The NFL’s wild-card weekend was all-too-tame last season and hasn’t produced a Super Bowl participant in five years.
The past eight Super Bowl participants all had first-round byes. The last team that didn’t was the 2012 Ravens, who won the Super Bowl as a No. 4 seed.
The Giants also beat the Patriots in Super Bowls as a No. 4 seed in 2011 and a No. 5 seed in 2007. And the Steelers and Packers won Super Bowls as No. 6 seeds in 2005 and 2010, respectively.
Can you see Buffalo running the table on the road against Jacksonville, New England and Pittsburgh?
But how about the defending NFC champion Falcons catching fire and doing it to the Rams, Eagles and Vikings, three teams that were watching the playoffs a year ago?
That’s why we’ll all be watching when the Titans and Chiefs kick this thing off at 3:30 Saturday afternoon.
The way Las Vegas sees it now, Minneapolis will be treated to a Super Bowl LII show that features hometown coach Mike Zimmer and his top-ranked defense matching wits with a couple of legendary old GOATs in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. I’m going against Sin City in the AFC and picking the Steelers to upset the Patriots in the conference title game.
Here is a closer look at the 12-team playoff field …
1. Eagles (13-3)
Road to Minneapolis: Homefield advantage in the NFC, but prime one-and-done candidate without Carson Wentz.
Trending: Lost season finale 6-0 at home to Dallas. Nick Foles looked awful in limited action. But beware of the teams that everyone assumes will lose. They often rise to the occasion.
Strength/concern: They’re fourth in scoring defense and have 31 takeaways, which is first among NFC playoff teams. … Foles can’t match Wentz, who was an MVP candidate with 33 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 101.9 passer rating.
2. Vikings (13-3)
Road to Minneapolis: If the Eagles keep slumping, the Vikings could play three straight at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Trending: Won three straight and 10 of 11. But they haven’t played a good team since giving up 31 points and 216 yards rushing in a loss at Carolina last month.
Strength/concern: Defense is at full strength while ranking first in yards, points and third downs allowed. … Can the wheels stay on for Case Keenum, who hasn’t thrown an interception in 10 of the 15 games he’s played?
3. Rams (11-5)
Road to Minneapolis: Beat Atlanta and their divisional game is in Minnesota, where the league’s highest-scoring offense was held to seven points.
Trending: Ended season with 34-13 home loss to 49ers. Finished 2-2, but have won past three road games.
Strength/concern: Revamped offensive line, MVP-caliber season from running back Todd Gurley and an exciting young quarterback in Jared Goff, who ranks second in yards per pass attempt (8.0) and fifth in passer rating (100.5). … Defense ranks 24th overall and last among NFC playoff teams in red-zone defense.
4. Saints (11-5)
Road to Minneapolis: Losing to the Bucs in Week 17 could help. If they beat Carolina a third time, they get a divisional game at Philly, not Minny.
Trending: Went 3-3 in their past six games after winning eight in a row.
Strength/concern: They have a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback in Drew Brees and the most dynamic running back duo in league history in Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. … As well as the defense has played, it’s still ranked 27th in third-down conversions, last among playoff teams.
5. Panthers (11-5)
Road to Minneapolis: They are struggling and must open at New Orleans against a team that has beaten them twice by a combined 31 points.
Trending: Lost to Atlanta in Week 17 after beating the Vikings, Packers and Bucs at home the previous three weeks.
Strength/concern: They went 8-1 in one-score games, including 3-0 on the road. … Cam Newton has topped 200 yards passing only once in the past six games. Panthers’ minus-13.1 passer rating differential is last among playoff teams by far.
6. Falcons (10-6)
Road to Minneapolis: Things could get very interesting if the defending NFC champs upset the Rams this weekend. They would go to Philly to face the slumping Eagles. Win there and nervous Vikings fans could be looking at another Falcons-Vikings NFC title game in Minnesota.
Trending: Needing a win to make the playoffs, they beat the Panthers 22-10.
Strength/concern: They have the top-ranked third-down offense. … Their passer rating differential is 0.5. Matt Ryan’s passer rating is 91.4, 25.7 lower than what it was during last year’s MVP season.
1. Patriots (13-3)
Road to Minneapolis: Homefield advantage and likely to open with a rematch of 42-27 Week 1 loss to Chiefs.
Trending: Allowed 14 points per game while going 11-1 in their final 12 games. Allowed 32 points per game while starting the season 2-2.
Strength/concern: Turned the ball over only 12 times while five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady had yet another MVP-caliber season at 40. … Had only 18 takeaways — 11th among 12 playoff teams — while ranking 21st in the league in third-down defense.
2. Steelers (13-3)
Road to Minneapolis: Likely facing another AFC title game at New England, where they lost by 21 last year. Probably will open against Jacksonville, which won 30-9 at Pittsburgh in Week 5.
Trending: Won two straight and 10 of 11. But the closing seconds of that Week 15 home loss to the Patriots cost them home-field advantage and might cost them a Super Bowl appearance.
Strength/concern: Ranked second in third-down offense and showed grittiness in going 8-2 in one-score games. … Antonio Brown’s calf injury and a red-zone defense that ranked 28th.
3. Jaguars (10-6)
Road to Minneapolis: Beat Tennessee at home and they will head back to Pittsburgh, where they used five interceptions, including two pick-sixes, to beat the Steelers 30-9 in Week 5.
Trending: Lost two straight, including a concerning 44-33 decision at San Francisco in Week 16.
Strength/concern: “Sacksonville” ranked second behind Pittsburgh in sacks per pass play and first among playoff teams with 33 takeaways. … Blake Bortles threw five interceptions in the past two games.
4. Chiefs (10-6)
Road to Minneapolis: They open with Tennessee, which won’t challenge their struggling secondary. Win and they’re likely off to Foxboro, where they upset the Patriots 42-27 in Week 1.
Trending: With a four-game winning streak, they are suddenly the hottest playoff team. But they went 1-6 before that.
Strength/concern: Alex Smith is having his best season while the Chiefs have turned the ball over a league-low 11 times. … It will be hard to hide the 29th-ranked pass defense and the 23rd-ranked third-down defense at Foxboro.
5. Titans (9-7)
Road to Minneapolis: They are 3-5 on the road and will open at Kansas City, which has won four straight.
Trending: Beat Jacksonville in Week 17 to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Lost three straight before that, including games at Arizona and San Francisco.
Strength/concern: Ranked third among AFC playoff teams and eighth in the league in third-down defense. … Their passer rating differential of minus-10.7 is a distant last among AFC teams. Marcus Mariota has thrown more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (13).
6. Bills (9-7)
Road to Minneapolis: Even if they sneak past Jacksonville’s defense, they would go to New England to face a team that mauled them twice in December.
Trending: They have won four of six since Sean McDermott went back to Tyrod Taylor after Nathan Peterman threw five picks in the first half of a loss to the Chargers.
Strength/concern: If LeSean McCoy’s ankle is OK, the sixth-ranked running game has a favorable matchup against Jacksonville’s 21st-ranked run defense. … McCoy’s ankle and an offense that’s 22nd in scoring (18.9).