Unfortunately, unlike my college football predictions, my bold predictions for the NFL’s big matchup fell very short. First my “bold prediction” in the NFL of the Vikings making it to the big game was a big stretch. Walsh missing what was basically an extra point cost the Vikings the chance to play this week, but from the looks of the teams remaining they probably didn’t have a chance. So, between the Vikings missing a chip shot field goal and the Steelers going into their game versus the Broncos without their best offensive player (WR Antonio Brown), those predictions weren’t going to happen. But, enough about teams that didn’t make it to the divisional playoffs.
In the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals outlasted the Green Bay Packers in an overtime nail biter behind some clutch play from veteran Larry Fitzgerald. Once again, Aaron Rodgers came through with another amazing comeback topped off with yet another game-tying, 41-yard Hail Mary. However, this game didn’t end like the incredible Hail Mary comeback against the Detroit Lions earlier in the season. After a crazy play by Green Bay to send the game to overtime, the coin toss was even crazier when the referee said that the first coin toss “didn’t flip.” They finally got the coin to flip (have you ever heard of a coin flip not “flipping”?) and Arizona won the toss and elected to receive. Overtime wasn’t about Hail Mary’s, it was about Larry. On the first play of the extra session, quarterback Carson Palmer scrambled away from defenders and threw across his body 32 yards to a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald who evaded would-be tacklers for 75 yards and was tackled at the five. Fitzgerald wasn’t done yet. On the very next play of overtime, Palmer shoveled the ball to him and he ran it into the end zone giving the Cardinals the victory, 26-20.
The #1 seed in the NFC and arguably the best team in the NFL this year is the Carolina Panthers, and they played like the best team in football, for the first half anyway. Panthers quarterback, Cam Newton, always talks about the “Big Mo”(momentum) and as far as their game against the Seattle Seahawks, it was the tale of two halves.
The Panthers had one of the most dominating first quarters for any team this season. Jonathon Stewart got the Big Mo going on the first play of the game with a 59-yard sprint up the middle. Everything went right for Carolina in the first half with Stewart running for two scores and Newton throwing for a touchdown, leading to a 31-0 score at the midway point. Then it was Seattle’s turn to get in on the fun. The Seahawks got two touchdowns in the first 7:20 of the third quarter and after a successful fake punt from their 23, the “Mo” shifted and it was going to be another one of “those” Seattle games. After a Seattle field goal made it 31-24 with 1:12 remaining, it came down to the onside kick. All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis snagged Hauschka’s onside kick; the Panthers ran out the clock and will host their first NFC championship game in four trips.
Given the Patriots late season slump, many were underestimating their playoff chances. The Patriots don’t have slumps in the playoffs. New England went up against a team that was far from slumping. The Kansas City Chiefs went into Foxboro riding an eleven-game winning streak and fresh off of a 30-0 drubbing of the Texans. Once again, when the playoffs start, streaks and slumps don’t come into play for the Patriots, especially with key offensive stars Gronkowski and Edelman returning from injuries. With his key offensive players in place, Tom Brady was able to dissect one of the AFC’s best defenses. Brady threw for two touchdowns to Gronk and had a quarterback sneak on his way to the 20-27 victory and the teams 5th straight trip to the AFC title game. Brady will go up against a familiar face.
That’s right, it’s Brady/Manning Bowl XVII, as the Denver Broncos came back in the fourth quarter to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers. Denver trailed for the first three quarters of the game against a beat up Steelers squad. Manning was coming off of an injury of his own and it seemed that he needed to get some of those “back in action” bugs out of his system before he hit his stride. In the end, it was a key play on defense and not Manning’s offense that turned the game around. With the Steelers up 13-12 and seemingly in control, Denver cornerback Bradley Roby punched the ball out from Steelers running back Fitzgerald Tousasaint for a huge turnover. It was a sloppy game in high winds, but Broncos kicker Brandon McManus tied an NFL playoff record making all five of his FG attempts. Peyton Manning added to his record of game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime (55) when he moved his team to the 1-yard line, resulting in a C.J. Anderson touchdown run. After a Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas 2-point conversion put the Broncos up 7, both teams exchanged field goals and Denver held on for the 26-13 win. Denver has home field advantage when Brady and Manning matchup for what is a full season’s worth of games (16). Number 17 will definitely go down as a battle between two of the best quarterbacks of all time.
New England @ Denver – Sunday at 3:05pm
Arizona @ Carolina – Sunday at 6:40pm