The final week of football season is like high school graduation. You’re excited about closing a chapter in your life and moving on to bigger and better things, but at the same time you’ll miss your friends.
You know, friends like Philip Rivers, who couldn’t put more than seven points on the board in the Chargers’ must-win game at Arrowhead.
Remember that time Philip Rivers ended his season w/an INT, and the Chiefs went a whole season without a WR touchdown?
— Sarah Garner (@sarahlgarner) December 29, 2014
Yes, Sarah, we we will remember. Whoever you are.
After the game Rivers said, “Our guys fought hard in a tough environment. We acknowledge we didn’t play our best, but we give credit to Kansas City.”
So now that the Chiefs have the respect and admiration of the Chargers, did the win slide them into the playoffs?
Nope. Not quite.
The Connor Shaw-led Browns gave Chiefs fans a brief moment of hope as they led Baltimore 10-3 heading into the 4th quarter on the legs of Terrance West (94 yards, TD) but Joe Flacco rallied the Ravens to 17 unanswered points including two touchdown passes to Torrey Smith and Kamar Aiken. Baltimore earned the #6 seed.
Shaw played admirably, particularly when you consider the fact that nobody expected the undrafted rookie to see the field in 2014, let alone start a game. Signed off the practice squad on December 22, the dude had less than a week to prepare for a huge game – on the road – against a division rival that needed to win for a chance to get into the postseason.
Shaw completed half of his passes (14 of 28) for 177 yards with 1 interception.
You can’t always compare apples to oranges, but Mr. Shaw’s debut certainly looked a lot better on paper than Johnny Football’s.
— NFL (@nfl) December 20, 2014
But I digress. The Browns’ season is over, so let’s move on to the teams that will compete for this year’s Lombardi trophy.
AFC First Round BYEs
As expected the Patriots and the Broncos finished one and two in the AFC. Both teams suffered through a rough patch along the way, the difference being that New England got theirs out of their system in the first quarter of the season.
Don’t read too much into the Bills beating the Pats 17-9 in Foxborough. Yes, it was their first home loss since 2012, but Buffalo was playing for their first winning season since before Simon Cowell was on television and New England already had home-field advantage wrapped up for the playoffs prior to kick-off.
Nothing to see here, move along – but congrats to the Bills who are now legitimately a decent football team.
Similarly, don’t read too much into the Broncos demolishing the Raiders 47-14 at home.
Two of Peyton Manning’s worst three games in a Denver uniform came during the last month.
Drop the ball in the playoffs and you go home. This team has plenty of kinks to work out during their two-week rest.
You can always count on Peyton Manning to struggle as the Playoffs approach. He couldn’t hold Tom Brady’s jockstrap lol
— Sportz411 (@Sportz411) December 23, 2014
AFC Wild Card Games
Pittsburgh looked good in their 27-17 division title win over Cincinnati. The Steelers are back on top of the AFC North and will host their rival Ravens at home next Saturday.
The boys from Steel City are seen as a legitimate dark horse to make yet another Super Bowl run (seriously, how good have Steelers fans had it since 1970?) behind the most prolific offense in the history of the franchise.
Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown have torn up defenses all season long.
— PFTonNBCSN (@PFTonNBCSN) December 22, 2014
In the other AFC Wild Card match-up, the Bengals travel to Indy to take on the AFC South winning Colts.
The Colts have been sort of an anomaly this season, finishing with an (11-5) record but looking very bad in those five losses. Plus, Andrew Luck has had a tendency to dig a hole with turnovers before turning on the after burners for big-time second half comebacks. Luck has 16 INTs and 6 lost fumbles on the season.
To be fair he has thrown for 40 touchdowns and rushed for 3 more, giving him an overall 2:1 TD to turnover ratio – but, against a defense like the Bengals he’ll need to take better care of the ball or it will be one-and-done for Indy.
We’ll take a deeper look at both of these Wild Card games as well as those for the NFC later on this week.
NFC First Round BYEs
The Seahawks held off a scrappy Rams team at home 20-6 to clinch home field advantage for the second straight year. Twice Seattle has earned the #1 seed and both times the team advanced to the Super Bowl.
Only the Cowboys have beaten the Hawks at home in 2014 but this game seems like oh-so-long ago. It will be a rough road for any team to come into the Clink and beat the red hot Seahawks.
That being said, Tony Romo is having an MVP-type season and DeMarco Murray now holds the all-time Cowboys rushing mark after surpassing none other than Emmitt Smith.
But with Dallas losing out on a three-way tie atop the NFC (Seattle, Green Bay and Dallas all finished at 12-4) they’ll need to beat the Lions at home and then win at Lambeau to get a crack at proving they can sweep Seattle on the season.
The Packers wound up as the NFC’s number two seed after handling Detroit at home 30-20. Aaron Rodgers went out with a calf injury early in the game, allowing the Lions to climb back into the contest, but #12 returned to lead his team to a pair of second half touchdowns to stretch Green Bay’s home win streak over Detroit to an amazing 24 straight.
Football fans are licking their lips should the top two NFC seeds meet in the championship game. Seattle throttled Green Bay in the season opener but both teams have undergone major transformations since.
NFC Wild Card Games
All the pieces are coming together for the Carolina Panthers. They’ve won four straight games, including a week 17 laugher over the Falcons 34-3 to secure their second straight NFC South title.
Believe it or not, the Panthers are the first team to ever be back-to-back NFC South champions in the 13 seasons since realignment. A bit surprising considering the relative dominance of the Saints during the Payton-Brees era.
And now they get to face the struggling Arizona Cardinals who still don’t know if their back-up quarterback will be ready to play.
Head Coach Bruce Arians has stood tall during these tough times but you can’t argue the fact that the Cards have lost four of their last six games and haven’t scored more than 18 points since November 9th, when they beat the Rams 31-14.
For their part, Carolina hasn’t given up more than 17 points since November. Don’t be surprised if the Panthers become just the second team to win a playoff game with a losing record.
The Lions are another team on the verge of imploding. After failing to get the monkey off their back in Wisconsin, they’ll be forced to try their hand at snapping another streak, one that’s even longer.
Detroit has never won a road playoff game. Ever. At least not during the Super Bowl era.
Let that sink in a bit.
@ESPNStatsInfo wasn’t Detroit’s last playoff win against Dallas?
— Cameron (@camerondittman) December 29, 2014
And sure, perhaps the fact that Detroit’s last playoff win was against Dallas will provide a much needed boost of confidence.
Umm…no. This game was in 1992. Their coach was Wayne Fontes and all they had to do was hand the ball off to Barry Sanders.
Here’s another mind-blowing stat: Matthew Stafford has never (as in never ever) won a game on the road against a team with a winning record at the time.
I need to grab my thesaurus to look up the antonym for “clutch”. Whatever that word is, that describes Matthew Stafford.
He’ll look to prove both me and history wrong this Sunday in Texas.
Will the Seeding Hold?
Last season was the first time in 20 years in which both of the top seeds advanced to the Super Bowl. Should we get a repeat in 2014, two old “friends” would go head to head on the big stage.
It was a regular season game, way back at the beginning of this current Seahawks run – but there’s no question that Tom Brady would love to shake Richard Sherman’s hand in victory in Phoenix and ask him in return, “You mad bro?”