Reality: The Wild Card games averaged 34.7 million viewers… making it the most-watched Wild Card Weekend ever. The 49ers/Packers was the most-watched Wild Card game ever, averaging 47.1 million viewers.
Perception: The NFL continues to be the biggest thing in America. It doesn’t matter who plays or what day of the week… the NFL wins the TV ratings battle every week. And what’s even more remarkable is the demos it wins… all of them! Men, Women, Young, Old… the NFL is the most watched anything on television. The NFL can do no wrong right now.
Reality: The NFL is discussing adding more teams to the playoffs.
Perception: As I said, the NFL can do no wrong… or can it? The NFL Season is perfect! Why mess with a good thing? And right now, the NFL playoffs are perfect. But the NFL wants to make even more money, so they have talked about adding more playoff games and adding more regular season games. Don’t re-seed. Don’t add more playoff teams. Don’t add more regular season games. I know probably all of these things will change, but it shouldn’t. The NFL season is just right, right now! But money talks and the owners will find a way to make more.
Reality: Home-field advantage is important in the NFL… but it’s not that important.
Perception: Usually, home field is seen as a big advantage in the NFL. However, if not for the Colts overcoming a 28-point deficit, all four road teams would have won on Wildcard Weekend. Plus, 5 of the last 10 teams that went undefeated at home during the regular season, lost their initial home playoff game. So as much as home field advantage really is an advantage in the NFL, it seems to be neutralized somewhere come playoff time.
Reality: #6 seeds are 6-2 against #1 seeds since 2005.
Perception: That’s good news for the Saints and Chargers, who are the #6 seeds this year. No. 1 seeds are 7-9 in the Divisional Playoffs since 2005. In fact, since the NFL went to an eight-division format in 2002, there has only been one #1 vs #1 seed in the Super Bowl and that was the Saints / Colts four years ago. The Seahawks went to the Super Bowl as a #1 seed in 2005, but lost to the #6 Steelers. So overall, being a lower seed in the NFL playoffs is not a bad thing at all.
And in the AFC, it’s even more interesting. There are 4 AFC teams left in the playoffs… the Broncos and the 3 teams the Broncos lost to this season. So the Super Bowl really is up for grabs for any team that plays well this weekend.
Reality: For the first time since the 2009 season, no AFC North team will be in the AFC Championship Game.
Perception: The Ravens and the Steelers have been at the top of the AFC for many years. This year, neither made the playoffs, and the Bengals were pretenders. It makes it a bit harder for me to decide who to root for when no AFC North teams are in the playoffs to root against.
Reality: The Cincinnati Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since January 6, 1991.
Perception: The Bengals continue to be the Bungals in the playoffs. Yes, they just completed the best 5-year stretch in their 46-year history. But they are winless in their last 5 playoff games. They have not won a playoff game since 1991. In comparison, the Ravens have 14 playoff wins since 1991, and they didn’t exist for the first 5 years of that time frame.
It really is amazing just how bad the Bengals (and the Browns) have been in the AFC North. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has coached them since 2003, which is the 2nd longest tenured coach in the league (behind Bill Belichick of the Patriots). But Lewis is only 90-90-1 and is 0-5 in the playoffs. Lewis and Jim Mora (when he coached the Saints) are the only men to coach a team for 11 years and never win a playoff game.
I am all for owners who stick with coaches through the tough times. I think the better organizations in the long term are the ones that don’t flip coaching staff’s often. See the Patriots and the Steelers as examples.
But sooner or later, the Bengals will need to make a switch if Lewis can’t get them over the hump… and I’m not talking Super Bowl… I’m simply saying win a single playoff game.