A great weekend of football has now ended, and the NFL is down to the final four teams standing with a hope at winning the Super Bowl. This weekend's games finished with chalk, as the top two seeds in each conference won their games. The on-field play, however, was anything but chalk.
The Kansas City Chiefs visited the New England Patriots in the first game for the weekend, where Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman proved too much for a Chiefs defense. Kansas City's 11-game win streak ended with a 27-20 loss to the Patriots, who are looking to become the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions since they did it in 2003 and 2004.
The second game of the weekend had the Green Bay Packers visiting the Arizona Cardinals in a rematch of a game three weeks ago. While Arizona won that game 38-8, this game was much different. A back-and-forth second half included a Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary for a last second tying touchdown. Then, in overtime, the coin did not flip to start the extra period, so there was a re-flip. Then, with the Cardinals winning the toss, Larry Fitzgerald took over. Carson Palmer, who looked like he should have been sacked on the play, somehow rolled to his right, and found a wide open Larry Fitzgerald just past the line of scrimmage all the way back across the field; from there, Fitgerald wove his way for a 75-yard gain. Palmer looked for Fitzgerald on 1st-and-Goal from the five-yard line, but overthrew him. On second down, a shovel pass from Palmer to Fitzgerald finished the drive and the game. Arizona moves on to the NFC Championship with a 26-20 win.
The Patriots and Cardinals, both the second seed in their respective conferences, then had to wait until Sunday to see if they would host the Championship Games, or if they would be on the road, heading to the top seed's hometown.
Sunday started with the Carolina Panthers hosting the Seattle Seahawks, the top seed welcoming the sixth seed in the NFC. The game appeared to be over early, with Carolina leading 31-0 at halftime. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks then went on a rally in the second half, climbing all the way back to within a touchdown. The onside kick with 1:12 remaining, however, would be recovered by Carolina and they would hold on to win 31-24, advancing them to the NFC title game and meaning the Cardinals would be on the road next weekend.
The last game of the weekend featured the top seeded Denver Broncos hosting the sixth seeded Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC side of the bracket. Pittsburgh, despite multiple injuries all around the team, including torn ligaments and a partial separation in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's throwing shoulder, were able to lead 7-6 after the first quarter, then 10-9 at the half. Traded field goals in the third period continued Pittsburgh's lead at 13-12 before a flurry of scoring in the last three minutes of the game pushed Denver ahead. First, the Broncos were able to score on a 1-yard run from C.J. Anderson, after a Pittsburgh turnover. Quarterback Peyton Manning then found Demaryius Thomas for the two-point conversion and a 20-13 lead. The Broncos scored again with 53-seconds remaining, adding a field goal to push the lead to 23-13. Pittsburgh connected on a field goal with 19-seconds left on the clock to make the game 23-16, but Anderson would recover the onside kick for the Broncos, and they would hold on for the victory. The win means Denver will now host New England in the AFC Championship Game, as well as giving us a Peyton Manning - Tom Brady showdown once again.
Here is the schedule for next weekend:
Conference Championship Games
Sunday, January 24
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos - 3pm, CBS
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers - 6:40pm, Fox
Super Bowl Sunday
Super Bowl 50, February 7
Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
AFC Champion vs. NFC Champion - 6:30pm, CBS