What a Wild Card Weekend it was in the NFL playoffs. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers all secured victories to send them to the divisional round next weekend.
As ESPN pointed out, the four Wild Card Round winners made history:
A lot of fans went home disappointed this weekend. For the first time, the road team won all four playoff games. pic.twitter.com/xNB37uNlxQ— ESPN (@espn) January 11, 2016
And even though these four teams were on the road, they all had the advantage at quarterback, which gave them a decided edge in each game. The Chiefs made quick work of the overmatched Houston Texans, with the game essentially decided after Chiefs running back Knile Davis returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
The Steelers and Bengals engaged in another AFC North slugfest, with the Steelers emerging on a last-second field goal after two Bengals players were flagged for unconscionable 15-yard personal foul penalties. The extra 30 yards gave Steelers kicker Chris Boswell a gimme for the win.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking loss came Sunday afternoon in Minnesota. Fans braved extremely cold conditions and watched their Vikings outplay the Seahawks. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater marched his team down the field in the final minute to give kicker Blair Walsh his own chip shot for the win, but Walsh sent it wide left and Seattle escaped with a 10-9 victory.
As Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press noted, Walsh handled his missed kick about as well as he could have, but he clearly felt awful:
Walsh fell hard on his sword, breaking down after classily answering every question. Locke acknowledged bad inside laces hold #Vikings— Brian Murphy (@murphPPress) January 10, 2016
It was about as tough as a loss can be, but the Vikings have a lot of young foundational talent on their team. Expect them to be back in the playoffs in the coming years.
In the weekend finale, the Packers overcame a slow start and ran away from Washington with a 35-18 victory.
Now that Wild Card Weekend is behind us, it's time to move ahead to the divisional round of the playoffs. Here's a look at the bracket after this weekend's action:
On the AFC side, the Denver Broncos will have the opportunity to avenge their Week 15, 34-27 loss to the Steelers. The game will kick off at 4:40 p.m. ET Sunday and can be seen on CBS.
This time, the Broncos will be rested and have the home-field advantage. They'll also have Peyton Manning back, which will give them a shot in the arm on offense.
The Steelers, however, may be shorthanded. Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports reported it's not yet known if Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) and Antonio Brown (concussion) will be able to play this weekend. If the Steelers are missing one or both of those players, they will be in trouble.
In the other AFC contest, the New England Patriots will welcome the Chiefs to town Saturday at 4:35 p.m. ET. You can catch the game on CBS. According to WHDH Channel 7's Joe Amorosino, (h/t Pat Bradley of NESN), the Patriots will have receiver Julian Edelman back on the field for this game.
We expect the road magic for the Steelers and Chiefs to end, especially if the Steelers aren't fully healthy on offense. So expect the Patriots and Broncos to set up another Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning showdown in the AFC Championship Game.
The NFC divisional round also features a rematch. The Packers and Arizona Cardinals faced off a few weeks ago in Week 16, and the Cardinals won easily, 38-8. This weekend's game is Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET on NBC.
The other NFC contest will pit the Seahawks against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET on Fox. The Panthers will host the game as the top seed in the NFC.
We don't expect the week off to help the Panthers much though. The lack of offensive weapons for Cam Newton could finally catch up to Carolina against a top-notch Seattle defense, so we'll take the Seahawks to march on.
It's also hard to imagine much changing in the Cardinals-Packers matchup. The Cardinals look like a much more talented team, and we expect them to win and set up an all-NFC West showing of Arizona against Seattle in the NFC title game.