Only five teams return to playoffs

The Associated Press
Barry Wilner

While the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, and L.A. Rams were mesmerizing pro football fans with their outlandish offensive onslaughts, something else might have gone unnoticed.
More teams that failed to make the playoffs in 2017 are in this season than there are repeaters.
Yep, seven of the 12 qualifiers didn’t make it last year, some not coming close.
The Chiefs, Saints, Rams, Patriots, and defending champion Eagles are back.
But Houston, which started out 0-3, and Chicago both went from worst to first.
Amazing? Not quite: in 15 of the past 16 seasons, that’s occurred.
Baltimore hadn’t gotten to the post-season the last three seasons but squeezed in by winning the AFC North–at the expense of perennial qualifier Pittsburgh, which did an uncharacteristic flop by dropping five of its final six games.
Indianapolis hadn’t advanced since 2014, either, and took care of that with a 33-17 victory at Tennessee last night. Seattle, which made a habit of going deep in the playoffs and winning the 2013 championship, got back in as an NFC wild-card after a one-year absence.
The Chargers already had clinched a spot and will be the fifth seed in the AFC. They return for the first time in five years.
And Dallas (10-6) grabbed the NFC East crown.
Like Seattle (10-6), the Cowboys last were in the playoffs in 2016. And they meet up on Saturday night in “Big D.”
“I think what it comes down to is nobody wanted to play in Chicago. We wanted to play in Dallas in a dome,” said always-frank Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin.
The other game Saturday is the AFC South matchup of Indianapolis (10-6) at Houston (11-5).
The Eagles (9-7 ) finished off a superb late-season run behind–you guessed it–Nick Foles. The back-up quarterback turned Super Bowl hero of last season again replaced an injured Carson Wentz and worked some magic.
So did Philly’s defence in a 24-0 romp at Washington yesterday that kept the Eagles in playoff contention.
When the visiting Bears (12-4) played their regulars with nothing to gain and knocked off NFC North rival Minnesota (8-7-1), the Eagles earned a trip to, where else, Chicago, this coming Sunday to close out the wild-card round.
“This is what we expected,” Eagles’ star safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We are where we are expected to be.
“The journey hasn’t been how we drew it up, per se, but this is where we expected to be.”
The Chargers, who had the second-best AFC record yet wound up a wild card because Kansas City held the tie-breaker to win the West, would like to throw out their last meeting with Baltimore.
In prime time the previous week, they lost at home to Baltimore when a win would have put them atop their division.
Oh well, now it’s off to the Inner Harbor this Sunday and another chance to sink the Ravens.
“It’s a heck of a challenge,” said Chargers’ veteran quarterback Philip Rivers. “I don’t think there was really a team that wasn’t going to be a heck of a challenge.
“To get to this point, there are only 12 teams in,” he noted. “Again, this first weekend where eight teams are playing and they’re all good.”
Sitting by will be the Chiefs and Patriots in the AFC, the Saints and Rams in the NFC. They know, as do all four wild-card hosts, that there’s no overwhelming favourite in these playoffs.
“We’re going to sit back and just watch these games upcoming,” said Rams’ cornerback Marcus Peters. “And we’re going to prepare for ourselves to be ready to go.
“It’s time to get ready to play football.”