More teams that failed to make the playoffs in 2017 are in this season than there are repeaters.
Yep, seven of the 12 qualifiers didn’t make it last year, some not coming close. The Chiefs, Saints, Rams, Patriots and defending champion Eagles are back.
Houston, which started out 0-3, and Chicago went from worst to first. Amazing? Not quite: In 15 of the past 16 seasons, that’s occurred.
Baltimore hadn’t gotten to the postseason the last three seasons, but squeezed in by winning the AFC North — at the expense of perennial qualifier Pittsburgh, which did an uncharacteristic flop by dropping five of its final six games.
Indianapolis hadn’t advanced since 2014, either, and took care of that with a 33-17 victory at Tennessee. Seattle, which made a habit of going deep in the playoffs and winning the 2013 championship, got back in as an NFC wild card after a one-year absence.
The Chargers already had clinched a spot and will be the fifth seed in the AFC. They return for the first time in five years.
And Dallas (10-6) grabbed the NFC East crown. Like Seattle (10-6), the Cowboys were last in the playoffs in 2016. And they meet up on Saturday night in Big D.
“I think what it comes down to is nobody wanted to play in Chicago. We wanted to play in Dallas in a dome,” said always-frank Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin.
The other game Saturday is the AFC South matchup of Indianapolis (10-6) at Houston (11-5).
“The most satisfying thing is to walk in the locker room, look at your teammate and say, ‘We did it,’ and we did it,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “Those are three of the best words that you can ever say to your teammate. To me, that’s really the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Reich knows about that pot of gold. He helped collect it as offensive coordinator with the Eagles last season.
Those Eagles (9-7 ) finished off a superb late-season run behind — you guessed it — Nick Foles. The backup quarterback turned Super Bowl hero of last season again replaced an injured Carson Wentz and worked some magic. So did Philly’s defense in a 24-0 romp at Washington that kept the Eagles in contention.
When the visiting Bears (12-4) played their regulars — way to go, coach Matt Nagy — with nothing to gain and knocked off NFC North rival Minnesota (8-7-1), the Eagles earned a trip to …
Where else: Chicago, next Sunday to close out the wild-card round.
“This is what we expected,” Eagles star safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We are where we are expected to be. The journey hasn’t been how we drew it up, per se, but this is where we expected to be. I don’t think anyone is surprised by the results.
“We have really just put our heads down and went to work this past month. Now, we are in the postseason. Throw out the regular season and everything that’s happened before then.”
The Chargers, who had the second-best AFC record yet wound up a wild card because Kansas City held the tiebreaker to win the West, would like to throw out their last meeting with Baltimore. In prime time last week, they lost at home to Baltimore when a win would have put them atop their division.
Oh well, now it’s off to the Inner Harbor on Sunday and another chance to sink the Ravens.
“It’s a heck of a challenge,” Chargers veteran quarterback Philip Rivers said. “I don’t think there was really a team that wasn’t going to be a heck of a challenge. To get to this point, there are only 12 teams in. Again, this first weekend where eight teams are playing and they’re all good.
“That’s a team that outplayed last week. It’ll be a new game, new everything and we’ll see who can play the best this time through.”
Sitting by will be the Chiefs and Patriots in the AFC, Saints and Rams in the NFC. They know, as do all four wild-card hosts, that there’s no overwhelming favorite in these playoffs.
“We’re going to sit back and just watch these games upcoming,” Rams cornerback Marcus Peters said, “and we’re going to prepare for ourselves to be ready to go. It’s time to get ready to play football.”
By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer