During the weekend of Jan. 14-15, the National Football League (NFL) hosted the second round of the playoffs, known as the Divisional Round. Eight teams from across the country battled it out as another chapter was written to determine which two teams would represent their conferences in the biggest game in the calendar year: the Super Bowl. In the first round of the playoffs, known as Wild Card Weekend, the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers of the NFC and the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Houston Texans of the AFC defeated their opponents to advance to the Divisional Round. Standing in their way were four of the best teams in all of pro-football during the regular season who proved to be tests for the Wild Card game winners.
On Saturday, Jan. 14, the first game between the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons saw the Falcons triumphant over the Seahawks, 36-20. MVP candidate Matt Ryan threw for 338 yards with three touchdowns. Devonta Freeman led the Falcons in receiving yards with 80, while Tevin Coleman had 11 carries for 57 yards. The defining moment of the game came in the second quarter when Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson got sacked in the endzone for a Falcons safety, part of a 19-point second quarter for the home team.
The night cap featured the Houston Texans on the road to face the number one team in the AFC, the New England Patriots. Tom Brady and company were dominant from the first play as they blew out Houston, 34-16. Brady led the team with 287 yards, with Julian Edelman as his primary target that night, finishing with 137 receiving yards. These two games were an appetizer for what was to come on Sunday.
The first game on Sunday, Jan. 15 featured the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas was led by two rookies at quarterback and running back, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. However, Dallas soon learned a valuable lesson about the quarterback for the Packers: don’t underestimate how good Aaron Rodgers is in the clutch. With 35 seconds to go in the game, Rodgers drove the Packers to the Dallas 32-yard line in order for their kicker, Mason Crosby, to kick a field goal, which gave Green Bay a 34-31 win over the Cowboys. Rodgers racked up 356 passing yards by the end of the game.
The night game on Sunday featured the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Over the course of the season Andy Reid, the head coach of the Chiefs, was at his most dominant after he had more time to prepare for a game (one week or more). However, that did not phase the Steelers’ game plan one bit. With kicker Chris Boswell kicking an NFL playoff record of six field goals, Pittsburgh hung on for an 18-16 victory against the Chiefs. Le’veon Bell led the Steelers with 170 rushing yards, while Ben Roethlisberger kept the Chiefs’ defense in check with 224 passing yards. The most remarkable fact about this game was that the Steelers did not need a touchdown to beat the Chiefs.
On Sunday, Jan. 22, four teams remained to compete for conference championship titles. In the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons dominated the Green Bay Packers, finishing with a final score of 44-21. Atlanta’s Ryan threw for 392 yards and four touchdowns, and wide receiver Julio Jones collected 180 yards receiving. In the AFC Championship, the New England Patriots topped the Pittsburgh Steelers with a final score of 36-17. Brady finished the game with 384 yards passing and three touchdowns.
On Sunday, Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m., the Falcons and the Patriots will compete in Super Bowl LI. The game will be played at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. The Falcons’ first and only other Super Bowl appearance dates back to the 1998 season when they lost to the Denver Broncos. The Patriots, on the other hand, have made eight prior Super Bowl appearances, winning just half of those matches. The Falcons have a chance to collect their first Super Bowl win.
With the experience behind the duo that is Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots are favored over the Falcons. However, much of the country is standing behind Ryan and the Falcons to cheer on the underdogs.
Sources: ESPN.com, NFL.com