Patriots, Steelers, Falcons, and Packers Advance to NFL Conference Championship Games
The NFL Divisional Round of playoff games featured a nice mix of favorites and underdogs winning their games. According to this from ESPN, the Nevada sports books were big losers. The bettors and fans were big winners, as the games, especially those on January 15th, were exciting and will make for some great NFC and AFC Championships on January 22nd.
The Houston Texans went to Foxborough, Massachusetts on January 14th, as big underdogs to the New England Patriots. But the Houston defense kept the Texans in the game, at least for the first half, as the Patriots held a 17-13 lead at intermission. New England pulled away in the second half to win 34-16, but Patriots QB Tom Brady acknowledged his team will have to play better on offense if they want to make it to the Super Bowl. Speaking of offense, Patriots running back Dion Lewis scored three touchdowns–one rushing , one on a pass reception, and one on a 98 yard kickoff return.
Also on January 14th, the Atlanta Falcons hosted the Seattle Seahawks in the Georgia Dome. The Seahawks got off to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, but MVP candidate Matt Ryan and the Falcons went to work after that, scoring 19 points in the second quarter. Ryan completed 26 of 37 passes to eight different receivers for 338 yards and no interceptions as the Falcons beat the Seahawks 36-20. While Seattle has been nearly unstoppable at home in recent years, they have plenty of problems on the road and were just 3-5-1 away from Seattle.
The Green Bay Packers traveled south to take on the NFC Number One seeded Dallas Cowboys. The Packers had a 21-3 lead in the second quarter, but the Cowboys stormed back and the score was tied at 28-28 after a Dak Prescott to Dez Bryant touchdown pass and two point conversion run by Prescott himself with 4:08 remaining. The Packers’ Mason Crosby kicked a 56 yard field goal with 1:33 remaining to give the Packers the lead with 1:33 remaining, but Prescott engineered a six play 42 yard drive in just 58 seconds to set up a 52 yard field goal by Dan Bailey to tie it 1t 31-31 with 35 seconds left in regulation.
It looked like an almost sure overtime coming up, but with Aaron Rodgers, it’s not over until the clock runs out. With 12 seconds left, and a third down and 20 at the Green Bay 32, Rodgers completed a 36 yard pass at the sideline to Jared Cook, who kept his toes inbounds on the reception and then was out of bounds to stop the clock. Mason Crosby kicked a 51 yard field goal on the final play to win it for Green Bay 34-31. The Packers have had some nightmare overtime playoff losses in recent years, so they no doubt were pleased they didn’t have to go that route again.
Wrapping up the weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers went to icy Kansas City to play the Chiefs. Kansas City’s defense kept the Steelers offense out of the end zone, but Steelers kicker Chris Boswell set an NFL playoff record with six field goals as Pittsburgh edged the Chiefs 18-16. The Steelers had 389 total yards, 170 of which were rushing yards by Le’Veon Bell. Kansas City was held to just 227 yards.
Green Bay will be at Atlanta for the NFC Championship and Pittsburgh will be at New England for the AFC Championship on January 22nd.