NFL Playoffs Review

NFL+Playoffs+Review

Ruhan Ganpath, Guest Writer

The NFL playoffs this year have been a tale of two conferences. The NFC was uncharacteristically predictable after a wild regular season, featuring just one lead change in all five games as the favorites went 4-1. On the other hand was the topsy-turvy AFC, which saw the defending champs and the No.1 seed both go down to a 9-7 sixth seed, as well as a historic 24-point comeback and an overtime wildcard thriller. 

Four weeks and ten playoff games have culminated in a final battle between the most electrifying offense and the most suffocating defense the league has to offer. A fitting conclusion to the NFL’s 100th season has matched a team which last won it all in the league’s 50th season against a team trying to tie a record with its 6th Super Bowl title.

Will the wonderboy Patrick Mahomes lead Chiefs Kingdom to a long-awaited title, perhaps the first of many for this prodigious Kansas City offense? Or will it be All-World rookie Nick Bosa and the merciless San Francisco front carrying Niner Nation one step closer to seventh heaven? 

First, a rundown of what we’ve seen so far:

Wildcard Round!

AFC:

(5) Buffalo Bills 19-22(OT) (4) Houston Texans

Back in January for the second time in three years, the upstart Bills jumped out to a 16-0 lead in Houston soon after halftime, and appeared to be on the verge of sending Houston to its second straight wildcard loss at home. That is, until Deshaun Watson had something to say about it. The Texans’ QB of the future engineered a wild comeback, finding the end zone once through the air and once on the ground. With four and a half minutes to go, the Texans led for the first time all night at 19-16. Despite nearly throwing it away on an ill-advised lateral by QB Josh Allen, the Bills were able to tie it and send it to OT. After 72 minutes of game time, a 28-yard field goal by Houston kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn that followed punts by both sides sent Houston to the divisional round in Kansas City.

(6) Tennessee Titans 20-13 (3) New England Patriots

Riding an unstoppable 182-yard performance from running back Derrick Henry, the Titans sent New England’s Evil Empire into the longest offseason it has had since 2009, having reached the divisional round ever year since then and every AFC Championship since 2011. New England enters the offseason with more uncertainty than perhaps ever before, as quarterback Tom Brady is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his historic 20-year career. The Patriots’ 42 year-old signal-caller hasn’t ruled out the possibility of leaving the only team he has ever suited up for, and while no one can ever be truly sure until it happens, New England’s dynasty appears all but over.

NFC:

(6) Minnesota Vikings 26-20(OT) (3) New Orleans Saints

New Orleans became the first team since the 2013-15 Green Bay Packers to be eliminated in the playoffs on the final play three straight years, as Kirk Cousins found tight end Kyle Rudolph on a controversial goal-line fade in OT for just the second playoff win for Minnesota in their last six tries. In a cruel twist for Saints fans, the other also came against New Orleans on the famous Minneapolis Miracle play. The Saints became the first 13-3 team to ever lose in the wildcard, adding to a string of heartbreaking playoff defeats that includes the aforementioned Minneapolis Miracle and last year’s infamous NFC Championship pass interference no-call against the Los Angeles Rams, a game they’d also lose in overtime.

(5) Seattle Seahawks 17-9 (4) Philadelphia Eagles

One of the most emotional wildcard games in recent memory, both teams entered this game with two of the worst injury records in the league. While Seattle was able to mostly stay in one piece for one more week, Philadelphia was not so lucky. Already missing their WR1, WR2, WR3, RB2, RB3, and RT with their RB1 and TE1 playing through a sprained ankle and a lacerated kidney respectively, the Eagles overcame a 5-7 start to win the NFC East at 9-7 behind the stellar play of QB Carson Wentz. Often criticized for his inability to stay on the field at times over the years, Wentz threw for 27 touchdowns and dragged a banged-up Eagles squad to the postseason. Looking to make his long-awaited first playoff start a big one, Wentz was concussed in the first quarter after a questionably late hit to the helmet by Seahawks DE Jadeveon Clowney, knocking him out of the game as well. Playing on a torn hamstring, 40 year-old backup journeyman Josh McCown kept Philadelphia in the game, but in the end all the injuries were just too much for any team to overcome. Following a late third-down conversion from quarterback Russell Wilson to rookie receiver D.K. Metcalf, Seattle won a nail biter to stay alive for one more week.

Divisional Round:

AFC:

(6) Tennessee Titans 28-12 (1) Baltimore Ravens

Was there anything that Derrick Henry couldn’t do? The star running back ran for 195 yards and even threw for a touchdown as the Titans shocked likely MVP Lamar Jackson and the 14-2 Ravens, and it wasn’t that close. After claiming that New England “didn’t seem too interested in tackling [Henry]”, Ravens safety Earl Thomas watched as his defense was picked apart by the massive running back, and Tennessee rolled to a surprise AFC Championship berth.

