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Last Week’s Sports: Divisional winners and losers

Round two of the NFL concluded Sunday evening with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by superstar quarterback Tom Brady, defeating their division rival, the New Orleans Saints, 30-20. With that, the playoff pool was whittled down from eight teams to four: two teams from the American Football Conference (AFC) and two from the National Football Conference (NFC). In this article, all four games will be recapped, and a preview of next week’s games will be provided.

The first game to recap, previously mentioned, is the showdown between the Buccaneers and Saints. Both teams represented the NFC South, helping to lay claim to being this year’s toughest division in football. During the regular season, the Saints swept the Bucs in the two games they played against each other, including a 38-3 victory that was the largest loss of Brady’s illustrious career. The three-peat was not to be, however, as Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees had one of his worst post-season outings, throwing one touchdown against three interceptions in what might have been his final NFL game. Next week, Brady will take on the Packers in his 14th championship game as he attempts to reach his 10th Super Bowl.

Speaking of the Packers, the team led by all-pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers beat the Los Angeles Rams 32-18 in the other NFC matchup. The two teams exchanged field goals in the first quarter before Green Bay started to edge away, as they took the lead and never really seemed threatened by the Rams. Rodgers threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in the victory, becoming the first Packers quarterback to rush for a touchdown in a playoff game at Lambeau Field since the infamous “Ice Bowl” in 1967. It will also be Rodgers’ first conference championship at home since he became the starter for Green Bay. Green Bay has lost their last three consecutive championship appearances; however, in each of those, they were the visiting team.

Starting in the AFC, the Buffalo Bills beat the Baltimore Ravens in the lowest scoring game of the week, winning 17-3. In a game in which there was only one offensive touchdown, defense ruled the day. No play better encapsulates that than Taron Johnson’s 101-yard pick six in the third quarter that put the game away for good. For Buffalo, this marks the first time that they reached the conference championship since 1994, when they lost their fourth consecutive Super Bowl. This win also makes eight consecutive victories, the most for the team since 1990.

For Baltimore, the game was a disappointment, as they were held to only 150 yards rushing on 32 carries. For the team that led the NFL in rushing yards for the second consecutive season, they never found their footing on the ground and paid for it with a demoralizing loss. Some good came from the game from outside the stadium as well, as Buffalo fans, affectionately known as the Bills Mafia, started a campaign that donated over $150,000 to a charity promoted by Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. The campaign started after Jackson left the game at the end of the third quarter with an apparent concussion.

The last game of the weekend featured the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns facing off against each other, in which the Chiefs emerged with a 22-17 victory. The reigning Super Bowl champions jumped out to an impressive 19-3 lead heading into the half before things started to unravel in the third, as superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes left halfway through the quarter with a concussion. After that, they only managed one field goal the rest of the game. 

However, the fourth quarter held the most intrigue in the game, as the Chiefs who were leading by five forced Cleveland to punt with little time remaining. On the next possession, backup quarterback Chad Henne scrambled for 13 yards to force a fourth and one situation. Instead of going for the punt, head coach Andy Reid dialed up a pass from Henne to top receiver Tyreek Hill for the conversion. That gamble allowed them to run out the remaining clock and escape with the victory. 

With the victory, Kansas City has the opportunity to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year, as they beat the San Francisco 49ers last year to capture the Lombardi. Before they do that, they must defeat the Buffalo Bills with their high-powered offense and must do it potentially without the best quarterback in the league. The last time these two teams met was in week six of the regular season, when the Chiefs emerged victorious 26-17.