The NFL playoffs are all but set, with Week 17 full of wild action that firmly cemented the fate of playoff hopefuls looking for wild-card berths.
While the NFC action was the most chaotic from top to bottom, it was the quieter AFC that was unexpectedly insane throughout most of the day, with the Pittsburgh Steelers making improbable yet vicarious runs through teams they needed to lose.
Read on to find out how the wild-card scenarios unfolded.
|Key Dates: 2014 NFL Playoffs|
|Wild Card Weekend||Jan. 4-5|
|Divisional Round||Jan. 11-12|
|Conference Championships||Jan. 19|
|Super Bowl XLVIII||Feb. 2|
|Divisional Round Schedule|
|Saturday, Jan. 11||Away||Home|
|4:35 EST||TBA||Seattle Seahawks (FOX)|
|8:15 EST||TBA||New England Patriots (CBS)|
|Sunday, Jan. 12|
|1:05 EST||TBA||Carolina Panthers (FOX)|
|4:40 EST||TBA||Denver Broncos(CBS)|
AFC Wild-Card Picture
|AFC Wild-Card Matchups|
|Home (Seed)||Away (Seed)||When|
|Cincinnati Bengals (No. 3)||San Diego Chargers (No. 6)||1:05 EST, Sunday, Jan. 5|
|Indianapolis Colts (No. 4)||Kansas City Chiefs (No. 5)||4:35 EST, Saturday, Jan. 4|
First to the wild AFC, where one seed had already been decided—the Kansas City Chiefs entered Week 17 with the No. 5 seed wrapped up. This was the catalyst that allowed the San Diego Chargers to steal the sixth seed.
San Diego needed a win over Kansas City's backups, plus losses by the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens, to sneak into the playoffs.
Well, Philip Rivers and the Chargers went into their afternoon game armed with the knowledge that they simply had to uphold their end of the deal. Miami laid a massive egg in a 20-7 loss to the New York Jets, while the defending champs were upended in Cincinnati by the Bengals in a 34-17 blowout.
Rivers went out and threw for 229 yards and three scores to lead the team to a 27-24 win. While it is great that the Chargers made it in, they are now tasked with making the trip to Cincinnati.
A trip across the country is never simple, but the Chargers face an even bigger test than usual against the Bengals, a team that went 8-0 at Paul Brown Stadium this year. Even worse, San Diego already lost at home to Cincinnati during Week 13, in a 17-10 contest.
Flip to the other side of the AFC wild-card spectrum, where the Chiefs will travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts. The Colts could not steal the No. 3 seed from the Bengals, thanks to head-to-head win percentage, but Indianapolis can take solace in the fact that it is at home to open the postseason.
It also helps that the Colts just traveled to Arrowhead Stadium in Week 16 and won 23-7. Head coach Chuck Pagano put it best after the team's Week 17, 30-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, per the team's Twitter account:
Rematches are the name of the game in the AFC, and that is not a bad thing.
NFC Wild-Card Picture
|NFC Wild-Card Matchups|
|Home (Seed)||Away (Seed)||When|
|Philadelphia Eagles (No. 3)||New Orleans Saints (No. 6)||8:10 EST, Saturday, Jan. 4|
|Green Bay Packers (No. 4)||San Francisco 49ers (No. 5)||4:40 EST, Sunday, Jan. 5|
Rodgers was back to form in the 33-28 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. He threw for 318 yards with a pair of touchdowns and two interceptions, including a 48-yard bomb to Cobb with 38 seconds remaining to win the game.
That result gave the Packers the NFC North crown, meaning that the San Francisco 49ers (a team that escaped with a 23-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals, themselves a 10-win team robbed of a playoff berth) must make the trip to Lambeau Field to open wild-card play for both teams.
Surprise! The Packers and 49ers have met once already too. That contest took place way back in Week 1 at Candlestick Park, where San Francisco survived with a 34-28 win.
Let's flip to the other matchup, where the Philadelphia Eagles are NFC East champs after a win over the Dallas Cowboys and will welcome the New Orleans Saints to town.
The Saints are runners-up in the NFC South and now have to hit the road as a result. New Orleans is unstoppable at home, but just human when it is the away team. Alas, Drew Brees and the Saints (who dismantled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 42-17, to close the season) will get a shot at a miserable Philadelphia defense, so expect it to be a tight contest.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller put it best:
Suffice to say, NFC Wild Card Round will be just as entertaining as that of the AFC.