IT’S PLAYOFF TIME!
It doesn’t matter how you got here. All that matters is that you’re here.
“It’s a new season,” says head coach MIKE MC CARTHY of the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, who finished 15-1 and earned home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. “There are six teams in the NFC battling to get to Indianapolis. The most important thing is when we step back onto the field, we play our best football.”
The NFL playoffs, which conclude on February 5 with Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, begin this Saturday and Sunday with Wild Card Weekend.
“The real season starts now,” says New Orleans Saints quarterback DREW BREES, who set NFL single-season passing records for yards (5,476), completions (468), completion percentage (71.2), 300-yard games (13) and consecutive 300-yard games (seven). “Nothing else matters past this coming Saturday’s game. We have to continue to progress and get better. All of our goals and dreams and aspirations are right there in front of us.”
The Saints are one of seven new division winners – Baltimore, Denver, Green Bay, Houston, New Orleans, New York Giants and San Francisco – in 2011, the most such clubs since realignment in 2002.
The 2011 playoff field also features six teams – Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Houston, New York Giants and San Francisco – that did not make the postseason last year. This marks the 16th consecutive season that at least five teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before.
“Playoff football is different than regular-season football,” says Atlanta Falcons head coach MIKE SMITH, who is the first head coach in franchise history to guide the team to the playoffs in three of his first four years. “We’re looking forward to moving on to the second season.”
ATLANTA FALCONS (10-6) at NEW YORK GIANTS (9-7) (Sunday, FOX 50, 1:00 PM)
Two of the hottest teams down the stretch will meet at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Both the Falcons and Giants won three of their final four games to make the postseason.
“We had a good finish to the regular season and now we’re excited about the playoffs starting,” says Atlanta quarterback MATT RYAN, who set a franchise record with 4,177 passing yards. “Everybody’s confidence is very high.”
The Falcons have qualified for the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time in team history. Ryan, RB MICHAEL TURNER (1,340 yards) and WR RODDY WHITE (1,296) became the second Falcons trio with a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver.
New York won its final two games to win the NFC East, including a Week 17 win over the Dallas Cowboys. Head coach TOM COUGHLIN has guided the Giants to five postseason appearances, tied with BILL PARCELLS for the most in team annals. Pro Bowl quarterback ELI MANNING had a franchise-record 4,933 passing yards and wide receiver VICTOR CRUZ had a team-record 1,536 receiving yards, 193 more than the previous mark. All-Star defensive end JASON PIERRE-PAUL ranked fourth in the NFL with 16.5 sacks, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer LAWRENCE TAYLOR and MICHAEL STRAHAN as the only Giants to record at least 16 sacks in a season.
“We’ve been in playoff-like games for the last three weeks,” says Coughlin. “We are battle-tested in a lot of ways because we have played some really outstanding football teams through the second half of the season.”