NFL Playoff – Wild card & Divisional round review

The cheese heads have been well and truly grated, the Broncos ride on, Panthers are still on the prowl and the Patriots deflated the Chiefs’ hopes of making it to Super Bowl 50.

As the divisional round weekend came to a close, that is what we took away from it as we continue our march on to Super Bowl 50 and the Championship games this weekend.

Since my last blogs, previewing the AFC and NFC wild card rounds of the playoffs, we have seen eight fantastic matches of American Football take place.

The in-form Kansas City Chiefs, who were on a 10 game winning streak coming into the playoffs face JJ Watt and the Houston Texans.

Well, it was hardly a match really. Kansas City, led by a 106-yard kick-off return by Knile Davis and five turnovers, cruised to their first playoff victory since 1994 as they ran out 30-0 winners.

J.J. Watt’s Texans were battered and bruised by the Chiefs

On the other side of the AFC wild card round, Cincinnati looked to wipe the playoff monkey off their back as they faced Ben Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers.

However it looked for all the world that the Bengals would grab their first playoff win in 25 years but for a field goal 14 seconds from the end courtesy of Chris Boswell to hand the Steelers the win, as they marched onto the divisional round.

There was more late drama in the NFC on a bitterly cold afternoon in Minnesota as the Vikings battled with the Seahawks.

It was Seattle that came out on top though in a 10-9 victory after Blair Walsh missed a field goal in the last seconds of the game, hooking it left of the posts, to give the Seahawks the win.

I actually watched this game with my grandparents and believe me, that was certainly something!

The drama of a missed last second field goal really added to the experience of their first NFL game and I think they are hooked now!

Adrian Peterson racked up nearly 1500 yards rushing this season but his Vikings side couldn't overcome Seattle
Adrian Peterson racked up nearly 1500 yards rushing this season but his Vikings side couldn’t overcome Seattle

Green Bay recovered from a sluggish start as they quickly went 11-0 down to Washington, before moving to a hurry-up offense to score 17 consecutive points.

Aaron Rodgers came back from a poor start to throw for two touchdowns as the Packers offense stepped it up in a 35-18 win over the Redskins.

AFC Divisional drama

So the stage was set then, Pittsburgh would travel to Denver and Kansas City would be on the road to the Patriots in the AFC Divisional round.

Peyton Manning rescued the butter-fingered Broncos with a late touchdown drive and Denver advanced to the AFC Championship game with a 23-16 victory over the Steelers.

With Denver down 13-12 with less than 10 minutes to go, cornerback Bradley Roby punched the ball from Fitzgerald Toussaint’s arms and teammate DeMarcus Ware recovered at their own 35 yard line.

Then, in came the Sheriff, Peyton Manning, to lead the Broncos down the field for their only touchdown of the game with C.J. Anderson running it into the end zone from one yard out.

Tom Brady found Rob Gronkowski for two touchdowns and ran one in himself as the Patriots punched their ticket to the AFC Championship with a 27-20 win over the Chiefs.

Tom Brady has led the Patriots to another Championship game appearance
Tom Brady has led the Patriots to another Championship game appearance

Kansas City had won a franchise-record 11 consecutive games but it was not to be for them this time, as New England advance to face Denver as they continue their quest to win back-to-back Super Bowls.

Personally I really hope Denver win on Saturday, but that is for reasons I shall get onto later.

Hail Larry

Picture the scene will you? It is 1:15 on Sunday morning and I have been awake for about 19 hours at this point, but I am powering through as the NFC divisional round is about to get underway.

The stage is set for the Arizona Cardinals to make it to the NFC Championship game for the first time since 2009 and for the first half, they were poor.

Despite taking a 7-6 lead into half-time courtesy of a pinpoint pass by Carson Palmer to Michael Floyd at the back corner of the end zone, Arizona were lucky to be ahead.

This showed in the third quarter as Green Bay took a 13-10 lead into the fourth, where we saw three of the most remarkable plays in playoff history.

1st and Goal with the ball on the Green Bay nine yard line, Palmer steps back and looks for Larry Fitzgerald but it is tipped into the air and caught by Floyd to give the Cardinals a 17-10 lead. Scenes!

With no timeouts remaining and clock running out, Rodgers is forced to spike and go for the Hail Mary play and for the second time this season, it is caught in the end zone and the game goes to overtime.

Arizona receive kick-off in overtime and Palmer escapes pressure on first down to find Fitzgerald and he takes off, and keeps going, and going, and going, and down he goes at the five yard line.

Next play, Palmer hands it off with a shovel pass to Fitzgerald and he walks it in for a touchdown and the Cardinals advance. Unbelievable stuff and so fitting that it was Fitzgerald who took hold of the game when Arizona needed it.

Cardinals legend Larry Fitzgerald celebrates his game-winning touchdown
Cardinals legend Larry Fitzgerald celebrates his game-winning touchdown

Seahawks smashed

For the first time ever I found myself rooting for the Seattle Seahawks as they faced Carolina in the Panthers home territory.

On the first play Jonathon Stewart got free for a huge gain right inside the Seattle 10, setting up the Panthers opening touchdown just minutes into the game.

Then on the Seahawks first drive Russell Wilson was picked off by Luke Kuechly who ran it in for a score, and I am already thinking that it could be a rout.

As it got to half time, the Panthers had built up a 31-0 lead and I thought it was certain that Arizona would be heading there in the Championship game.

But as the teams emerged for the second half it was Seattle who finally began to get a foothold.

Showing their pedigree as two-time champs of the NFC, the Seahawks began their resurgence as Wilson threw for three touchdowns, the highlight being his second to Jimmy Kearse.

Cam Newton has been in inspired form this season
Cam Newton has been in inspired form this season

Seattle got into within seven points of Carolina and with 1:11 remaining on the clock the onside kick was recovered by Thomas Davis and that was that. Carolina advance.

However despite their monstrous first half, as a Cardinals fan I am not worried for facing the Panthers on Sunday as their weaknesses are all there to see and I am fully confident that Palmer and co can exploit them.

Anyway that is for this Friday when I preview the AFC and NFC Championship games so until then, I’ll leave you with highlights of all four divisional round matchups.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Denver Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs vs New England Patriots

Seattle Seahawks vs Carolina Panthers

Green Bay Packers vs Arizona Cardinals

Kelsey De Maria

@kjdemaria