Rodgers and Flacco the wild-card rarities

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Rodgers and Flacco the wild-card rarities

Aaron Rodgers has won a Super Bowl and an MVP award. Joe Flacco has been to the playoffs in all five of his pro seasons.

They will be the rarities this weekend when three rookie quarterbacks, two in their second NFL seasons, and one veteran who has yet to appear in the postseason will lead the other teams in the wild-card round.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is a fan of the trend toward younger quarterbacks.

``I think it's really exciting and the guys have done great,'' Carroll said. ``They really have against all of the odds and history and stuff they've just been amazing to take their teams into the playoffs.

``It's a very exciting time for the league knowing there are other guys out there who are going to come up in the next couple of years, and there are stars in the making in the college ranks, and you don't have to wait years and years for those guys to show up and be a factor. `'

Indeed, those days of letting young quarterbacks watch from the sideline before getting their chance has gone the way of the single wing. Rodgers was the last premier passer to undergo a lengthy apprenticeship, under Brett Favre in Green Bay.

On Saturday night, he leads the Packers against division rival Minnesota and second-year quarterback Christian Ponder. Earlier in the day, Cincinnati and its own second-year signal caller, Andy Dalton, is at Houston. The Texans' Matt Schaub is in his ninth pro season, but this will be his first playoff game.

On Sunday, the inexperience is even more pronounced. Three rookies who have completely belied any rawness - Andrew Luck for Indianapolis, Robert Griffin III for Washington, Russell Wilson for Carroll's Seahawks - will guide their teams in wild-card games.

``You know there's going to be a lot of people talking about playoff football and how it's ratcheted up a notch, which may be true,'' said Flacco, who will become the first quarterback to start a playoff game in his first five NFL seasons in the Super Bowl era. He's also won at least one postseason game each year. ``But the bottom line is, my advice would be go about your business as you always would on a normal week. It's obviously gotten you to the point that you're in the playoffs and playing to get to another week. If it got you that far, then you're obviously doing something right, so you should try to continue that. You shouldn't try anything crazy just because it's playoff time.''

Getting to the playoffs with rookie QBs was a crazy idea for decades. That changed permanently when Ben Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh to a 15-1 record in 2004, losing in the AFC title game.

Carroll points to even more recent times: 2008.

``I always go back to Flacco and Matt Ryan, those guys, when they jumped in and did really well as rookies, I think that was the start of the big turn,'' he said.

Still, there's never been anything like this season, when Luck, Griffin and Wilson combined for 31 wins, eight more than the previous record total for all rookie QBs in one season, which happened in 2011.

Some credit should go to the coaches who turned over their teams to the kids. Of course, when the Colts grabbed Luck atop the draft and the Redskins traded up to take RG3 at the second spot, it was presumed they would move directly into the lineup.

It took plenty of foresight and not a little courage for Carroll to go with Wilson, particularly after Seattle signed free agent Matt Flynn to a huge deal. But he saw something special in the third-round pick from Wisconsin by way of North Carolina State. And he sees that in all the rookie QBs.

``Maybe this is just the class of classes, too,'' he said. ``Maybe this isn't as much of a trend, but it looks like it's kind of turning. ``

It's not just the rookies who are making their playoff debuts, either. Schaub was injured when the Texans made their first trip to the postseason a year ago and T.J. Yates - yes, a rookie - led them to a victory over Dalton and the Bengals. Houston then lost to Flacco and the Ravens.

``I'm definitely looking forward to it,'' said Schaub, whose Texans have sputtered into the playoffs, dropping three of four to lose a bye. ``But the thing that's going to help us win the game are the same whenever you're playing, wherever you're playing. That's playing smart, clean, good football.''

That's exactly what the youngsters have done in key situations, even Ponder, who at times has looked overwhelmed. But he was solid the last two weeks when the Vikings beat Houston and Green Bay to secure their place in the Super Bowl chase.

``Balancing being conservative, making good decisions and taking chances, that's something you need to continue to learn as a quarterback and growing up,'' Ponder said. ``I think that's the biggest difference for me. `'

No matter how they fare this weekend, it's been a successful two years for young quarterbacks. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan expects it to continue because of the emphasis on passing in college.

