After 16 weeks of regular season football, the playoff field was set. 12 teams would now battle it out for the chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at Levi’s Stadium. So what did we learn throughout the playoffs?
Wild Card round:
Pittsburgh Steelers 18 @ Cincinnati Bengals 16 1. Another first round exit for Cincinnati. Cincinnati suffered their fifth consecutive wild card round exit with a loss to bitter rivals Pittsburgh, but at least Andy Dalton wasn’t to blame this time! AJ McCarron tried his best, leading the Bengals to 16 points in the fourth quarter after failing to score through the first three quarters, but he couldn’t save the day. 2. Bitterest rivalry in the NFL? The Bengals suffered a complete meltdown after clawing their way to a 16-15 lead. Then Jeremy Hill fumbled, handing the Steelers another chance. Two unnecessary roughness penalties for Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict after a hit on Antonio Brown gave the Steelers 30 free yards, allowing Chris Boswell to kick the game-winning field goal. Even coaches were getting into the fights that sprang up on the field, and several fines were dished out. Kansas City Chiefs 30 @ Houston Texans 0 1. Houston has a quarterback problem. You know your quarterback is bad when the home crowd starts chanting for Brandon Weeden to replace him. Brian Hoyer couldn’t put any points on the board and threw four interceptions as the Texans got steamrolled by Kansas City. With the 22nd pick in the draft, the Texans will have to hope that there is still a promising young signal caller available. Hoyer completed 15 of his 34 passes for just 136 yards. 2. Chiefs’ offense could fuel playoff run. A 106 yard kick-off return for Knile Davis on the game’s first play set the tone for the Chiefs. Cairos Santos added two field goals before the half, then Alex Smith threw a touchdown pass to Chris Conley and Spencer Ware rushed for a score before Santos made his third field goal. Kansas City extended their winning streak to 11 games, and won their first playoff game after eight consecutive postseason losses. Seattle Seahawks 10 @ Minnesota Vikings 9 1. Difficult game in freezing conditions. Neither team could move the ball particularly well for much of the game. Minnesota could only score three Blair Walsh field goals, while the Seahawks didn’t score until Russell Wilson’s touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin in the fourth quarter. Below-zero conditions; the third coldest game in league history, forced the game to become a defensive battle. 2. Walsh misses the mark. After being perfect on his first three attempts in the game, Blair Walsh missed an easy field goal that would’ve sealed the win for the Vikings after they chewed up the clock. Trailing 10-9, Minnesota made sure that the Seahawks wouldn’t have any time to score after a virtually certain field goal attempt. But Walsh missed and doomed the Vikings to a bitter defeat. Green Bay Packers 35 @ Washington Redskins 18 1. Never count out Rodgers and the Packers. After struggling for much of the season, Green Bay delivered a vintage performance after a slow start to the game. Down 11-0 in the second quarter, the Packers scored 17 unanswered points before finishing the game on the ground. Green Bay’s stagnant running came caught fire late, with Eddie Lacy and James Starks both scoring second half touchdowns. If the Packers can be balanced on offense for the rest of the playoffs, they could be a real dark horse contender. 2. Washington’s home-field advantage fails. After being seen by some pundits as favourites, the Redskins struggled to build on an early lead after being one of the most surprising teams down the stretch in the regular season. Kirk Cousins played a good game, but didn’t get enough support from the run game or the defense to make much of an impact. Still, Washington heads into next season with some positives at last.
