NFL: Divisional Round


Jayden Davis, Staff Writer

We are deep into the NFL playoffs and the potential match-up for Super Bowl 50 is looking clearer by the day. Following a wild card weekend that, for the first time ever, had all four home teams lose, was a very exciting divisional round where all but one game came down to the final minutes.

Kansas City @ New England: 20-27

The first divisional game was played between two teams, both with something to prove. The Kansas City Chiefs came into the game as the hottest team in the league following an eleven game win streak after a 1-5 start. With arguably the best defense in the league, led by veterans Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and rookie Marcus Peters, the Chiefs looked to defeat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots’ offense.

The New England Patriots, plagued by injuries, had a chip on their shoulder with this specific team, as the Chiefs had beaten them last season in a 41-14 blowout in Kansas City. New England’s offense hasn’t been the same since the fall of many key players to injury, in particular on the offense. They had to put all their hopes on the players coming back from injuries, specifically Julian Edelman, Sebastian Vollmer and Rob Gronkowski.

New England came out firing downfield showing the aerial assault of their passing game they have been missing out on with multiple completions to Edelman and Gronkowski. This helped the Patriots jump out to a 14-6 lead after one half. In the second half, the stunned Kansas City defense was not able to stop New England from scoring as they scored 13 more points. What cost the Chiefs a victory was the pace of the offense, running 27 more plays than the Patriots, and holding the ball over 15 minutes longer than the opposition. Kansas City’s final scoring drive consisted of 17 plays which had taken up to much game clock, taking away the opportunity to tie the game.

Green Bay @ Arizona: 20-26

In an NFC matchup of two very similar teams both having high quality quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers, the MVP of last year, and current MVP candidate Carson Palmer. The Green Bay Packers came into this game off a 35-18 victory against the Washington Redskins. The NFC runner-up Packers have had a struggling offense this year, dropping from the 6th best offense last year down to the 23rd best offense this season with the loss of Jordy Nelson.

Arizona on the other hand has had the best passing offense this season led by Palmer and future Hall-of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald. Another plus to the Arizona offense is the breakout rookie star David Johnson at running back who Green Bay knew would give their defense issues. Arizona’s 5th ranked defense will have to hold down Aaron Rodgers without the rising star Safety Tyrann Mathieu.

The Cardinals entered this game with the Super Bowl in their line of sight as they were projected to win this game easily. Both teams had scored two touchdowns and two field goals including a miraculous 41 yard Hail Mary touchdown as the game clock ticked out. This Aaron Rodgers touchdown sent the game into overtime. Arizona’s offense to start out overtime was expected to be deflated of energy after the last second touchdown they had given up. However, Larry Fitzgerald had taken the first OT pass from Palmer, 75 yards downfield which led to a Fitzgerald touchdown two plays later which had won the game for the Cardinals.

Seattle @ Carolina: 24-31

In a divisional round rematch of last year, the two-time defending NFC champs Seattle Seahawks took on the 15-1 Carolina Panthers, this time in Charlotte, North Carolina. This matchup of two similarly structured teams, both known for their defense and the dual-threat quarterbacks in Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, was expected to be very low scoring.

Seattle came into the game off a win against the Vikings where they had escaped at last second after Blair Walsh had missed the potential game-winning field goal for Minnesota. Seattle’s rushing game had diminished with the injuries to Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls, meaning they would have to lean on the arm of Russell Wilson.

Carolina on the other hand had the advantage of a first round bye thanks to leading MVP candidate Cam Newton and the defense led by Luke Kuechly and Josh Norman. The Panthers had the highest scoring offense in the league combined with the 6th ranked defense led up to their nearly undefeated season going 15-1.

This game was a tale of two halves. Carolina quickly went up 14-0 early in the first quarter and finished the half with 31 unanswered points. After falling 31-0 Seattle was able to stage a comeback scoring 24 unanswered points of their own coming within just one touchdown from tying the game. After Carolina was able to recover the onside kick from Seattle in the final minute, they were able to run the clock down to win the game 31-24.

Pittsburgh @ Denver: 16-23

The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to Denver for a regular season rematch against the Broncos where in week 15 the Steelers were able to make a comeback win 34-27. The Steelers, all year have had a juggernaut of an offense with both a great running and passing game. On the other side of the ball is the streaky defense which has been weak against the pass which could be a factor against the great Peyton Manning.

The home team Denver Broncos, unlike the Steelers, has statistically the best defense in the league. With the absence of Steelers’ superstar Antonio Brown due to his concussion, helps the Denver defense that is already elite. Peyton Manning would have his first start after missing multiple games being replaced by Brock Osweiler.

Throughout the game, the Steelers were able to establish a passing game with Markus Wheaton while Denver was able to run the ball well. This game came down to the final quarter when the Denver defense was able to hold Pittsburgh to just a field goal while the Broncos offense was able to close out the game with eleven.

Conference Championships

With just four teams remaining, each one win away from a trip to the Super Bowl, comes a lot of excitement for football fans. Four teams, three of which starring 1st overall draft pick quarterback, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer and Peyton Manning along with 199th overall pick Tom Brady. In the AFC, Brady faces off against Manning for the 17th time in their careers, a rivalry unlike any other in NFL history. Each of them in pursuit of their next Super Bowl Title. In the NFC, the best running offense takes on the best throwing offense in a collision of two first overall draft picks, both being Heisman winners in college. Unlike Brady and Peyton, these two quarterbacks are looking for their first Super Bowl appearance.