Thanks to the return of Aaron Rodgers, the NFC playoff field became even tougher.
Rodgers led the Green Bay Packers to a come-from-behind, 33-28 victory over the Chicago Bears to win the NFC North. Overall, the NFC playoff teams finished strong. All six won on an exciting final Sunday that featured an overtime win by the San Francisco 49ers, a dramatic one-point win by the Carolina Panthers to clinch the No. 2 seed and the Philadelphia Eagles' NFC East-clinching victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
"This has been a wild season," Rodgers said after the victory. "We're in right now, hosting a playoff game. I think the NFC is wide-open."
As expected, though, the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through No. 1 seed Seattle, where the crowd is crazy and the defense is even crazier.
On Saturday, the New Orleans Saints visit Philadelphia. On Sunday, the 49ers go to Lambeau Field to face Green Bay.
Carolina, Philadelphia and New Orleans are the new teams in the NFC playoffs, while Seattle, Green Bay and San Francisco are returning.
Here are 10 questions worth asking as the NFC postseason begins:
1. What is the carry-over effect from last season's NFC playoffs? Last season, four of the six NFC playoff quarterbacks were young and making their postseason debuts. Two return with some pretty good seasoning. Colin Kaepernick, who took the 49ers within one completion of winning Super Bowl XLVII, returns as a No. 5 seed. Kaepernick averaged 34.7 points in his three playoff games last season. Russell Wilson beat Robert Griffin III in last season's wild-card round and almost pulled off a win over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. RG III and Christian Ponder of the Minnesota Vikings didn't make it back to the playoffs. The NFC is a young quarterback conference: Cam Newton and Nick Foles are 24; the senior citizens are 30-year-old Rodgers and 34-year-old Drew Brees of the Saints.
2. Can home-field advantage be the ticket to the Super Bowl? For the past three years, No. 1 seeds in the NFC have failed to take advantage of their situations. The Falcons and 49ers lost championship games on their home turf the past two seasons. The Falcons also blew the No. 1 seed in 2010 by losing to Green Bay in the divisional round. The last NFC team to convert home field into a trip to the Super Bowl was the 2009 New Orleans Saints. That said, the Seahawks have great odds of going to the Super Bowl. Everything broke their way this season. They opened on the road with a win over the No. 2-seeded Panthers, who were just figuring out how to win with Newton. The Seahawks' final road trip of the season was a 23-0 victory over the Giants in the Meadowlands, site of Super Bowl XLVIII. And over the past two years, the Seahawks are 15-1 at home. CenturyLink holds the outdoor sports record for crowd noise. Since the opening of the stadium, opposing teams have had more false starts on offense than at any other stadium in the NFL. Quarterbacks struggle in Seattle, and that could be a problem for young quarterbacks like Kaepernick, Newton and others.