With the NFL play-offs kicking off this weekend, attention will be divided between three star rookies and one retiring veteran in the most wide-open football post-season in recent years.
Opinion is evenly divided between which of the three first-season quarterbacks, Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, has enjoyed the biggest impact but what is certain is that the sport has never known a year quite like it.
The first of the two AFC wild card games is the least intriguing of all four clashes with free-falling Houston Texans — at one stage the league’s stand-out team — hosting the Cincinnati Bengals at the Reliant Stadium (9.30pm).
Cincinnati held onto second spot in the AFC North in order to advance while the Texans managed to play themselves out of a bye into round two by losing to AFC South rivals Indianapolis Colts last Sunday.
The Colts have enjoyed a miraculous season with their number one draft Andrew Luck showing he belongs in the professional game and guiding them to 11 victories, nine more than they achieved throughout last season.
Meanwhile, all of this occurred against the backdrop of their coach Chuck Pagano’s cancer treatment. He returned to the sideline Sunday amidst emotional scenes in the Lucas Oil Stadium.
However their hosts tomorrow (Sunday, 6pm Irish time), the Baltimore Ravens, will have their own roller-coaster of emotions to deal with after veteran linebacker Ray Lewis announced this week that he would be retiring at the end of the season. A 17-year pro, Lewis is considered one of the best ever at his position and although his powers have faded, he is still considered that team’s leader having overcome major controversies off the field early in his career to develop into a defensive icon.
“I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do in this business,” Lewis said earlier this week. “I’ll make this last run with my team, and I’ll give (the Ravens) everything I’ve got.”
“It’s amazing, and it’s sad at the same time,” his team mate Terrell Suggs said. “If this is to be our last ride, we need to make it one to remember.”
The first of the NFC games pits arch-rivals Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings against each other at ice cold Lambeau Field tonight (1am Irish time).
While Aaron Rodgers and company will enjoy home comforts on the back of a relatively successful regular season, they will be looking to reverse Sunday’s Vikings victory which was inspired by possible player of the season (MVP) Adrian Peterson. The action moves to the nation’s capital tomorrow night (Sunday, 9.30pm Irish time) for that highly anticipated showdown between Griffin and Wilson as the Redskins host the Seahawks in what is set to be an evenly matched contest. Waiting in the next round in the AFC are the Patriots and the Denver Broncos while the winning NFC teams will face either the Atlanta Falcons or the San Francisco 49ers en route to the final destination: New Orleans on February 3.
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