With Super Bowl LII just around the corner, it’s time for a refresher on the 2018 NFL playoff Wild Card Round, Divisional Round, and Conference Championship Round games. All teams come into the playoffs with hopes of punching their ticket into Super Bowl LII, but only two end up on the big stage on February 4th.
Each week the stakes have risen and all teams have been performing on an almost unreal level. These playoffs have been full of action packed plays, thrilling comebacks, and finishes that make fans question: “What just happened?”
Starting off the Wild Card Weekend was the matchup between the Tennessee Titans and the Chiefs in Kansas City. Alex Smith, Travis Kelce, and the electrifying Kansas City offense jumped out to a 21-3 lead in the first half, but the rest of the game was all Tennessee. Marcus Mariota rallied his Titans back and scored three touchdowns in the second half, erasing a 17 point deficit to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 22-21 making it their first playoff win in 14 years.
Following the Kansas City game, the Los Angeles Rams took on the Atlanta Falcons in the newly built Atlanta Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Fans were highly anticipating the game, but it failed to live up to their expectations. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and the rest of the Falcons were poised and cruised to a 26-13 win over Los Angeles.
The saying “Defense wins football games!” held true in the Jacksonville Jaguars versus Buffalo Bills game. The game turned out almost unwatchable at times as both teams struggled with getting anything done on the offensive side of the ball, and the game was determined by just one or two big plays.
Blake Bortles put the Jaguars on his back and ran for more yards (88 yards) than he did passing the ball (87 yards), which is almost unheard of for a quarterback. Buffalo had an opportunity to tie the game with less than two minutes to go, but Jalen Ramsey came up with a much needed interception that ultimately would seal the game and lead Jacksonville to a 10-3 win over the Bills.
The Drew Brees vs. Cam Newton quarterback battle is always one fans look forward to, and in the New Orleans and Carolina Panthers game, this matchup lived up to the hype. Cam Newton and the Panther’s offense was challenged early in the game by the New Orleans’s defense in the red zone and failed to score a touchdown in the first half. They ended up with three field goals and went into halftime trailing the Saints 21-9.
Carolina came out aggressive in the second half of the game and finally started to put points on the board. Newton brought the team within five points of New Orleans and had a chance to win the game in the closing minutes, but a questionable intentional grounding call set the Panther’s offense back. Drew Brees finished with 376 passing yards and two touchdowns in the 31-26 win, and New Orleans held on to advance to the Divisional Round.
After an eventful Wild Card Round, next was the Divisional Round that carried over lots of the same excitement from the weekend before. Entering this matchup, the Philadelphia Eagles were the underdogs against the Atlanta Falcons due to the fact that Carson Wentz went down with an injury in Week 14 of the regular season. Wentz suffered an ACL tear and was put out for the rest of the season, so the pressure was on for backup quarterback Nick Foles.
As expected, Matt Ryan and the Falcons got to business in the first half of the Eagles versus Falcons game and went into the locker-room with a 10-9 lead. Coming out of the half, the Eagles defense kept Atlanta from scoring the entire second half. Matt Ryan had one last shot at hitting Julio Jones in the end zone with about a minute to go, trying to cap off a 74 yard drive, but Jalen Mills came up with the game-winning stop to force the incomplete pass on fourth down, allowing the Eagles to finish with a 15-10 win.
Although the Titans just came off a great game against Kansas City, they did not look like the same team while playing New England. Tennessee started with an early lead, but New England never seemed phased and powered through to win this game using the hard work and discipline for which they are now so well known. Tom Brady powered through once again and passed for 337 yards and had three touchdowns. The Patriots won 35-14 and extended their home playoff win streak to seven games.
Heinz Field was the setting for the matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars. After struggling the week before on offense against the Bills, the Jaguars came out aggressively on offense and were determined to put points on the board. The Jacksonville defense stepped up and made multiple key plays to shut down the Pittsburgh offense. Ben Roethlisberger tried to bring his Steelers back, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit. The Jaguars’s Leonard Fournette rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns, and Blake Bortles added on to that by passing for 214 yards. Bortles also closed out the game with a crucial fourth-quarter score to win against the Steelers 45-42.
The final Divisional Round game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints will go down in the history books as one of the best games of all time in the NFL. In the first half, Minnesota was threatening to run away with the game, entering halftime with a 17-0 lead. Drew Brees marched his offense down the field to score two touchdowns and kick a field goal to give New Orleans the lead late in the forth-quarter.
All the Saints had to do was keep the Vikings from scoring to advance to the NFC title game, but in the closing seconds of the game, Case Keenum dropped back in the pocket, threw a pass down the sideline to Stefon Diggs who took it to the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown. U.S. Bank Stadium erupted with excitement, and the Vikings advanced with a 29-24 win over the Saints.
In the AFC Conference Championship game in Foxboro, Massachusetts, the New England Patriots played the Jacksonville Jaguars. Blake Bortles played a nearly perfect game, passing for 293 yards and making one touchdown, leading his Jaguars to a 20-17 lead later in the fourth-quarter. The Patriots came back, though, as Tom Brady shook off a hand injury and threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola with just under three minutes remaining, landing the Patriots back in the Super Bowl with a 24-20 comeback victory over Jacksonville.
The NFC Championship game paired the Minnesota Vikings up with the Eagles in Philadelphia. The fact that this matchup was so one-sided surprised fans who were expecting an exciting game. Instead of a close score, Nick Foles scored three touchdowns and stunned the Vikings in a 38-7 rout.
After weeks of playoff games, there are only two teams remaining with hopes of bringing home the Lombardi Trophy. Super Bowl LII be one for the ages as the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles face off in Minneapolis, Minnesota on February 4th.