Packers, Titans Throw NFL Playoffs Wide Open As Newest Members of Dubious 1-and-Done Club
The NFL announced late Sunday night that they will go ahead and play the Conference Championship games next weekend, even though there is little to no chance whatever happens next Sunday is going to top the quartet of games we all witnessed in the Divisional Round.
The announcement part is made up, of course. But the football world is going to need to take a few breaths and maybe take a tub to lower the collective blood pressure after an extraordinary weekend, with three walk-off field goals just the warm-up act for arguably the wildest finish in NFL history between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills.
But wait! There’s more! Maybe Conference Championship Sunday can still bring us some serious drama, because after the two Saturday games, which now feel like they were played three weeks ago, neither of the No. 1 seeds in each conference are still alive, and it’s anybody’s guess who is going to play in the Super Bowl.
It’s the defending AFC Champion Chiefs, the No. 2 seed, and a team one win away from becoming the fourth franchise in NFL history to play in three straight Super Bowls.
And then you have the three Cinderella stories; two No. 4 seeds and a 6-seed, just the second time since 1990, when the league expanded six playoff teams per conference, that three teams ranked No. 4 or lower reached the Conference Championship games.
Not since 2008 have so many longshots taken their shot to reach the Super Bowl
The Bills thought, twice, that they had Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs put away. And had the Bills been able to hold either of their leads in the final two minutes, they would have been the final piece of a historic puzzle.
Never before in the first 31 years of the 12-team (now 14-team) playoff format had all four No. 1 and No. 2 seeds eliminated before the Conference Championship games. But after the No. 1 Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers were upset on Saturday and the Los Angeles Rams got out of their own way and beat the No. 2-seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first game Sunday, the No. 3 Bills had a chance to ensure the first Final Four with no one seeded higher than three.
But the Chiefs somehow survived at home, leaving the final matchups a 2-6 (Chiefs-Cincinnati Bengals) in the AFC and a 4-6 (Rams-San Francisco 49ers) in the NFC.
Only the 2008 Conference Championship Games, with a pair of No. 6 seeds (Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles) and a No. 4 seed (Arizona Cardinals), had a foursome of seeds ranked lower than next week’s title games.
The Tennessee Titans made dubious history Saturday, opening the door for more “Joe Cool 2.0”
Since the 1990 season, when the NFL expanded its playoff pool to 12 teams, only 18 No. 1 seeds have failed to emerge from the Divisional Round. Prior this season, only twice in 31 years had both No. 1 seeds been bounced in their first playoff game.
The previous two years with quick exits by the top seeds were 2008 and 2010. And now the Titans, who have lost their first playoff game in all three seasons they were the No. 1 seed, are the answer to the worst kind of trivia question, as the first team to be part of two seasons where both No. 1s were bounced (2008, ’21).
It was Joe Burrow, who overcame an avalanche of sacks, and an opportunistic defense that sent the Titans to their latest epic fall. Now Burrow can return the Bengals to the Super Bowl for the first time in the era of the new playoff format. The Bengals were the final AFC team to advance to the Super Bowl in the previous 5-team, 1 Wild Card game format in 1989.
In 2008, the top-seeded Titans and New York Giants lost in the Divisional Round and were joined by the NFC No. 2 seed Carolina Panthers, who lost to eventual NFC Super Bowl representative Arizona.
In 2010, the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons became the other No. 1 tandem to lose in the Divisional Round. Ironically, it was the No. 6 seed Packers who knocked off the Falcons and went on to win the Super Bowl. Now, history has turned on Green Bay.
The 49ers can become the third No. 6 seed to reach the Super Bowl – and win it?
When Robbie Gould split the snowflakes and uprights at Lambeau Field on Saturday night, the 49ers became just the seventh No. 6 seed in NFL history to reach a Conference Championship Game.
If the 49ers can find a way to beat their NFC-rival Rams for the third time this season, history says they are the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Of the previous six teams to reach the Conference Championship Game, only two went on to the Super Bowl. But both times, that team won the whole thing.
In 2005, the Pittsburgh Steelers survived the Divisional Round against the Indianapolis Colts after a critical goal-line fumble by Jerome Bettis, thanks to a game-saving tackle by Ben Roethlisberger and a missed field goal by “idiot kicker” Mike Vanderjagt.
The Steelers defeated Denver in the Conference Championship Game, then beat the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in Super Bowl 40.
The 2010 Packers had an easier road to the Super Bowl, routing Atlanta in the Divisional Round, then beating the Chicago Bears in the Conference Championship before beating the Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl 45.
This time, the Packers are the No. 1 seed who fell, clearing the path for the 49ers to try and make sixth-seed magic.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference