If you’re an NFL fan, this weekend had just about everything you could have asked for. I mean, the first play of the 2016 NFL playoffs was a 106-yard kickoff return touchdown. There were four games with distinct story lines and each game had it’s own intrigue. In Chiefs vs. Texans, there were two teams that finished the season 10-0 and 7-2 respectively. Bengals vs. Steelers was a matchup of two bitter rivals that wanted nothing more than to beat down and beat up the other team. The Seahawks vs. Vikings was one of the clearest examples of a team that has been there, and a team that is trying to get there. And in the final matchup of Packers vs. Redskins, you have an up-and-coming QB prospect going against a Super Bowl winner who had been slumping for the last 2 months of the season. Let’s take a closer look at all of the games, and start to look forward to next week’s games.
Note: If you would like a link to the box score, recap, and highlights of each game, click on the embedded links at the top of each recap.
Recap: Wild Card Weekend
While many predicted this game would not be a close contest, it happened in a very strange way. Take the opening kickoff for example, where Knile Davis returned it all the way for a 106-yard touchdown. From that point on, Houston really didn’t have much of a shot. Coming into the season, we all knew that the Texans would have trouble moving the ball down the field. That turned out to be their kryptonite in the playoffs, with Brian Hoyer having one of the worst playoff performances in recent memory. He completed fewer than 50% of his passes, threw 4 interceptions, had a fumble, and averaged an abysmal 4 yards per pass attempt. To pour salt on the would, this home crowd had to watch JJ Watt limp around the field with a groin injury. Everything that could have gone wrong for the Texans did go wrong.
For the Chiefs, it could not have gone much better. While they certainly had their opportunities to widen the gap earlier in the game, they simply dominated this team in all three phases of the game. Alex Smith now has a TD:INT ratio in his playoff career of 10:1, with his only interception coming this past weekend. This defense has not allowed a team to score more than 22 points in a game since the beginning of October, over 3 months ago. This team is red hot right now, but they will face their toughest task yet when traveling to New England this upcoming weekend.
There are few playoff games that I have ever seen with an ending this insane. In my time watching football, while granted is limited to about a dozen years, what happened at the end of that game was simply unbelievable. However, we would be remiss not to mention the multitude of storylines that game had created prior to that final moment. Before the game even started, the NFL warned both the Steelers and the Bengals and informed them that they would be watching their every move for foul play. This game had everything from backups AJ McCarron and Fitzgerald Toussaint playing huge roles, to coaches running on the field to separate players, to several personal foul penalties, and more.
Fast forward to the last drive of the third quarter. The Bengals had just fumbled the ball down near the redzone off of a huge hit from Ryan Shazier on Giovani Bernard. The Steelers were now up 15-0 and a score on the ensuing drive would really but the Bengals in a tough spot. On the third play of the drive, Ben Roethlisberger went down hard and appeared to be injured (we’ll skip the part where Bengals fans were cheering and throwing trash at Big Ben while he was being carted off the field). The Bengals then went on to score 16 points and go up by a single point. With Big Ben clearly injured, Landry Jones threw what looked to be the interception that could seal the victory for the Cincinnati Bengals with 1:50 remaining in the game.
However, on the very next play, the Bengals Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball and the Steelers had life again. Roethlisberger, unable to lift his elbow above his shoulder, led the Steelers to the Bengals’ 47-yard line with 22 seconds left and they had used their last timeout. On the next play, Antonio Brown took one of the most vicious hits to the head and neck area that you will ever see in a game and suffered a concussion. The hit was delivered by none other than Vontaze Burfict. The hit to head of the best receiver in the game drew a 15-yard penalty. After that play, with being carried off the field, Pacman Jones completely lost his temper and cost the team another 15 yards. This gave the Steelers’ new kicker Chris Boswell a chip shot field goal to win the game.
As someone living in Minnesota the day of this game, I can tell you that even Minnesotans thought it was cold outside. The temperature never got above 0 degrees for the entirety of the game. I don’t know how those guys were able to perform at such a high level during this game; it was absolutely frigid. With that being said, the cold proved to be a great equalizer as the Seahawks had difficulty initiating their high octane passing offense. On top of that, the Vikings had a phenomenal game plan to shut down the Seahawks. Mike Zimmer, the Vikings head coach, is one of the most brilliant defensive minds in football and he proved it this weekend. The offense also did what they could to keep the Seahawks off the field as much as possible.
The game was all Minnesota until the fourth quarter. With the Vikings up 9-0, the Seahawks were driving down the field. Seattle had first down at the Minnesota 39-yard line. On that play, the ball was snapped while Russell Wilson wasn’t looking, and it looked like the Vikings might get a 20-yard sack. However, Russell did what he usually does. He scrambled to his right and threw up a prayer to a wide-open Tyler Lockett who ran all the way down to the Vikings 4 yard line. The Seahawks eventually scored a touchdown later in that drive. On the very next drive, Kam Chancellor forced a fumble on Adrian Peterson. The Seahawks would kick a field goal to take a 10-9 lead.
