LOS ANGELES — With the National Football League’s regular season done and dusted, it’s time for the playoffs, and history shows that a team from the wild card weekend usually makes a deep run. The fourth-seeded Washington Redskins in the NFC and fifth-seeded Indianapolis Colts in the AFC are two of eight teams in action this weekend trying to crash the Super Bowl party. The 2012 NFL playoffs kick off with the wild card round, followed by the divisional round on Jan. 12. Conference championship games will take place on Jan. 20, ahead of the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.
The wild-card matchups are enticing, especially Sunday’s game between the Colts and the Baltimore Ravens. Long-time Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who said Wednesday he will retire at season’s end, is making a final bid for glory. “This team’s getting healthy and we’re going to hit our stride going forward in the playoffs,” said Ravens all-star running back Ray Rice. The Colts and Ravens know each other well and the outcome could be determined by quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco who are meeting for the first time. Rookie Luck threw two touchdown passes in week 17 as the Colts moved to 11-0, becoming just the second team in league history to win 11 or more games following a season with two or fewer victories. “They refused, they refused to let anyone write their story of what they could or do not do,” Indianapolis head coach and cancer survivor Chuck Pagano said of his team. Emotions will be running high on the Indianapolis sidelines as Pagano will be making just his second appearance following a successful battle against leukemia. He is also a former Ravens assistant from 2008-2011. “You have one thing that you find out is that you’re a lot stronger than you think you are,” Pagano said of beating cancer.
“Have a positive attitude, wake up every day, have faith and have a belief that you’re going to beat it and you’re going to win.” The Colts used to be Baltimore’s team and that city’s fans have never forgiven the Irsay family for loading up the moving vans under the cover of darkness and bolting the city for Indianapolis in 1984.
To add a little more intrigue to the matchup, Lewis says his playing days are finished at the conclusion of the Ravens’ playoff run. “I talked to my team and I talked to them about life in general,” Lewis said. “Everything that starts has an end. It’s just life. I’m just going in another phase of life.” The Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks are trying to extend their seasons behind a pair of rookie quarterbacks. Rookie Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is coming off a Heisman Trophy win and he will lead Washington’s offense into a showdown against Seattle newcomer Russell Wilson. Griffin was the number two overall pick in the draft while third round pick Wilson wasn’t even supposed to be the Seahawks starting quarterback. But he beat out Matt Flynn for the job and has never looked back. FedEx Field, where the Redskins will host the game, is not far from where Wilson grew up. “It’s pretty awesome. Obviously he was the number two pick overall and I was a third-round pick. So it’s a great opportunity to play a great quarterback, and their football team,” Wilson said. “But I’m playing the Redskins, we’re playing the Redskins. I’m not playing him.” In other wild-card contests, the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers will meet for the third time in six weeks, with each team credited with a win, and the Cincinnati Bengals will be riding a hot streak into Saturday’s game against the Houston Texans. The winner of the Cincinnati-Houston game could move on to face the Denver Broncos, who enter the playoffs as the NFL’s hottest team, boasting an 11-game winning streak.