(4) Houston Texans 31-51 (2) Kansas City Chiefs

Houston came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, scoring 21 in the first quarter alone and adding a field goal four minutes into the second for an unprecedented 24-0 lead. Then, the monster that is Patrick Mahomes woke up. Mahomes threw three touchdowns in a span of three minutes and twenty-four seconds, adding another just before the half as the Chiefs led 28-24 just as quickly as they had fallen behind. That was just the beginning. They found the end zone on their first three drives of the second half to complete a streak of seven straight drives with a touchdown, eventually winning 51-31. Kansas City became the first team in playoff history to win a game by 20 or more after trailing by 20 earlier in the game.

NFC:

(6) Minnesota Vikings 10-27 (1) San Francisco 49ers

The Niner defense had their way with Minny all night, allowing just 147 total yards, and San Fran won its first playoff game since 2014. RB Tevin Coleman ran for 105 yards and 2 TDs, while the defense held the Vikes to just 7 first downs all night.

(5) Seattle Seahawks 23-28 (2) Green Bay Packers

Green Bay built up leads of 21-3 by halftime and 28-10 in the third quarter before Seattle staged a furious comeback. Behind a passing score by Russell Wilson and a (one-yard) rushing TD by Marshawn Lynch, Seattle brought to within 5 with nine minutes to go, needing to find the end zone just once more to take their first lead of the night. After a punt each from both sides, the Seahawks had the Pack on the ropes with two minutes left, forcing a third and eight from the Seattle 45. A stop would hand possession back to the Seahawks with a chance to win the game, while a first down would all but seal an NFC Championship berth for the Cheeseheads.  In a play that will be hotly debated for years, Packer tight end Jimmy Graham was ruled to have just barely reached the first down marker, and the Packers reached their third NFC Championship game in the last six seasons.

Conference Championships

AFC:

(6) Tennessee Titans 24-35 (2) Kansas City Chiefs

Tennessee’s Cinderella run came to an end against Patrick Mahomes and the Madden-esque Chiefs offense, as Mahomes threw for 3 scores and ran for another as Kansas City overcame another deficit to reach its first Super Bowl in 50 years. Down 17-7 late in the second, Kansas City’s next five drives went touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown, touchdown. Facing a crucial third down up 28-17 with seven minutes to go, Mahomes uncorked a bomb that found Sammy Watkins for a 60-yard touchdown to put the final nail in the coffin for Tennessee. The Chiefs defense played one of its best games of the season, holding Henry to just 69 yards and just 7 points in the final 36 minutes of the game.

NFC:

(2) Green Bay Packers 20-37 (1) San Francisco 49ers

Two words. Raheem. Mostert. The undrafted free agent who had previously been cut by six other teams and had just one career touchdown prior to this season had the game of his life, running for 160 yards in the first half alone and finishing with 220 and four touchdowns. His 226 total yards accounted for 63.8 percent of the Niners’ total offensive production, as Green Bay had no answer for the 285-yard effort put forth by the Niner rushing attack. The Niners became the third team in NFL history to reach the Super Bowl after having four wins or less the year before, and look to tie the all-time NFL record of six rings shared by the Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Super Bowl LIV:

(1) San Francisco 49ers vs (2) Kansas City Chiefs

49ers:

San Francisco certainly doesn’t have the experience advantage, as the 49ers will conclude their first playoff berth since the 2013 season with a Super Bowl berth. The 49ers had the league’s second-best total defense and were tops in passing defense and sixth in takeaways, and they also possessed the league’s second ranked rushing offense. Their weaknesses are few, but the offense has been inept at times and they rank just 18th in interceptions, something which will be key in neutralizing the potent Chiefs offense.

Chiefs:

Kansas City had the league’s fifth ranked passing offense despite Mahomes missing two games and most of a third, and they’ve averaged 43 points in their two playoff games. The defense has been better than most suggest, ranking seventh in scoring, a massive uptick from last year’s 24th ranked unit. Despite significant improvements on defense, the key to this team is and has always been Patrick Mahomes. The reigning MVP has thrown eight touchdowns and 615 yards in these playoffs, while adding on 106 yards and another score rushing. Kansas City is full of playmakers, from receiver speedsters Mecole Hardman and Tyreek Hill to goal-line demon Damien Williams, to the one-on-one nightmare of Travis Kelce at tight end. Should the offense sputter against a stout 49er front seven, the Chiefs may be doomed. Based on the last two games however, it’s safe to say that most likely won’t happen.

Key to the Game:

The matchup of the day is going to the 49er front seven versus the Kansas City o-line, as the Chiefs tend to call a few run plays at a time to draw an opponent into man coverage, and then exploiting that with their arsenal of one-on-one matchup nightmares. If the O-line can hold off Nick Bosa and the Niner rush long enough to allow the run game to develop and then to allow the receivers enough time to beat their man, the Chiefs should win this one with ease. If not, look to see a triumphant Bosa on the podium to hold up the team’s record-tying sixth Lombardi.

Final Score Prediction:

49ers 23-28 Chiefs

The explosive Kansas City offense is too much to be contained for four quarters, and Pat Mahomes collects the first of what could be many rings to come.

Super Bowl MVP: Patrick Mahomes

Bold Prediction: Mahomes throws just one touchdown, but runs in for another and throws for 300 yards.