With eight remaining teams in the NFL playoffs, Fox NFL analyst Jimmy Johnson believes six of the clubs have a legitimate chance to win the Super Bowl.
In the AFC divisional round, the Baltimore Ravens play at the Denver Broncos on Saturday afternoon and the New England Patriots host the Houston Texans late Sunday afternoon. In the NFC divisional round, the Green Bay Packers visit the San Francisco 49ers during Saturday prime time and the Seattle Seahawks take on the host Atlanta Falcons in Sunday’s afternoon opener.
“I don’t know if it’s as wide open as previous years,’’ Johnson said during a Wednesday press call. “It’s hard to compare one year to the next. I think you have two dominant teams in the AFC with Denver and New England. I think really when you look at the NFC, I think all four teams, all four of them really have a shot.’’
Fox NFL game analyst Troy Aikman also believes the hunt “is open.’’
“I think it’s what we have seen for a long time in the league,’’ Aikman said. “When the season starts, it’s 32 teams who are (all in) … there’s always been those Cinderella stories to where they are all capable of going on and making it to the postseason. From what we have seen with these six seeds and five seeds going on and winning Super Bowls … if you get in, anything can happen … It gives these fans hope that their team can be the team and those teams that get in, ‘Why can’t we be the 2010 Packers or the 2011 New York Giants?’’’
Johnson said parity is good in the National Football League because it gives more fans across the country the opportunity to cheer on a potential champion, and doesn’t force them into having to root for or against one dominant team, such as the 1985 Chicago Bears or recent New England Patriots teams.
“I think it’s good for football,’’ he said, “rather than people pulling for or against one dominant team.’’
“It’s hard to argue that it’s not good when the popularity of the game and the TV ratings are through the roof and just continue to get better. I think the fans like it.’’
Here are some additional excerpts from the press call on playoff topics:
Aikman on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick: “What has impressed me with him, and a lot of other young quarterbacks this season, is the way he has protected the ball. He’s doing all the right things, moving around in the pocket and protecting the ball like you’d expect him to do.”
Johnson on quarterbacks being drafted into the league now versus several years ago: “A lot of coaches have had to change their way of thinking over the last three or four years because of the rule changes and the players coming in. Before, you always aimed to run the football and play defense. Now, the only thing that matters is if you get a great quarterback. If you have a great quarterback, regardless of what you do with the rest of your football team you have a shot.”
Aikman on the 49ers head coach naming quarterback Colin Kaepernick the starter over Alex Smith during the regular season: “I applauded Jim Harbaugh for making the decision when he did because it wasn’t an easy decision to make. The easy thing to do would have been to go back to Alex Smith and it wouldn’t have necessarily been the wrong decision because Alex was playing really good football. In the back of your mind as the coach, if you think ‘this gives our team the best chance to win’ then you have to do that.”
Aikman on the importance of the quarterback position in today’s game: “You don’t need to look any further than at the guys that came in this year; Russell Wilson, RGIII (Robert Griffin III), Andrew Luck and last year Cam Newton. There seems to be an influx of these young, talented guys and you still have the old guard of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. It’s more of a quarterback league than at any other time. I marvel at how prepared these guys are. Not only on the field, but the exposure they get off it. Whether it’s through social networks or different platforms, they are given the opportunity to talk to the press and are much more well-rounded and prepared for all that comes with the scrutiny of the position than ever before. If you’re on Park Avenue in New York, you’re pretty happy with the new representatives that will be the ambassadors for the league for the years to come.”
Johnson on Green Bay QB Aaron Rodger’s play this season: “He’s had an absolutely fabulous year. As far as taking all of those sacks and being ready for the playoffs; that was exactly my thinking when I had Troy in there as a rookie and he was sacked 11 times in one game. It toughened him up for our Super Bowl runs.”
Aikman on Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll naming Russell Wilson the Week 1 starter despite giving a big contract to Matt Flynn in the offseason: “The willingness to go with the rookie right from the start and knowing that there are usually some real growing pains that come with that, said a lot about the organization. For him to go on and do what he’s done was really impressive to me. This wasn’t Andrew Luck, this wasn’t Robert Griffin III. This was a third round pick that overcame tremendous odds to be afforded the opportunity to play in the first game of the season. Then he plays well. When I met him, I got it. Now I understand it. This guy is the real deal. Now they have that guy they can build everything around. Seattle is going to be good for a long time.”
Joe Buck and Aikman have the call of Saturday’s prime-time Packers-Niners game. Fox Sports Media Group co-president Eric Shanks said do not read too much into his decision to utilize Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick for the call of Sunday’s Seahawks-Falcons playoff, as opposed to the No. 2 team of Kenny Albert, Darryl “Moose” Johnston and Tony Siragusa. He said the Brennaman-Billick team performed well and earned the right to call the playoff game.