``They're throwing the football a little bit more now than they have in the past,'' Shanahan said. ``I think that gives them a big advantage. I think they have the ability to come in and go through OTAs and really learn the system in the offseason. I know 20 years ago, you never had an opportunity like that. Going through a system again, you have a lot of hours in the classroom as a quarterback that you never had 10 years ago, a chance to learn the system. And a lot of these guys are coming out ready to go.''

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AP Sports Writers Tim Booth in Seattle, Howard Fendrich in Washington, and Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this story.

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Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

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Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

Will running back Trent Richardson’s lack of conditioning be his downfall with the Ravens?

Richardson missed the first week of OTA’s with a hamstring issue, which was not the kind of early impression he wanted to make. Some injuries are unavoidable. But conditioning has been an issue for Richardson throughout his brief and so far undistinguished NFL career.

Entering the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick with the Browns in 2012, Richardson has disappointed in Cleveland and Indianapolis, and spent 2015 out of the league after the Raiders cut him before the season. When the Ravens signed Richardson in April, he knew it might be his last NFL chance. However, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants to see even more commitment from Richardson when it comes to staying in shape.

RELATED: IN LATEST COMEBACK BID, RAVENS TE DENNIS PITTA'S CONFIDENCE NOT A PROBLEM

“Trent just needs to get healthy,” Harbaugh said after the first week of OTA’s. “I think the workload and the amount of work it takes to be a world class conditioned athlete is something that he’s working on right now. That’s what he needs to understand and that’s where he needs to get himself. When he gets himself there, he’s got talent. It will be fun. I’m very certain he’ll get there and when he does we’ll be able to evaluate him.”

The Ravens don’t have to wait on Richardson. Their running back competition is already intense, with Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West all fighting for carries and roles.

Whether Richardson even threatens to make the team remains to be seen. His bigger priority is improving his conditioning, and getting back on the field.

MORE RAVENS: MIKE TOMLIN, ANTONIO BROWN GO TO PENGUINS PLAYOFF GAME

In latest comeback bid, Ravens TE Dennis Pitta's confidence not a problem

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In latest comeback bid, Ravens TE Dennis Pitta's confidence not a problem

Not everyone close to Dennis Pitta was immediately sold on his second NFL comeback attempt. Will his twice-fractured hip hold up? How much is Pitta risking his long-term health?

Pitta has pondered those questions for months. But after the first week of OTA’s, the Ravens’ 30-year-old tight end remained confident he had made the right decision.

“I had to convince a few people, and I’m thankful for those who have been in my corner all along and had my best interests in mind,” Pitta said. “Like I’ve said before, I know my situation better than anyone else, and I’m confident in the decision I made to come back, and certainly there were people who wanted to make sure that I was confident in that decision. I have a great support team behind me, and we all feel good about this move.”

Pitta first fractured his hip during training camp in 2013, then again on a non-contact play against the Browns in 2014. However, Pitta says he doesn’t think about his right hip when he’s on the field. He’s also not lowering his expectations, despite not playing at all in 2015, and not playing a full season since 2012.

Pitta was one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets, catching 61 passes for 669 yards during the 2012 regular season, then adding 14 catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns during the Ravens’ playoff run to a Super Bowl title.

Asked if he could return that level of play, Pitta suggested, “Why not?”

“No, my expectations haven’t changed from four years ago, to two years ago, to now,” Pitta said. “My level of expectation is extremely high going into this year. Like I said, I feel confident in how I can run, how I can move, how I can play and it’s just a matter of getting those reps back to where I’m confident in doing all of that. So, yes, expectations personally are very high.”

Pitta obviously wasn’t ready to end his career. If he is on the 53-man roster Week 1, it will be a terrific comeback story.

Mike Tomlin, Antonio Brown go to Penguins playoff game

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Mike Tomlin, Antonio Brown go to Penguins playoff game

If you didn't the the Pittsburgh Steelers enough already, this ought to help. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and receiver Antonio Brown decided to take in some hockey on Thursday and unfortunately, they were cheering for the local team.

On the one hand, what do you expect? They play for the Pittsburgh Steelers so it's no surprise to see them cheering for the hometown team. On the other hand, the Steelers are the team Ravens fans all love to hate so to see them supporting the chief rivals of the Washington Capitals, that stings.

Just one more reason to hate the Steelers this football season.

RELATED: SEAN PAYTON SAYS RAVENS LOSING WEEK OF OTAS ISN'T THAT BIG OF A DEAL