The next 4 possessions consisted of 4 punts between the two teams. With 1:52 left, Teddy Bridgewater got the ball back and started to drive his team down the field. They got themselves into field goal range after Kyle Rudolph had a 24-yard catch and run down to the Seattle 18 yard-line. After three runs and a series of timeouts, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was set up with a 27-yard field goal to knock the back-to-back NFC Champions out of the playoffs. The only problem, it was hooked wide left. The Seahawks won 10-9. Take a listen to the Minnesota Vikings radio broadcast of that final field goal.
In the final game of the Wild Card round, the Packers and the Redskins were battling it out in the nation’s capital. However, these two teams took very different paths to this game. The Redskins finished the season on a 4-game winning streak, with the Packers limped into the playoffs. With that being said, the game followed those trends at the beginning. The Redskins got a safety, field goal, and a touchdown with a missed extra point to jump out to an early 11-0 nothing lead.
From that point on, the Packers dominated the rest of the game. After Washington’s touchdown drive, the Packers would go on to score points on their next 5 drives. While Washington would re-take the lead at 18-17 on the first drive of the second half, it proved to be not enough. The next thing anybody knew, Green Bay had taken a commanding 32-18 edge. The Packers would kick a field goal late in the game to push it to a three-possession game, comfortably out of reach. Green Bay proved to be too much for the young Redskins team to handle.
Kansas City Chiefs @ New England Patriots – 3:35 P.M. CT on CBS
The Patriots are the better team when they are healthy, and most people would agree with that. The problem is that the Patriots have not been the same team that they were at the beginning of the season. Granted, they haven’t had Julian Edelman, Dont’a Hightower, Sebastian Vollmer, Devin McCourty, and Danny Amendola for extended periods of time. However, it is a lot to ask this team to pick up where they left off after nearly two months of mediocre football. With all that being said, if there is one team that can pick up where they left off, it is New England.
The Chiefs on the other hand are riding an 11-game winning streak into Foxboro. This is a great spot for Kansas City to be in. They are underdogs by about a touchdown, they are red hot, and they have nothing to lose. This front seven will try to have a field day with the offensive line of the Patriots and get to Tom Brady early and often. If they can run the ball and Alex Smith can protect ball well, this team has a really good shot at an upset.
Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals – 7:15 P.M. CT on NBC
Up until Week 17, many people would have picked the Cardinals to win the Super Bowl. While they still have as good of a chance as they did before getting destroyed by Seattle, the Cardinals need to learn form that game. Luckily for them, they are preparing to play a team they dominated by 30 points less than a month ago. If the Cardinals execute well on both sides of the ball, they should be able to take care of business. The Cardinals open as 6.5 point favorites.
While the Packers certainly looked good against Washington two days ago, this game is going to much different against a much better team. It is great the Green Bay seemed to have found their offensive form in the nation’s capital, it is a much tougher task to do it in the desert. The Pack need to win the turnover battle, have at least one big special teams play, and experience the magic of Aaron Rodgers if they are going to win this game.
Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers – 12:05 P.M. CT on FOX
Carolina was not expected to be one of the best teams in the NFL this season, yet here they are with the NFL’s best overall record going into the playoffs. This team has had a winning formula all season: win the turnover battle, run the ball, play great defense, and win the time of possession battle. It also helps that they have this season’s MVP on their team in Cam Newton. They have already defeated the Seahawks in Seattle this year, so they know they can win this game. However, Seattle is playing much better now than they did earlier in the season.
After a 2-4 start to the season, the Seahawks have since won 9 of their last 11 games. This team was tamed in the Minnesota cold this past weekend, and now they will have to play one of the best defenses in the NFL this season. Russell Wilson has been red hot over the last seven games of the regular season, posting a ridiculous 24:1 TD:INT ratio. With the Panthers losing two of their cornerbacks in Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere, this could be a tough game for the Panthers. Nonetheless, Seattle will still enter this game as underdogs by about a field goal.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos – 4:40 P.M. EST on CBS
For the Denver Broncos, securing homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs was a huge accomplishment. Playing at altitude with a raucous crowd makes it incredibly difficult for opponents to win there. This defense has been pretty remarkable all year, and they expect to be just as good with a week of rest. The biggest story for Denver is going to be starting quarterback Peyton Manning. He will be playing against a Steelers secondary that can be termed shaky at best. He should be able to move the ball up and down the field without much of a problem. With that being said, Peyton has lost in his first playoff game nine times in his career. Will that come back to haunt him?
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, this game completely revolves around health. Their starting quarterback, running back, and top receiver are all in question. Ben Roethlisberger is recovering from an AC Joint sprain and some torn ligaments in his right shoulder (throwing shoulder), Antonio Brown from a concussion, and DeAngelo Williams from a foot injury. Hopefully they can all play and this can be a competitive game. If Big Ben and Antonio Brown both play, the Steelers have a chance to come out of this game victorious. Just look at how much the Vegas line for this game changes based on who plays. Either way, this is going to be a tough game for the Steelers to win. Even if all of their stars play, this time will be on the road after defeating the Broncos at home earlier in the year. That extra week of rest could come into play in this game.
Featured image: Joe Nicholson, USA Today Sports.