In playoffs, expect the unexpected

ByADAM SCHEFTER via <a href="" title="SportCenter" class="espn_sc_byline">SPORTSCENTER </a>
January 03, 2014, 11:40 AM

&#151; -- As the NFL playoffs prepare to kick off, keep this in mind: The one sure thing about the postseason is that there are no sure things.

The team with the best record hasn't won the Super Bowl since 2003, when the New England Patriots did it.

Since then, the favorite has been vanquished in surprising fashion in 10 straight years. Every year it looks like a certain team can't be beaten -- yet then it loses. Every year it appears as if there's a unanimous favorite -- and it gets shut down and knocked out before anyone expected. Best has not meant first, not in the NFL, at least. And it's good news for this weekend's wild-card teams. Over the past eight seasons, a team playing on wild-card weekend has gone on to win the Super Bowl six times.

There's also hope that one of this weekend's teams can pull another upset over a No. 1 seed. Dating to 2005, No. 1 seeds are only 7-9 in the divisional round. The disappointments have come from all over, but primarily the NFC. In five of the past six years, the NFC's No. 1 seed has failed to make the Super Bowl. So beware, Seattle.

And if there is one lesson the past few postseasons have taught us, it's this: If you're in the postseason dance, you have a chance to win it all.

Look at the past three Super Bowl winners and their seeds. Last season's Super Bowl winner, Baltimore, was a No. 4 seed. The season before, the Giants were also a No. 4 seed. And the year before that, the Packers won it as a No. 6 seed.

In a season in which upsets have been common and the best teams have proved to be flawed, this shapes up as a wide-open postseason. Seattle might be the favorite in the NFC and Denver might be the favorite in the AFC, but it means as much as a player's non-guaranteed contract.

The football world thinks favorites have the best chance; they might not. The football world might think it has an idea about what to expect; it does not. The football world might think it knows what's coming; it does not.

This postseason is about to kick off. So are the surprises.

Show 'em the money? Players from the decorated draft class of 2011, which included  Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn and Colin Kaepernick, became eligible Monday under the collective bargaining agreement to sign contract extensions for the first time.

The NFL sent out a reminder memo to all 32 teams last week that those deals now can be redone. In addition, teams have extra control over first-rounders from that draft with the ability to now exercise a fifth-year option on their rookie contracts. That extra year would tie those players to their franchises for at least two more seasons before the team then would have the right to slap its franchise tag on the player for the sixth season.

Many teams believe the process still will take time, but there could be a race for some teams to get deals done, or for some players to get deals done, so they establish value before someone else does. It's all a part of the continued fallout of the new CBA.

But as of Monday, the draft class of 2011 has been, officially, on the clock.

Hall of Fame résumé: The NFL's oldest active player, Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, turned 41 on Dec. 28. As the season and his career wind down, Vinatieri keeps compiling enough stats to build his case as to why he should become the second kicker in NFL history to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Vinatieri is the most prolific postseason scorer in NFL history with 196 points, is in the top 10 in scoring in regular-season history and has plenty of big, long kicks.

Most important, Vinatieri made what may have been the greatest kick in NFL history -- a 45-yard field goal in a blizzard to tie a divisional playoff game against Oakland and send it into overtime, where he won it for New England with a 23-yard field goal.

When the stakes have been greatest, Vinatieri has been most clutch. He will have the chance to be that way again Saturday, when Indianapolis hosts Kansas City.

As the Hall of Fame selection committee once considered the candidacy of another worthy candidate, one voter asked, "Could the history of the league be written without him?" With Vinatieri, the answer is no.

It is the biggest reason he deserves to be the second player who was strictly a kicker inducted into the Hall, following Jan Stenerud.

The Schef's specialties

Game of the Week:  49ers at Packers -- Two Super Bowl-caliber teams playing on the frozen tundra in Green Bay.

Player of the Week:  Bengals QB Andy Dalton -- Time for Dalton to throw his first postseason touchdown pass and win his first postseason game.

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