The playoff seedings indicate that Super Bowl XLV should pit the New England Patriots (14-2) against the Atlanta Falcons (13-3). Both stand alone with the best records in their conferences. Both have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
New England was 8-0 at home this season. Atlanta was 7-1.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (above) turns Foxborough Stadium into a comfortable living room. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (below right) has made the Georgia Dome his playpen.
Though the Patriots have won 17 consecutive season home games, Brady's streak is longer -- 28 in a row. Ryan is 19-2 in career starts in his dome.
Having experienced both teams and both stadiums a couple of times this season, I'll take Ryan and his dome over Brady and his magical kingdom as the tougher place to toil in the playoffs.
The Georgia Dome is a barn full of noise and excitement. It is a fast track tailored to the Falcons style. It is a perfect complement of team feeding off crowd and crowd feeding off team. It's nuts. The Falcons fly in the place. I say the Falcons have a more potent homefield advantage than the Patriots. That does not mean they have the more potent team. Just the more prickly digs.
I spoke to three NFL general managers, however, who think the Patriots Foxborough Stadium is the beast of all homefield advantages in the playoffs. Here was a sampling of their reasons why:
"In New England, you not only have to deal with the team, you have to deal with the elements, definitely cold, maybe rain and snow -- that's not easy. ..."
"The Patriots have just done it there longer and better than the Falcons have in their place. ..."
"The Falcons when they lost to the Saints there recently showed they are vulnerable in that building -- they let everyone in the playoffs know they can be beaten there. ..."
I don't see that.
They lost a 17-14 game to the Saints in the Georgia Dome on Dec. 27 that was full of Falcons mistakes that can easily be corrected. The Falcons responded nicely by pounding feeble Carolina 31-10 in the dome in their regular-season finale.
I see the Falcons putting up quite a fight in the playoffs in their dome. Come Saints, come Vick, come whoever and whatever.
Seahawks One and Done?
We have the first team with a losing record to ever reach the poststeason after a full season now that Seattle is in with a 7-9 record. The Seahawks earned their spot with a victory late on Sunday night at home over St. Louis. It was a 16-6 game result that showed coach Pete Carroll in his first Seattle season pieced together enough, glued together enough to become NFC West champions.
The Seahawks truly appreciate a popular NFL axiom that you should throw out the records for the playoffs. That all playoff teams are basically 0-0.
That it's a new game.
Into Seattle strolls the defending champion Saints who are expected to smack the Seahawks and move on -- possibly back to the George Dome, to the Falcons.
I don't think the league has a problem at all with the Seahawks and their losing record in the playoffs. It's a first of sorts and with this league there is joy in firsts. It is not hesitant to embrace firsts and change and new issues that keeps its game abuzz.
If the Saints, Packers, Jets and Ravens win in the wild-card playoff, that means the following weekend's divisional round action will feature two teams each from the NFC South (Falcons and Saints), NFC North (Bears and Packers), AFC East (Patriots and Jets) and AFC North (Steelers and Ravens). And in the AFC, both matchups would, indeed, be divisional game rematches.
The Real Reason Charlie Weis is Leaving KC
Kansas City Chiefs coordinator Charlie Weis (below right) will spin it, peddle it, frame his eventual exit this way: That his son, Charlie Jr., will enroll at Florida this fall. That his son wants to dip into coaching. That Weis wants to give his son every chance to have a personalized introduction into it and monitor his work daily. That moving from Chiefs offensive coordinator to the University of Florida offensive coordinator is a perfect chance to do that.
And that's legit. But it is also an out for Weis in a classic push-and-pull-and-tug situation with the Chiefs.
The relationship between Chiefs coach Todd Haley and Weis is an unusual one. Haley was the low-man on the totem pole, a grinding assistant under Weis during their stint with the Jets in the late '90s. Now in Kansas City, Haley is in charge and Weis is his subordinate.
Both tried to make it work. And the Chiefs won the AFC West, the offense rose, quarterback Matt Cassel blossomed. The Chiefs host the Ravens in wildcard playoff action on Sunday.
But all season long, there was tension between Haley and Weis. When your head coach is an offensive coach, he is going to have his hand in the offense and insist on certain things. Sometimes things will not always go the way the offensive coordinator wants them to go.
The once-low-guy who is now the head coach remembers what it was like to be that gopher. He tweaks the guy underneath him now -- just a little late equalizer -- here and there. A reminder of who is in charge now. Weis is bolting what had become a sticky situation. That's the thorny side of it. No doubt.
The question is how is this going to impact the Chiefs in the playoffs? They looked a mess in their 31-10 beating that the Raiders served squarely in the Chiefs home stadium on Sunday. Are these Chiefs coaches this week going to be able mesh and click and the entire staff not be affected and the players, too? Can the Chiefs create and execute a winning game plan against the Ravens, minus the drama?
Weis was able to do it when he left the Patriots for Notre Dame. He was able to coach with one foot out of the door and one foot in. But this is different. This is trickier. It's his last shot with the Chiefs. They need his best one.