Home, sweet home. For the first time in 12 years, all four home teams in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs secured victories and are all now one step closer to playing in the Superbowl in Levi’s Stadium on 7th February.
In the AFC, the Patriots advanced to their fifth consecutive AFC championship game after cruising over the Kansas City Chiefs 27-20. Honestly, the Patriots are making NFL football look a little too easy, although I guess it can’t be too difficult when you have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, one of the best coaches of all time, and as of Saturday, the tight-end with the most touchdown receptions in the playoffs for his position in history. Some say all men are created equal. These people are liars, because me and Gronkowski are not in the same league.
The Broncos, on the other hand, have a far less comfortable game against the injury-worn Pittsburgh Steelers. On the night, Peyton Manning looked distinctly mortal and the Broncos’ all-time great defence came through in the dying minutes, sacking Roethlisberger on a crucial fourth down. Missing Antonio Brown made all the diff erence for the unfortunate Pittsburgh side, who were lucky to have even made it a close game. Admittedly, they were helped by the fact that all the Bronco receivers seemed to have covered their gloves in industrial soap before the game, because the only thing they were catching in the first half was a cold.
Over to the NFC, top-seeded North Carolina Panthers survived an almost-miraculous comeback by the Seattle Seahawks, who were prevented from reaching their third straight Super Bowl. Having survived the previous round thanks to Blair Walsh missing a kick that will haunt Vikings fans for the rest of their existence on planet Earth, the Seahawks were not benefi ciaries of fortune against the dominant Panthers, who raced to a 31-0 lead at halftime. With the Seahawks (the Legion of Boom) thoroughly rocked to their core, Wilson couldn’t muster a big enough surge towards the end, leaving the Panthers with a 31-24 victory.
The only home team to take a legitimate scare this weekend was the Arizona Cardinals, who needed their star receiver, Larry Fitzgerald’s, magic to conquer the Green Bay Packers in overtime. The highlight of the game, though, was when Aaron Rodgers launched a beauty of a 50-yard Hail Mary with five seconds left to send the contest into overtime – a pass that would have made the quarterback gods shed tears of pride. It makes one wonder what Rodgers could have accomplished over the last two years had he been working with receivers that actually ran like receivers, such as Jordy Nelson.
All eyes now turn to the championship games. Will the North Carolina Panthers’ fairy-tale season continue with a win over the Cardinals? Will Tom Brady be able to decode Wade Phillips’ dominant defence? Will the NFL finally reveal that Gronkowski is in fact half-human, half-Teen Wolf and thus is ineligible to continue playing for the Patriots? We shall see…