Wild Card Weekend Preview

IT’S PLAYOFF TIME!

After an exciting finish to the regular season, the NFL’s second season has arrived.

“We’re starting the second season, the tournament, the playoff season now,” says Denver Broncos head coach JOHN FOX, whose team clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. “We’ve got a lot of things to work on and we will.”

Week 17 came right down to the wire as 10 of the 16 games played on the final day of the regular season had playoff implications. Sunday’s excitement was due in part to having 16 divisional games played on the season’s final day, a tradition instituted in 2010. The NFL also arranged the schedule to ensure as many meaningful games as possible in each broadcasting window, resulting in the highest collective Sunday rating since at least 2006 (when the Sunday primetime package went to NBC). And the regular-season’s final game – game No. 256 of 256 – determined the NFC East division champion as Washington defeated Dallas in a winner-take-all matchup.

“I’m so happy we’re going to the playoffs,” says Redskins rookie running back ALFRED MORRIS, who rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns in the Week 17 victory.

The final 12 teams are now set. It doesn’t matter how you got here. All that matters is that you’re here.

“A new season is about to begin,” says Atlanta Falcons running back MICHAEL TURNER. “The No. 1 seed does not guarantee playoff wins in this league. We have to go out there and show the world that we are the best football team in the NFL. We will take it one day at a time. Whichever opponent we face, that’s going to be a good football team.”

The NFL playoffs, which conclude on February 3 with Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, begin this Saturday and Sunday with Wild Card Weekend.

“I’m so excited,” says Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback RUSSELL WILSON, who tied PEYTON MANNING’s single-season rookie record with 26 touchdown passes. “I’m ecstatic. It’s a great opportunity. It’s a blessing. We’ve gotten wins so far in the regular season and now the whole season starts over. The mindset doesn’t change. We have to go 1-0 every week and continue to compete. We’re really excited about the opportunity and we’ll be ready to play.”

The Seahawks are one of four new teams in this year’s playoff field, joining Indianapolis, Minnesota and Washington. Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before.

And this year’s crop of playoff teams is a strong one as every team won at least 10 games.

“Playoff football is different than regular-season football,” says Falcons head coach MIKE SMITH, who is the first head coach in franchise history to guide the team to the playoffs in four of his first five years. “We’re looking forward to it.”

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