Published November 20, 2014
The NFL can't be upset with so many upsets in the playoffs.
What better evidence is needed that the "anybody can win at any time" mantra is accurate when two No. 6 seeds are in the conference championship games? And nobody would be shocked to see both the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets in the Super Bowl.
Indeed, the wild-card Packers are favored for Sunday's NFC title game at Soldier Field, home of the champions of their division, the Chicago Bears.
"Yeah, we're championship caliber," Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "But championship caliber to us isn't getting to the NFC championship game. We have a lot higher goals than that. We're where we want to be. We've been saying all year, 'Just give us a chance to get here.' Now, it's up to us."
And up to the Jets to set up the first Super Bowl involving non-division winners.
"The idea is to win the Super Bowl, whether you do it by winning your division or as a wild card," Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "Keep winning."
Long shots going far in the playoffs, even winning Super Bowls, is not unheard of. Consider that since the league went to six playoff teams in 1990 — there were three divisions and three wild cards until 2002 — wild cards have made the title game 14 times. Counting the Packers and Jets, eight of those have occurred since 2005. Two of those wild cards, the 2005 Steelers and 2007 Giants, won the whole thing.
In '05, '08 and this year, a wild card got to the conference championship match. No Super Bowl has featured a pair of non-division winners.
"We have a lot more, our season is bigger than just beating the Falcons and going to the NFC championship game," Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. "We've got bigger goals than that. ... We expect to win no matter where we go."
They go to Chicago, where the Bears beat them 20-17 in Week 3, a horrendous performance in which Green Bay set a team record with 18 penalties. And barely lost.
The Packers won 10-3 at Lambeau Field in the season finale to clinch their wild-card spot. They've beaten Philadelphia and top-seeded Atlanta in road playoff games, and now are a victory away from becoming the second No. 6 seed to win a conference championship.
Don't expect the Bears (12-5) to treat the Packers (12-6) like some rank outsider standing in their way. Not with all that history accompanying the longest rivalry in pro football. Not with the way Green Bay's defense has stymied two of the league's best offenses the last two weeks, or the way quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing.
Rodgers, though, has not done much against Chicago this season, throwing for 545 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the 1-1 split.
Bears coach Lovie Smith expects the usual animosity between the teams, who will face off for the 182nd time, but just the second in the postseason and first since 1941.
"You just look at our history and it does have a respectful tone, but it can be nasty also," Smith said. "It's going to be a physical game. We don't like each other.
"Believe me, there is not a whole lot of love for us coming up north. But games are supposed to be played on the field."
Hours later at Pittsburgh (13-4), the Jets also could add to the Super Bowl wild-card total against the only previous sixth seed to make a Super Bowl, the Steelers, who then beat Seattle for the 2005 title.
The Jets (13-5) were the fifth seed a year ago and got this far. Indeed, until last year, when the top-seeded Saints and Colts each made the Super Bowl, the No. 1 teams from both conferences hadn't gotten there since the 1993 season.
So road wins aren't that unusual, and the Jets are the best example: They are 4-1 in the playoffs under coach Rex Ryan, all of those games away from the Meadowlands.
"We know what it was like to play in a tough environment," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "We knew that all of our games were going to be on the road because of our seed. We know how to play on the road; I think we're better on the road, so that's a huge help for us. We have a lot of experience doing it."