Returning to form: Top Four reach NFL championship games

Opening weekend of the NFL Playoffs saw all four road teams victorious, the second weekend saw a return to form though not without some excitement.

The Divisional Playoffs began Saturday in Foxborough, as the Kansas City Chiefs battled the New England Patriots. The Chiefs had won 11 straight since a 1-5 start, but winning in New England is always a tall order. If you are going to win up there, you must take advantage of every opportunity and the moment cannot be too big for you. Chiefs coach Andy Reid is fast becoming a great regular season coach who fails to deliver in January. The same formula cannot work unless you are a dominant outfit, a trait none of his teams have ever enjoyed. Kansas City was too passive, trailed 14-6 at the half with two field goals as opposed to two touchdowns, and late Reid was inept at directing the team in a timely manner. As a result, the Patriots beat the Chiefs 27-20 to advance to their fifth consecutive AFC Championship.

The Patriots will face the Denver Broncos after Denver’s 23-16 win Sunday afternoon over the Pittsburgh Steelers. We thought we would see one last Brady vs. Manning matchup in November, we will on Sunday. Peyton was steady, 21-for-37, 222 yards, in leading Denver to their 10th AFC Championship appearance. This was the game two years ago, won by Denver. In the win over Pittsburgh, it did not look good for a while, but a key fumble turned the momentum and Peyton won his 12th playoff game in 25 tries.

Saturday night we saw an absolute classic between the Arizona Cardinals & the Green Bay Packers. The Packers controlled the ball early and Cardinals QB Carson Palmer was intercepted twice in the red zone. With Arizona ahead 20-13, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers summoned some magic. First a 60-yard pass to Jeff Janis on 4th-and-20, then his second “Hail Mary” completion of the season, to Janis, that tied the game. But on the first play of overtime, Palmer eluded the rush, finding Larry Fitzgerald on the far sideline, Fitz then weaving his way for 75 yards to put Arizona in business. Two plays later, Fitzgerald pulled in a shovel pass from Palmer and the game belonged to Arizona. It will be Arizona’s second championship appearance.

The Cardinals will take on the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship, the Panthers rolling early, then holding on late to defeat the Seattle Seahawks 31-24. It is the fourth championship appearance for the Panthers but the first to be at home. Presumptive league MVP Cam Newton was 16-for-22, 161 yards, and was sharp early. Carolina was up 31-0 before halftime, before the Seahawks found their footing in fact, had they not squandered two scoring opportunities late in the first half, the ending would have really been interesting. As it was, their chance came down to an onside kick recovered by Carolina.