can’t enjoy one of the most dominant performances in NFL playoff history...Without the ‘W,’ it's a hollow victory.
You can look at the offensive total amassed by the Washington Redskins on Saturday in two ways:
1) It was the fewest yards ever gained by a winning team in an NFL playoff contest; or
2) It was the fewest yards ever allowed by a losing team in an NFL playoff contest.
The Buccaneers’ top-ranked defense held the Redskins to 120 yards of total offense despite losing, 17-10. That’s an extremely impressive accomplishment by a defense that has been the league’s best for the last decade but it is, unfortunately, something of a moral victory. The Redskins will live to fight another day in the 2005 playoffs while the Buccaneers will begin preparing for 2006.
The Buccaneers’ defense came into the first round of playoffs as the top-ranked unit in the league, having grabbed that title from Chicago on the last weekend. It’s safe to say, however, that few analysts really considered the ’05 Bucs the best defense in the league, unlike in 2002, when the rankings title was just the last validation of what everyone already knew. This year, most gave that distinction of best defense to the Bears, who would have been the Bucs’ second-round opponent had they won.
Perhaps itis particularly impressive, then, that this defense came out and stymied an offense that, over the last five weeks of the regular season, had averaged 326 yards and 28 points per game. Behind Clinton Portis’ five straight 100-yard rushing games, the Redskins’ offense was rolling coming into the postseason. They expected similar success on Saturday.
At the beginning of the 2005 season, which most observers felt would be another tough one for the Buccaneers, the team made a point of studying the factors that most often lead to wins and losses in the NFL. It should come as a surprise to no one that giveaway/takeaway differential was at top of that list. In the end, it is the reason the Bucs are not celebrating one of the best defensive performances in NFL playoff history.
“It is funny, ironic, that the thing we stressed most is the thing that we could not get over, and that was the turnover margin,” said Simeon Rice. "We held them in yards. We had more yards than them. Everything, statistically, went our way, except for the turnover margin.”
And the score Simeon, the final score."