Putting the Weirdness of This Year's NFL Playoffs Into Historical Context

Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers pulled off his second Hail Mary of the season as time expired in Saturday's NFC playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals. USA Today Sports

The first play of the 2016 NFL playoffs was a 106-yard kick return for a touchdown. It was the first postseason kick returned for a TD since Percy Harvin took one back for the Seahawks in the 2014 Super Bowl. It was also the second-longest return in postseason history, behind only Jacoby Jones's 108-yard runback for the Baltimore Ravens in the 2013 Super Bowl. More than anything though, it was a sign that the 2016 playoffs were going to be weird as hell—which, through two unbelievable rounds, they certainly have been.

Knile Davis

Yep. Knile Davis is fast. Let's take a look at some other ways the 2016 playoffs have defied logic.

Road Warriors

The road team won all four Wild Card games. This is odd because in the playoffs, the home team is typically the one that had the better regular season and, thus, the better team. So odd was this, in fact, that it's the first time it happened in NFL history.

Two of the road teams that won—the Steelers and the Seahawks—did so in such miraculous fashion that viewers left each game in total disbelief at what they just saw. The Steelers beat the Bengals after the latter team committed a historic series of gaffes, including two 15-yard penalties to put the Steelers in range for the winning field goal. The Seahawks won by virtue of a missed chip-shot field goal by Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, who had gone 3-3 prior to the fateful shank and, entering the frigid game, was 12-12 converting field goal attempts when the temperature was 20 degrees or colder. Take a look at the violent spike at the end of these win probability charts from ESPN Stats and Info:

The win probability in the Steelers-Bengals game took some very big swings in the final couple of minutes pic.twitter.com/MqDiMvoaLh

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2016

The final win probability chart from Seattle-Minnesota@Vikings chances peaked at 86% pic.twitter.com/JypNxtcMso

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 10, 2016

Oh, and that really cold game in Minnesota? At -6, it was the 3rd coldest NFL game ever, and the coldest since the San Diego Chargers played the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1981 AFC Championship Game, also known as the Freezer Bowl. It was -9.

Blair Walsh
Pray for Blair Walsh. Newsweek

The -6 chill in 2016 can be blamed for the Seahawks' failure to score a point in the first three quarters of the game...which they went on to win. They are only the third team in NFL history to win a game after being shutout through 45 minutes of play. The last time it happened? 1978.

Home is Where the Wins Are

Almost as weird as all four road teams winning in the Wild Card round was that all four home teams won in the Divisional Round, which hasn't happened since 2004. That means the top two seeds will play each other in both the AFC and NFC. In the AFC, Tom Brady will face Peyton Manning in the postseason for the fifth time, which is a record for any two QBs. In the NFC, Cam Newton will face Carson Palmer. Both quarterbacks won the Heisman Trophy while in college. Historically, two Heisman winners have never faced each other in the playoffs.

All due respect to the Steelers-Bengals and Seahawks-Vikings, the Divisional round also featured the craziest game of the 2016 playoffs (so far), and maybe the single craziest drive in NFL history. Down 7 with 58 seconds to go, Aaron Rodgers found himself on his own 3 yard line, needing to go 98 yards in less than a minute to send the game to overtime. Not only that, it was 4th and 20. What did Rodgers do? Complete a 60-yard pass to Jeff Janis for the first down. It was the longest 4th down reception in the past 15 postseasons.

But the Packers still had to score and by failing to spike the ball to stop the clock, Rodgers found himself on the 41-yard line with enough time for one final play. It was a Hail Mary to who else but Jeff Janis—and yes, it was caught for a touchdown. It was the first game-tying or game-winning TD to end regulation in postseason history.

Jeff Janis

Then the coin didn't flip during the coin toss. Okay. Then, after the Cardinals won the re-toss and elected to receive, Larry Fitzgerald promptly caught a 75-yard pass to ice the game. It was the second-longest play from scrimmage in overtime in the past 20 postseasons. Go Cardinals. Also: Are you freaking kidding me?!

That was about it for Divisional round craziness, except of course for the Panthers taking a 31-0 lead into halftime against the Seahawks. They scored 31 points faster than any playoff team since 1999, and were only the third team ever to score at least 31 points while giving up zero in the first half of a playoff game. Then they almost blew it before ultimately winning 31-24.

The saga of the 2016 NFL playoffs continues on Sunday. No, we can't wait to see what happens.

[H/T: ESPN Stats & Info; GIF Source: NFL]