By: Connor Hanson – Staff Writer
After 20 consecutive weeks that amassed 255 games, the National Football League has narrowed the field down to two teams who will partake in what is the pinnacle matchup of the football season, the Super Bowl.
One of the most notable games in the first round of the playoffs was the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks matchup. The Vikings’ only points came off of the foot of kicker Blair Walsh in the form of three field goals, but, down by one with the game on the line, Walsh failed to execute a potential game-winning field goal, as the Vikings walked off the field with a sour taste in their mouth, losing 10-9.
The other NFC wildcard game featured another NFC North team as the Green Bay Packers took on the Washington Redskins. After a dismal first quarter, the Packers worked their way back and cruised to a 35-18 upset victory.
On the AFC side, the Kansas City Chiefs throttled the Houston Texans, putting up 30 points on the scoreboard all the while not allowing the Texans to even sniff the end zone, as they were shutout at home.
The other side featured an AFC North rivalry showdown as the Pittsburgh Steelers faced off against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals, looking for their first playoff win after eight previous failed attempts, imploded in the clutch. After a costly Jeremy Hill fumble late in the fourth quarter and two consecutive personal fouls, the Steelers kicker, Chris Boswell, set up shop, and unlike the Vikings game, the laces were out and the kick was true as it sailed through the uprights for an 18-16 Steelers victory.
So after four upsets, one would expect to see another one. That would not be the case, as the Broncos, Patriots, Panthers and Cardinals, the one and two seeds in each conference, all went on to win their games in the divisional round.
The Super Bowl-bound Denver Broncos started their journey after their first round bye, going head-to-head against a depleted Steelers squad. The Broncos were down 13-12 going into the fourth quarter but caught a break after forcing a Steelers turnover. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning then drove them down to the one yard line where running back C.J, Anderson capped it all off as he plunged in on the goal line. Denver held on to the lead and beat Pittsburgh 23-16 to move on to the AFC Championship Game.
The Patriots came into their matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs with a pretty simple game plan: get tight end Rob Gronkowski the ball. Gronkowski could do no wrong that night, as the Chiefs could simply not contain him. Gronkowski scored twice as the Patriots went on to beat the Chiefs, 27-20, and set up another playoff matchup between Manning and Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady.
The Panthers-Seahawks NFC divisional game was a tale of two halves. The Panthers had the better of the first half, storming out to a 31-0 halftime lead. However, against all odds, the Seahawks mounted what would have been a historic comeback, but they fell just short as they could only muster up 24 points, falling to the Panthers 31-24.
The Packers and Cardinals created an instant classic in the Cardinals’ thrilling 26-20 overtime victory. Just as he did during the regular season against the Detroit Lions, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers launched a heroic Hail Mary as the clock struck zeros, sending the game into overtime. That’s as far as the Packers got, however, as the Cardinals struck early in overtime ending all of the Packers’ hope for a comeback.
Now, with all upper seeds winning, the conference championships featured both the number one and two seeds on respective sides, and just like the divisional round, both the higher seeds came out victorious.
The Broncos-Patriots AFC Championship showdown also featured a comeback attempt that came up just short. A failed two-point attempt snuffed out any possible Patriots comeback victory as the Broncos held on to win 20-18.
On the NFC side, the Panthers-Cardinals game started off similar to the Panthers game against the Seahawks, as the Panthers came out guns blazing on its way to a 27-7 first half lead. However, the Panthers learned from last week’s game, as they kept the foot on the gas in the second half and punched their Super Bowl ticket with a 49-15 victory.
And just like that, we are faced now with only two teams in the winner-take-all game of the year. On one side, a young, streaking and electric Carolina Panthers team propelled by its multi-talented savvy quarterback Cam Newton, and on the other side a veteran, tough-nosed Denver Broncos team quarterbacked by the seasoned vet, future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
In a game of new school versus old age, Super Bowl 50 will provide plenty of excitement as the two battle it out, and if it’s anything like these previous games, expect some eye popping big plays from both sides.