Icy weather to play a part as wild-card teams start the chase for the Super Bowl

 

Washington

Today, the battle for the Super Bowl starts in earnest. The regular season is out of the way, and so is Black Monday which immediately follows, the now traditional cull of NFL head coaches who didn’t deliver the goods. This year five were sacked (the most noteworthy among them Mike Shanahan of the utterly dysfunctional 3-13 Washington Redskins).

Now, however, the focus switches from the worst to the best – the dozen teams who made the play-offs. This weekend sees the wild-card round of four games, whose winners will face the four top seeds, owners of the best regular season records, in next weekend’s divisional round.

And this time, the mix could be wilder than ever. As with every major league sport in the US, promotion and relegation do not exist in the NFL. Instead it operates a salary cap and a draft, whereby the worst teams one year pick the best players newly eligible for the league the following year.

The system works. Last year’s champions, the Baltimore Ravens, didn’t even make the play-offs this time. The first Super Bowl was in 1967. Since then 22 of the 32 NFL franchises have won American football’s supreme prize. Of the 10 that haven’t, three – the Philadelphia Eagles, the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals – are in action this weekend. Two more, the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks, enter the fray in the next round.

Any of them could break the drought at Super Bowl XLVIII at the Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City, on 2 February where a four-mile long perimeter security fence is under construction around the arena and nearby facilities. This will be the most tightly policed and protected Super Bowl ever. The shadow of 9/11 still haunts New York.

The big day, however, is still almost a month and three playoff rounds away, and any one of the dozen remaining contenders could lift the Vince Lombardi trophy. First up today is the visit of the Kansas City Chiefs to Indianopolis, with the Chiefs narrowly favoured by the oddsmakers, despite losing to the Colts last month.

Next comes one of the weekend’s two marquee match-ups, between the New Orleans Saints – winners in 2010 – and the Eagles. If the game were in New Orleans, where the home team were unbeaten in 2013, the Saints would be prohibitive favourites. On their travels, however, they and star quarterback Drew Brees are nowhere near as impressive, especially when it turns seriously cold. Moreover, in snow-bound Philadelphia tonight they face the NFL’s hottest team, winner of seven of their last regular season games.

The icy weather gripping the north-east US will also be a factor in San Diego’s visit to Cincinnati, the first of tomorrow’s games. Normally the Chargers would have the edge, not least because the Bengals have not won a play-off game since 1990. On the other hand, they were 8-0 at home in the regular season, and the Chargers will be 2,000 miles away from sunny southern California.

The ultimate chill challenge however awaits the San Francisco 49ers in their classic evening match-up with the Packers in Green Bay, in the tundra of northern Wisconsin (forecast kick-off temperature of minus 19 Centigrade).

Last year, the 49ers eliminated the Packers in the play-offs’ second round – but that was in balmy San Francisco, behind a record-breaking performance from quarterback Colin Kaepernick. On paper, the 49ers look stronger, and the Packers only crept into the play-offs with an 8-7-1 regular season record. But not only do they once more have Aaron Rodgers on their side after their own superstar quarterback missed half the regular season through injury, they also have their hometown winter weather.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy