Sometimes it's not who's hot, but who's healthy that matters in the playoffs.
The fact that teams playing in the wild-card round must win an extra game to get to the Super Bowl makes it even more difficult to avoid injuries. Yet those teams have been successful: In seven of the last eight seasons, a Super Bowl qualifier played in the wild-card round. Only 2009 was the exception.
Six times in that span, the eventual champion didn't get a week off.
Players returning from injury will be huge in Green Bay and Kansas City.
For the Packers, the comebacks of Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb for the regular-season finale not only provided a boost to the offense but got Green Bay into the postseason. Rodgers, back from a broken left collarbone, and Cobb, who was out with a knee injury, combined on a fourth-down, 48-yard touchdown pass in the final moments at Chicago.
That TD gave the Packers the division title.
Their reward: last season's NFC champions, the 49ers, coming to Lambeau Field on Sunday.
"Well, myself and Randall are back, that helps. We had a couple good connections on Sunday. It's doing the stuff we want to do," Rodgers said. "We want to be an up-tempo team. We want to get a lot of plays run. We want to try to wear the defense down a little bit."
The Chiefs, runners-up to Denver in the AFC West, got off to a 9-0 start, but then started getting hurt. Top linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, tackles Branden Albert and Eric Fisher — the top overall draft choice last year — and receiver Dwayne Bowe were sidelined or hobbled at various times, and Kansas City lost five of its last seven games.
"Big-time players want to make big-time plays in big-time games," Bowe said. "These are the games you have to show up."
Kansas City (11-5) at Indianapolis (11-5), Saturday
The injury list might be shorter for the Chiefs, who lost to Indianapolis in Kansas City two weeks ago. But the effectiveness of the returning players is in question, especially playmaking linebacker Houston.
He missed the final five games with a dislocated right elbow and will wear a brace against Indianapolis.
"The first two days it took some time to get used to. After that, it was OK," Houston said.
Indy is relatively healthy. The Colts won their last three games by a combined 78-20 and committed the fewest turnovers (14) and fewest penalties (66) in the NFL.
New Orleans (11-5) at Philadelphia (10-6), Saturday
The one wild-card game where injuries are relatively a nonfactor. Unless you count the Saints' damaged pride about their inability to win on the road.