The Colts rallying from a 28-point deficit and three of four opening-round games decided by three points or fewer for the first time got the NFL playoffs off to a rousing start last week. It was almost enough excitement to keep Mike Ditka awake.
Now the action intensifies with the Super Bowl tournament down to eight teams and the four top seeds debuting.
From a parochial view, there is only one thing missing: a team from Florida. Dolphins, Buccaneers or Jaguars.
So we bring you the next best thing: the final eight teams ranked by the impact each enjoys in these playoffs from players who went to Florida colleges:
• 49ers: High impact, four active players. RB Frank Gore (UM), WR Anquan Boldin (FSU) and DT Ray McDonald (UF) all start. LB Nick Moody (FSU) is a backup. DT Tank Carradine (FSU) and FB Bruce Miller (UCF) are on injured reserve.
• Saints: High impact, two active players. TE Jimmy Graham (UM) is an All-Pro force and NT Brodrick Bunkley (FSU) also starts. LB Jonathan Vilma (UM) and CB Patrick Robinson (FSU) are on IR.
• Colts: High impact, three active players. WR T.Y. Hilton (FIU) is the only state player who starts, but he’s a budding star who last week caught 13 passes for 224 yards and two TDs. OT Xavier Nixon (UF) and OLB Bjoern Werner (FSU) are backups. WR Reggie Wayne (UM) and RB Chris Rainey (UF) are on IR.
• Panthers: Moderate impact, two active players. TE Greg Olsen (UM) and PK Graham Gano (FSU) are starters.
• Broncos: Moderate impact, six active players. RT Orlando Franklin (UM) and PK Matt Prater (UCF) are only starters. WR Andre Caldwell (UF) and CB Tony Carter (FSU) are backups. DE Jeremy Mincey (UF) and CB Kayvon Webster (USF) are reserves. LB Lerentee McCray (UF) is on IR.
• Seahawks: Low-moderate impact, two active players. WR Percy Harvin (UF) starts when healthy and could return from injury this weekend. OT Caylin Hauptmann (FIU) is a reserve. QB B.J. Daniels (USF) is on practice squad.
• Chargers: Low impact, one active player. OLB Tourek Williams (FIU) is a backup.
• Patriots: Zero impact, no active players. DT Vince Wilfork (UM), LB Brandon Spikes (UF) and DL Cory Grissom (USF) all are on IR. DL Marcus Forston (UM) is on the practice squad.
• Scorecard: Florida college players still alive in playoffs, active roster only — FSU 6, UF 5, UM 4, FIU 3, UCF 1 and USF 1.
• After home teams were 1-3 last weekend, there is increasing evidence that home-field advantage is diminished in the playoffs. Now, as the bye teams begin play, consider: Since 1990, when the current format kicked in, only 45.7 percent of No. 1 seeds with home-field advantage throughout (21 of 46) have reached the Super Bowl, and only 19.6 percent (nine) won. Only one No. 1 seed since 2003 (Saints in 2009) have won it all. No. 1 seeds are only 32-14 in this round, immediately following their bye, and it’s 13-10 in AFC.
• Andrew Luck vs. Alex Smith last week marked only the fifth playoff matchup between quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall. We may yet have a sixth, with Luck, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton still in it.
• That reminds me. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the betting favorite to be the top pick in the NFL Draft at 2-3 odds (via Bovada), with Jadeveon Clowney at 3-2 and the field at 6-1. Over/under on Johnny Manziel’s selection number is 4 1/2.
• This weekend’s statistical betting faves are Peyton Manning (passing yards, 3-2); Marshawn Lynch (rushing, 7-4); and DeMaryius Thomas (receiving, 4-1).
We rank the eight surviving playoff teams by Independent Rooting Interest (IRI), which I made up last year. Who should you root for if you aren’t a fan of any team? Answer: The fans most starving for a Super Bowl.
I add each franchise’s number of seasons since its last SB win and last appearance (or pre-Super Bowl championship). The combined number is our IRI index. The higher the number, the greater the historic underdog. This year’s final eight:
• Chargers (69): Last title (AFL), 1963; last Super Bowl appearance, 1994.
• Seahawks (46): Never won a title in 38 franchise years; last in SB, 2005.
• Broncos (30): Last SB win and appearance, 1998.
• Panthers (29): Never won a title in 19 franchise years; last in SB, 2003.
• 49ers (20): Last SB won, 1994; last appearance, 2012.
• Patriots (11): Last SB won, 2004; last appearance, 2011.
• Colts (11): Last SB won, 2006; last appearance, 2009.
• Saints (8): Last SB win and appearance, 2009.
Note: The Dolphins would have matched San Diego with an IRI of 69 (last SB win, 1973; last appearance, 1984).