September through December is the NFL regular season. Generally by Thanksgiving, teams have separated themselves as being playoff-worthy or not. In the month between then and the end of the regular season, teams will play for more than just the will to win.
The NFL is one of the most competitive professional sports leagues, due in part to the condensed season relative to the 82-game NBA season and the 162-game MLB season. With only 16-games in a 17 week schedule, NFL teams are leaning more and more on new technology and coaching methods to keep their minds and bodies prepared for each game.
By the beginning of the new year, the playoff bracket is set with only eight of the 32 teams qualifying. The top two seeds from each conference (AFC/NFC) get a first-round bye as a reward for their top finish in the regular season. The other six teams in each conference face off in a win or go home match-up to decide the fate of their season.
This season, there are eight teams in the playoffs that weren’t in last season. Along with that, there are huge differences in playoff experience between starting quarterbacks in almost every match-up remaining.
The remaining AFC (American Football Conference) match-ups are:
With the biggest difference in playoff experience, the underdogs will need to show everything they’ve got to make these games competitive. With their only playoff starts coming last week in the Wild Card games, both Blake Bortles (Jaguars) and Marcus Mariota (Titans) are at a severe disadvantage in playoff experience. Their match-ups are against two dynasty teams in the NFL and their quarterbacks have both proven themselves over and over in their careers.
Tom Brady (34 playoff starts) vs Marcus Mariota (1 playoff start)
Ben Roethlisberger (20 playoff starts) vs Blake Bortles (1 playoff start)
Needless to say the young guns will have their hands full this postseason.
For the NFC (National Football Conference), the remaining match-ups are:
Though they’re not as wide as the AFC, these match-ups don’t host an easy slate for one quarterback. The #1 Eagles lost their star starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, mid-season to a knee injury and have relied on Nick Foles down the stretch. Foles has one playoff start, but lost in 2014 to the Saints. Now, back in the playoff picture, Foles and the Eagles take on Matt Ryan and the Falcons. Ryan has nine playoff starts, including last years Super Bowl. He has more experience, but does the team have the players to win?
The last match-up of this round has another advantage to the underdog. Drew Brees vs Case Keenum doesn’t favor the #2 Vikings. With a 12-0 advantage in playoff starts, Brees and the Saints will look to exploit the inexperience of Keenum and win the battle that looks to be the best of this round. The Vikings have the best defense in the league, and the Saints have the second-best offense. We’ll see if defense really does win championships.
Nick Foles (1 playoff start) vs Matt Ryan (9 playoff starts)
Case Keenum (0 playoff starts) vs Drew Brees (12 playoff starts)