D.A.: The Top 5 Storylines Of The NFL's Divisional Round Playoffs

With endless storylines to ponder, Damon Amendolara sizes up what could be the best NFL weekend of the year

Damon Amendolara
January 09, 2020 - 12:32 pm

We have whittled the field to just eight teams, and this weekend is annually billed as the best NFL weekend of the year. There are plenty of storylines, especially with the field perhaps being more wide open than any other year in recent memory. The NFC had three 13-win teams this year, and two of them are still alive. The eight-year run of New England in the AFC Championship came to a crashing end this year. So what are we watching for this weekend? Here's the top 5 plot lines. 

1) Is this the beginning of the AFC opening up for new blood? 

For the first time in a decade, the Patriots didn't even make it to this weekend. For the first time since then, there will be no Pats team playing for the Lamar Hunt Trophy. This is the start of a new era in the conference. Tom Brady is coming to his end, and possibly changes teams this spring. Even if he stays, the Pats are no longer a cakewalk into January. This opens up the window for teams like the Chiefs, Texans and Ravens to become dominant teams in the AFC over the next decade. "I do see things shifting, but I think it’s way too early," former Pats exec Scott Pioli told me. They’ve been half-buried before at different periods of time. The standard for them is if they don’t participate in a Super Bowl, it’s the end of an era. I think there’s a lot of people around the league that watch that, see that and revel in that. So it’s understandable, but I think it’s too early to call the end of the Patriots’ run.” 

2) Are the Seahawks better than we think? 

Seattle found its way into the playoffs in arguably the toughest division in football, but skated by with a bushel of one-score wins. That continued last week with a 17-9 win in Philly. There's no mistaking that the Seahawks have a Super Bowl-winning coach and QB. But with all of their close wins, and knocking Carson Wentz out early last week, it feels like the Seahawks might be on borrowed time. A trip to the NFC Championship Game would erase that doubt. 

3) Will the Niners’ inexperience short-circuit their run? 

San Francisco is led by a young head coach, a QB that has never started in the playoffs, and one of the most inexperienced defenses in the league. But they're also the top-seed in the NFC, and a win over the Vikings would mean a home game for the right to go to the Super Bowl. The Niners’ window is open wide for the next few years, so this may just be the start. But a team that has never been here could be prone to slip up when it matters most. Playoff football is a different animal. 

4) Are the Packers better with less Aaron Rodgers? 

Matt LaFleur took over and immediately Green Bay's identity changed. Now the Packers stress the ground game and have a ferocious pass rush. Don't look now, but the Pack no longer has to rely on Rodgers being Superman. However, does the quarterback begrudge being taken out of the "savior" role? We may wonder about his relationship with his young head coach. “Brett Favre had told this to Rodgers,” NFL broadcaster Kevin Harlan told me. “He said, ‘The older I got, the less I had in common with my teammates.’ So I think a hidden benefit (in a young head coach) is that Rodgers has a guy who is more his age than the guys in that locker room. I think that has also brought them together in a way.”  

5) Did Ryan Tannehill earn himself a massive contract? 

The Titans put a stake through the heart of the Patriots, and now they take aim at the Ravens. On the path to the playoffs, their quarterback has shocked everyone in resurrecting his career. The Titans have finally found their long term solution at QB, right? Maybe not. “I’ll say this: it’s pretty clear he likes Nashville,” Titans voice Mike Keith told me. “He likes Arthur Smith, his wife and kids seem to like it here – everything fits together with him being here. But you’ve got to put the puzzle together, and the Titans have a few puzzle pieces that they have to put together in the offseason, including with Derrick Henry. Now this is a ball club that has a very solid amount of salary-cap room going forward, but I don’t think you necessarily say it’s for sure. It certainly looks likely, however.”  

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 9:00AM-12:00PM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.