Kansas City Chiefs 20 @ New England Patriots 27 1. The Patriots are back. After struggling with injuries down the stretch, the Patriots looked like they are back to full strength just in time for the playoffs. Julian Edelman had 10 catches for 100 yards in his first game since breaking his foot in Week 10. Rob Gronkowski showed his true capabilities after being limited for the last few games by scoring two touchdowns. Gronk now has the most postseason touchdowns ever for a tight end in only his sixth season. 2. Chiefs mismanage clock. The Chiefs had some momentum in the fourth quarter, and a comeback looked possible. But Kansas City burned over five minutes on a 16 play drive to make it 27-20 with two minutes to go. They attempted an onside kick, but Rob Gronkowski recovered it and the Patriots were able to control the clock until the end. Kansas City’s lack of urgency doomed them to defeat. Green Bay Packers 20 @ Arizona Cardinals 26 (OT) 1. Green Bay are always dangerous in the playoffs. Arizona held a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter and looked set to win. But Aaron Rodgers wasn’t having any of it, hurling a 41 yard Hail Mary pass toward the endzone with five seconds of regulation left. Little known receiver Jeff Janis out-jumped the Cardinals to come down with the score, sending the game to overtime. 2. Larry Fitzgerald is magic. In overtime, the Cardinals got the ball after a controversial coin toss. On the first play of overtime, Larry Fitzgerald caught a short pass from Carson Palmer and turned it into a 75 yard gain to set Arizona up near the goal-line. Fitzgerald then caught Palmer’s five yard pass to score the winning touchdown. Fitzgerald finished with eight catches for 176 yards and a touchdown. Seattle Seahawks 24 @ Carolina Panthers 31 1. Panthers survive Seattle comeback. Carolina raced out to a 31-0 lead. But Seattle came out firing in the second half, scoring 24 unanswered points with three Russell Wilson touchdown passes. The Seahawks lined up for an onside kick, trailing by seven. Last year, they won the NFC title game thanks to a botched onside kick by Green Bay. This time, it was Seattle’s turn for heartbreak as Thomas Davis recovered the attempt and secured the win for Carolina. 2. Carolina’s defense continues to make plays. Not content with being the league’s most disruptive defense during the regular season, the Panthers are being just as disruptive in the playoffs. Luke Kuechly’s pick-six of Russell Wilson helped Carolina jump out to a 31-0 lead. Wilson was sacked five times and threw two interceptions as the Panthers’ defense dominated the first half. Pittsburgh Steelers 16 @ Denver Broncos 23 1. Peyton Manning rescues the Broncos. With Denver trailing 13-12 with ten minutes left, a forced fumble by cornerback Bradley Roby was recovered by Demarcus Ware, setting Manning up. Manning drove the Broncos down the field, handing the ball to CJ Anderson for the go-ahead score. The teams traded field goals before Anderson recovered Pittsburgh’s onside kick to secure the win. 2. Denver’s defense does have weaknesses. Without Antonio Brown, the Steelers were expected to struggle against the league’s number one defense. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 339 yards and Martavis Bryant caught nine passes for 154 yards as the Steelers moved the ball well. However, Denver’s defense allowed only one touchdown and came up with a decisive fumble to give the Broncos a win.
AFC – New England Patriots 18 @ Denver Broncos 20 1. A different kind of Brady-Manning clash. With Manning looking spent at times and Brady struggling in Denver yet again, the defense took center stage in the 17th meeting between two of the greatest quarterbacks ever. It was Denver’s defense who won the day, limiting the Patriots’ offense for much of the game and preserving an early two touchdown lead built up by Manning. 2. Brady’s struggles in Denver again. Despite a stellar career, Tom Brady is now 2-7 when playing in Denver. Against the league’s best defense, Brady threw two interceptions and was sacked four times. Denver hit Brady 20 times; the most punishment taken by any quarterback in a single game all season. Unsurprisingly, New England fired offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo the day after the game. NFC – Arizona Cardinals 15 @ Carolina Panthers 49 1. Cam Newton locks up MVP. In a dominant performance by the entire Panthers team, Cam Newton stood out once again. Newton threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more, passing for 335 yards and finishing with 382 total yards. Newton completed almost 70% of his passes in a stellar performance. 2. Carolina’s defense smothers Cardinals. In another dominant performance, Carolina’s defense stifled Arizona’s usually high-flying offense. Carson Palmer threw four interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Luke Kuechly, lost two fumbles and was sacked three times. Patrick Peterson lost another fumble as the Cardinals could manage just 287 total yards.