(Sports Network) - Future Hall of Famers? Check. Young and rising stars?Check. Aaron Rodgers and high-powered offenses? Discount double check.
That's a glimpse of what will unfold when the NFL playoffs commence thisweekend.
With a postseason field loaded with talent ranging from all ages, the NFLcouldn't ask for a better scope of players when the league opens its doors tothe Super Bowl on Saturday. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Rodgers will havetheir bust one day in Canton, Ohio; some believe spaces have already been setaside for the trio. All three finished in the top 10 in passing yards andtouchdown passes, and combined for 36 victories in the regular season.
Brady and Manning earned the right to have the weekend off; Manning led theDenver Broncos to the top seed in the AFC and homefield advantage throughoutthe playoffs and Brady helped the New England Patriots to the second seed. Ahandful of neck procedures and a one-year layoff from football resurrectedManning's reputation as arguably the best QB in the game. The durable Manning,who has played in all 16 games in 14 seasons played, enjoyed his sixthstraight 4,000-yard passing season and finished with 37 touchdown passes --the second-highest total in his career -- and 11 straight wins.
Manning's 11 interceptions were the least since he had nine in 2006 andgrasped the Broncos' playbook immediately. He has brought a new attitude tothe organization and made coach John Fox look like a genius.
"As I have mentioned many times, what he has done, to be coming off that kindof rehab, that type of injury at his position in a new city with a new team isunprecedented," Fox said. "Historical would be the word I would use."
A darn good defense also aided Manning's rise from the ashes and gave theBroncos a short field to work with on numerous occasions. Denver was second inthe league in total yards allowed, third in rushing yards allowed andsurrendered an average of 18.1 ppg (fourth in the NFL). But back to Manning.His offense was second in points scored, fourth in total yards and fifth inpassing. He had a pair of 1,000-yard receivers; Demaryius Thomas ended with1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns and Eric Decker racked up 1,064 yards with ateam-high 13 TD receptions.
Manning should win Comeback Player of the Year or MVP, if not both. And it'sso good to have him back in the playoffs, too. A third trip to the Super Bowlcould be in the cards for one of the game's best and most loyal.
Brady has been a mainstay in the "second season" throughout his career and isone of the most consistent signal callers ever. The playboy QB threw for 4,827yards with 34 touchdown passes and eight INTs in 2012. Brady, though, neverplayed with a full deck all season and New England's entire team needs thisoff week to rest and relax for the next round. Brady aided the Patriots'offense, which was first in both points per game and yards per game. The Patswere fourth in passing yards and seventh in rushing.
Not primarily known as a grinder on the turf, New England rode the legs ofrunning back Stevan Ridley, who had the best year of his short career with1,263 yards and 12 scores on 290 carries, a far cry from his 87 totes a yearearlier. Like the Broncos, the Patriots are Super Bowl contenders because oftheir quarterback. Green Bay agrees with those principles, but was beaten outby Atlanta and San Francisco for the top seeds in the NFC. Rodgers and thePackers lost to the Minnesota Vikings in what seemed like a street fightSunday, and the two NFC North rivals meet again Saturday night.
Rodgers had his second straight 4,000-yard passing season and fourth of hiscareer, finishing second with 39 touchdown passes, fifth with a 108.0 ratingand eighth in total yards passing. Rodgers' TD total was the second-highestmark of his career after 45 touchdown strikes last season. The fiery Rodgersset the tone for what the Vikings can expect this week with 365 yards, fourtouchdowns and a 131.8 passer rating Sunday.
But Green Bay could probably guess what the Vikings will shove down its throatin a few days. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson fell nine yards shy ofbreaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record (2,105 in 1984) andwas more concerned in getting the Vikes to the postseason than individualachievements.
Peterson and Manning are the top candidates for MVP, and the former justposted his seventh 150-yard rushing game of the season, an amazing feat for aneven more amazing person and player. Peterson was an inspiration for anyathlete who sustained a devastating injury and has doubts on returning.
"He's incredible. I told him after the game that he's the best," Rodgers saidof Peterson.
The Falcons have a deadly combination of receivers and quarterback Matt Ryan.Roddy White and Julio Jones are perhaps the best receiving corps in the leagueand tight end Tony Gonzalez is a first ballot Hall of Famer. Michael Turnermay not have ran the football as well as he would have liked, and is still animportant piece of the Falcons' offense.
San Francisco is known for its defense and stud linebackers, and thequarterback switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick left many wonderingwhat 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was thinking. Turns out Harbaugh knew what hewas doing and San Francisco never wavered after the plug was pulled on Smith.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans get the party startedSaturday afternoon, while the Packers and Vikings are in the primetime slot.The Bengals' young duo of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Greendon't match up well against defensive stalwart J.J. Watt and a stingy Texansdefense. Don't forget about Houston's offensive trio of QB Matt Schaub,wideout Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster. Of the top seven rushingleaders in the NFL, five are in the playoffs (Peterson, Alfred Morris,Marshawn Lynch, Foster and Ridley).
For Sunday's playoff matchups, the Indianapolis Colts visit the BaltimoreRavens and the Seattle Seahawks head to the nation's capital amid the "fiscalcliff" to challenge the Washington Redskins, winners of seven straight. TheColts are riding a wave of emotion surrounding coach Chuck Pagano and hisbattle with leukemia, and look to keep the rally going. Top draft Andrew Luckled the Colts to 11 wins, just one season after a dreadful 2-14 finish. Luck,one of three rookie QBs to lead his team to the postseason, and the Colts willstruggle against the Ravens, especially if future Hall of Fame linebacker RayLewis returns from a triceps injury.
Can you imagine the atmosphere in Baltimore if Lewis suits up Sunday?
"This team's getting healthy and we're going to hit our stride going forwardin the playoffs," Ravens running back Ray Rice said with confidence.
Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and Redskins first-year signalcaller Robert Griffin III will lift the excitement level just before suppertime Sunday. It's not too often you see a pair of rookie QBs go at it in theplayoffs and this matchup will not fall short of excitement. Yes, Wilson andRG3 bring their own style of play, but the respective running backs deservejust as much attention. Morris is Washington's exceptional rookie running backand he was second in the NFL behind Peterson with 1,613 yards on 335 carries.Lynch was right behind Morris at third with 1,590 yards.
Morris was modest Sunday night after helping the 'Skins capture their firstNFC East title since 1999 with a season-best 200 yards on a season-high 33carries and three touchdowns in a 28-18 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
"I'm never a star, I'll never be a star," Morris said. "Other people mightthink I am a star, but I'm just Alfred. I've been the same since way backwhen, and I'm not going to change."
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan hopes Morris' work ethic doesn't change either.
Football fans will be in for a treat this postseason with record-breakingoffenses, stout defenses, veterans, rookies and inspirational storylines. In awhat-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, there will be plenty to be gratefulfor when the dust has settled and a champion has been crowned.
Will it be a rookie QB hoisting the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy in February?Or will it be a running back? Don't count out the ones who have been therebefore either. Those questions and many others will be answered in the weeksahead, so sit back and enjoy the show.
FIRST ROUND PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS:
Texans stifle Bengals; Packers in a close one with Vikings; Ravens put lid onColts' magical run; RG3 leads Redskins past Seahawks.