The National Football League opens what many consider their best weekend of the season today with a pair of games to kickoff the Divisional Playoffs. Eight teams in action this weekend, which based on results, are the best eight teams in the league.
NFL franchises have life cycles. Teams that reach the apex of the football world most often stay at the top for a short period of time, and then suffer a dramatic drop. Then there are the exceptions, the San Francisco 49ers spent 14 seasons as a dominant NFL team and won four Super Bowls during their glory years from 1981 to 1994.
Then there is the extreme exception to a rapid rise and fall. The New England Patriots dominated professional football from 2001 to this season, participating in nine and winning six Super Bowls during those seasons. Their drop off appears imminent, with quarterback Tom Brady both getting caught by age, he is 42 years old, and perhaps destined to change coasts, it is rumored that the Los Angeles Chargers is a likely destination for the greatest of all time.
When I was a kid, Vince Lombardi was leading the domination of the Green Bay Packers, and after their relatively short lifespan at the top of the league, they suffered through years of mediocrity and less. The Dallas Cowboys, had rough times after the Tom Landry glory years and then again after Jimmy Johnson had built them into the powerhouse of the league.
So, while the Patriots attach parachutes for their inevitable fall from the top, the 49ers and Packers are entering and playing out a wave of greatness. The Packers have been the dominant team in the NFC North Division for more than two decades, and show up in the playoffs nearly as routinely as Santa Claus on Christmas.
What we are seeing this year is a last gasp from the engine driven by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Not unlike the transition the 49ers made at quarterback from Joe Montana to Steve Young, Hall of Fame member to Hall of Fame member, the Packers went from Brett Favre to Rodgers, Hall of Fame member to future Hall of Fame member.
With that stability at quarterback, the greatness of these franchises endured longer stretches than the normal life cycle of a franchise. But, while the Packers have a first-year head coach and aging quarterback, the 49ers own a young QB and a head coach that has been working with him for three seasons.
I heard one report this week questioned the Packers chances against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday because they are under the direction of a first-year head coach. Matt LaFleur is in his first season leading the Packers, but that is not necessarily a reason to dismiss Green Bay’s chances tomorrow when they open their postseason at home against the Seattle Seahawks. Since 2008, there have been 78 first-year head coaches in the NFL, and 21 of them have led their teams into the playoffs. LaFleur has already beat longer odds than winning tomorrow requires, given those 21 postseason games led by a rookie head coach have resulted in 10 wins for their teams and a point spread record of 10-10-1.
While this would seem to not be a detriment to the Packers chances, the 49ers cycle is in the perfect spot to succeed.
If a franchise is going to excel under a front office and with a head coach the fruits of their labor historically come to fruition in their third year of working together. San Francisco has the perfect combination of a general manager, head coach and quarterback now in their third season together with John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo.
The first step is complete for both the 49ers and Packers this season, they earned a playoff bye week based on their regular seasons. Since 1990, 21 of the 29 Super Bowl games were won by teams that were either the top or second seed in their conference, 14 and 7 wins respectively.
So, while the American Football Conference looks to battle the high flying Baltimore Ravens, the National Football Conference is headed to a showdown next Sunday in San Francisco between two storied franchises. Who wins that game is currently less certain than these two teams advancing to their Conference Championship Game.
Qoxhi Picks: San Francisco 49ers (-7) over Minnesota Vikings