In the wake of Sunday's conference championship games, amid the post-game chatter and the debate over sportsmanship and trash talk and its place in the league, the real story is how shockingly different an NFL playoff game is from the regular season variety.
The referees have allowed the players to play in the postseason, so the hand-to-hand combat has been engaging. Cornerbacks have had their regular-season shackles removed and have been given a fighting chance -- in some cases, literally -- against the spread-offense passing games. The games have been physical and fun and throwback in a sort of way, a reminder that, yes, defense wins in the NFL.
But there is more to the NFL playoffs, and it's complicated. Every matchup advantage is exploited. Once, for example, New England lost cornerback Aqib Talib to injury against Denver, quarterback Peyton Manning had a field day throwing the football against the Patriots' thin secondary.
Depth is tested. Seattle, not content with a great defense from 2012, added some key pieces in the offseason leading into 2013 and now has a deep and talented and relentless defense that will be tested to the maximum on February 2. Montee Ball has been a great second weapon to Knowshon Moreno in Denver's running game. Denver's depth in the passing game is ridiculous.
Coaches are put in high-pressure situations and decisions that define a game are made throughout. Pete Carroll's decision to go for it on a fourth-and-7 play from the San Francisco 35-yard line trailing 17-13 with a standout placekicker waiting for the call turned out to be brilliant as quarterback Russell Wilson connected with wide receiver Jermaine Kearse for a touchdown pass to score what ultimately became the winning points.
On and on it goes. Big people, as Chip Kelly has suggested, generally beat up little people in the playoffs. Denver's array of large receiving targets helped Manning have a 400-yard, 2-passing touchdown day as the Broncos defeated New England.
The tempo of a playoff game is generally more restrained, although Denver had 71 offensive snaps in its win over the Patriots. When to push the tempo and when to eat the clock is a strategy that is critical at this time of the year.
So when you are sitting there thinking, "What do the Eagles need to win a Super Bowl?" the answer is far more involved than saying, "They need a better pass rush," or "They must have a game-changer in the secondary." It involves some good fortune to reach this stage in the season, and it requires great decision making on game day and the best preparation prior to the game.
Mostly, though, we are reminded that the NFL playoffs are different. They are more physical. They are more technical. They are more demanding.
How far away are the Eagles?
It's a question we will ask each other and ourseives, and the Eagles will do the same, for the next several weeks leading into free agency. A playoff team in 2013, the Eagles look for more in 2014. To reach their goal, what do they need to accomplish from a personnel side of things?
NEWS, NOTES AND SOME OF THIS AND THAT
- We have complete coverage of the Pro Bowl this week as four players -- running back LeSean McCoy, quarterback Nick Foles, offensive guard Evan Mathis and wide receiver DeSean Jackson -- enjoy the festivities in Hawaii. Hope you enjoy the coverage of the Pro Bowl and the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
- Amazing numbers from the television ratings on Sunday. More than 51 million fans watched the New England-Denver game and 55 million watched San Francisco at Seattle. Both numbers are up from last year. Both numbers again point out just how much this country loves the NFL. It's a great game.
- We've talked about this before and will again: There are some important decisions to be made at wide receiver, where both Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in March. Can both return? Does either player return? The Eagles need more from their depth receivers than they got in 2013. Jason Avant's numbers were down, while Jeff Maehl and Damaris Johnson didn't get much time at all.