This past weekend’s slate of games contained a significant upset in the AFC; the New England Patriots managing to reach their seventh consecutive AFC Championship Game; a hard-fought defensive battle; and a game-winning walk-off touchdown which will be remembered in the state of Minnesota for years to come. All in all, then, a pretty exciting weekend for any fan of American football (except if you support Tennessee, Atlanta, Pittsburgh or New Orleans).
Starting with most people’s safest bet to reach Super Bowl LII, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots breezed past a Tennessee Titans team who should consider themselves lucky to have made the playoffs at all, never mind reach the Divisional Round. The top-seeded Patriots beat the Titans 35-14, the widest winning margin of Divisional Weekend – but this wasn’t exactly a surprise as a 5th seed rarely beats a 1st seed, and few teams can claim to have beaten the Patriots at home in the postseason. In the other AFC game of the Divisional Weekend, the Jacksonville Jaguars narrowly defeated home favourites and playoff regulars the Pittsburgh Steelers 45-42. The driving force behind this upset was the Jaguars’ dominating defence, powerful running game and Quarterback Blake Bortles playing the best game of his career. Looking ahead to this weekend and the AFC Championship Game, it’s a tough one to call. It would be foolish to pick against the New England Patriots in the postseason, yet the Jacksonville Jaguars have the defence and running game to beat the reigning champions – similar combinations have defeated the Patriots in the past. If both teams play at their best, it will be a must-see matchup.
Moving on to the NFC side of the Divisional Round, the reigning NFC champion Atlanta Falcons were knocked out of the playoffs by a Philadelphia Eagles team who have been so often underestimated since the injury of their star Quarterback Carson Wentz earlier in the season. Philadelphia’s 15-10 win over Atlanta proved that Wentz wasn’t the only reason the Eagles had earned the top seed in the NFC. Similar to the formula so effectively used by the Jaguars in the AFC, Philly have a powerful defensive line-up and a strong running game. In the game that generated by far the most headlines of the weekend, the 2nd seed Minnesota Vikings defeated the 4th seed New Orleans Saints 29-24. It was a game of two halves and one final play. The Vikings stormed ahead in the first two quarters, yet the Saints came back to be in the lead with less than a minute remaining of the fame. With 10 seconds left and the ball on the Vikings’ own 40 yard line, wide receiver Stefon Diggs caught a walk-off touchdown pass, winning the game for the Minnesota Vikings – a team so riddled by missed chances in the playoffs before this game. That pass cemented Diggs’ place in football history and has earned the play the moniker ‘The Miracle in Minneapolis’. The NFC Championship Game sees the Vikings go to Philly to try and earn a place in what would be a home Super Bowl for Minnesota. To do that, though, the Vikings need to beat Philadelphia at home – a tough challenge for any team.
By Nathan Olsen