January 16, 2018
Sports Insider Weekly
The NFL inched one week closer to the Super Bowl over the weekend as the eight remaining teams became four to set up the championship match-ups.
Divisional weekend was full of excitement, with three of the four games coming down to the wire–one with a miraculous finish. The top seeded Eagles beat the sixth-seeded Falcons to kick off the weekend in what many expected to be an easy win for Atlanta. While the Eagles are the No. 1 seed, they are a completely different team without injured starting quarterback Carson Wentz.
While the Eagles only scored 15 points behind backup QB Nick Foles, it was enough to beat the anemic Falcons 15-10. With the loss, Atlanta will have to wait at least another year to avenge their embarrassing collapse in the Super Bowl last year.
The least exciting game of the weekend was the only one without any suspense. As most people expected, the Patriots routed the Titans 35-14. While no one expected Tennessee to win at Foxborough, the play calling heavily favored New England, raising questions as to whether or not the Patriots were once again playing dirty.
Afterward, Tennessee fired their coach and the Patriots advanced to their record seventh straight AFC championship game.
Sunday in Pittsburgh was probably the biggest surprise of the weekend, with the Jacksonville Jaguars beating the Steelers at home, 45-42. While Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to flip his 5-interception regular season game into a 5-touchdown playoff game, it wasn’t enough to beat the No. 1 defense in the league.
Former Terrapin Yannick Ngakoue strip sacked Big Ben to set up a Jacksonville touchdown. Pittsburgh was able to stay in the game, but questionable coaching calls by head coach Mike Tomlin — especially the on-side kick call late in the game — wasn’t enough to overcome Jacksonville’s fast start.
The most exciting of the weekend–and perhaps the season–was the match-up between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. At first, it seemed like the Vikings, led by backup quarterback turned star Case Keenum would completely blowout the visiting Saints, jumping out to an early 17-0 lead.
But New Orleans, led by veteran quarterback Drew Brees, weren’t going down without a fight. They rallied from a 17-point deficit and led at two separate points late in the game. After trading field goals, the Vikings got the ball back with just 25 seconds left in the game, and trailing 24-23.
With the clock ticking down and out of field goal range, Keenum threw his last-ditch heave near the sideline on Sunday to Stefon Diggs who ran it in for a 61-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 29-24 victory and a spot in the NFC championship game.
“It never ends that way,” Diggs, the Washington, D.C. area native and former Terp said. “Usually, its reality. It’s life. So things go and you walk home and worry about it tomorrow.”
But for Diggs and the Vikings, the miracle play and catch is reality. They will face the Eagles next, and are just one win away from becoming the first team to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. Meanwhile, the Jaguars hope to upset the defending champion Patriots for a chance to play in their first Super Bowl ever.
The remaining teams will play for a place in the Super Bowl in the AFC and NFC championship games next Sunday.