Key takeaways from NFL Wildcard Weekend

San Francisco 49ers

It's hard to remember a wilder Wild Card weekend than the one that has just been consigned to history.

It started with the Indianapolis Colts erasing a 28-point third quarter deficit. That was followed by an uncharacteristic defensive battle between two of the league's highest-scoring teams.

Things ended with a team that had not lost at home all season being dominated by one that backed into the playoffs on the final day.

Here are the main takeaways from a crazy weekend of playoff football:

Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs will bounce back

Since the Kansas City Chiefs conspired to lose after leading the Indianapolis Colts 38-10, many have been lining up to savage the reputation of head coach Andy Reid.

But the best coach in football will bounce back from his team's collapse. Reid has a 10-10 playoff record and has lost more Championship games than there are days in a month.

But no coach in the NFL is better at finding what his players do best and giving them more opportunities to do it. Reid took the Chiefs from 2-14 to 11-5 in one season by playing to the strengths of his team.

He retained the 3-4 defensive scheme because it suited linebackers Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson. He let running back Jamaal Charles lead the offense because he is the unit's best player.

He also added elements of the read-option and spread offenses to his West Coast scheme because they suited the mobility of quarterback Alex Smith.

Reid will look at his roster and simply fill in the blanks. He will get Smith the clutch, "move" tight end he needs. He will add a savvy, ball-hawking free safety to a pass defense that was slaughtered in Indianapolis.

It may suddenly be fashionable to present Reid as a limited coach, but he will have the Chiefs back in the playoff mix again next season.

Two-tight end set can help the New Orleans Saints win in Seattle

One of the big keys to the New Orleans Saints ending their away day blues and beating the Eagles in Philadelphia, was their two-tight end set.

The Saints used it early and often to flatten Philly's 3-4 defensive front. Sometimes they created a balanced line with Jimmy Graham on one side and veteran Ben Watson on the other.

At others, they overloaded one side with Watson and Josh Hill stacked together. Supplementing their O-line with tight ends helped the Saints rush for 185 yards. That production offset a shaky

performance from quarterback Drew Brees.

New Orleans head coach Sean Payton can use the same scheme to help upset the fearsome Seattle Seahawks.

Pete Carroll's stingy defense plays a hybrid system, often featuring 3-4 and 5-2 looks like the ones the Eagles used. Featuring multiple-tight end sets can help the Saints control the line of scrimmage and establish the run in Seattle.

If they achieve balance on offense, the Saints will prevent the Seahawks from forcing Brees to throw into seven and eight-man coverage looks.

That could help the New Orleans offense produce enough points to force struggling Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson to play catch up.

The San Diego Chargers are proof of what good coaching can do

Often times coaches are deemed only as good as their players. While there is some truth to that, the men on the sideline, and their schemes, can make a big difference.

The San Diego Chargers are ample proof of that. First-year head coach Mike McCoy and coordinator Ken Whisenhunt have added variety and efficiency to a talented offense.

Their creativity has been matched by defensive play-caller John Pagano. He has compensated for deficiencies in personnel with some sophisticated blitzes.

His pressure designs were the key to the upset playoff win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The San Diego blitz forced Andy Dalton, a young quarterback who is reckless in the face of pressure, into critical mistakes.

The Chargers have kept their season alive because their coaches are winning the weekly strategy war.

The San Francisco 49ers can win a Super Bowl with defense

The idea that "defense wins championships" has become outdated in the modern, pass-first NFL. But the San Francisco 49ers are reviving the notion.

They boast the most dominant defense the league has seen since the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs used their smothering unit to win a Super Bowl and the 49ers can do the same.

San Francisco went into Green Bay and held quarterback Aaron Rodgers without a completion for the entire first quarter. The Niners also sacked him four times and limited one of the league's best to just 177 yards passing.

Suffocating a premier quarterback on the road is the hallmark of a championship-calibre defense.

image: © Amy Meredith