NFL Playoffs Make History


Photo by: Alexandra Hale

Football fans are eager to see the accuracy of their brackets and predictions for the 2017 Super Bowl LI.

Alexandra Hale, Staff Writer

The commercials, the performances, and best of all, the football. That’s right – Super Bowl LI is on its way. On Sunday, February 5 at 6:30 pm, the winners of the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC) will compete to determine the champion of the 2016 NFL season. Before that game can occur, however, two victors needed to be determined.

The NFC championship game kicked off the road to the Super Bowl as the Atlanta Falcons had a home field advantage against the Green Bay Packers. The game was held at the Mercedes-Benz stadium on Sunday, January 22. Predictions regarding the outcome of this game were incredibly varied.

The Falcons were favored on their home field, but critics questioned whether or not Atlanta’s defense could handle the heat that Aaron Rodgers and the powerful Packers offense brought. The Packers, coming off an 8-0 winning streak this season, have previously made five Super Bowl appearances.

Meanwhile, the Falcons have only made one championship game appearance in their history, making them the less experienced team of the two in terms of playoff games. The underdogs, surprisingly, pulled through, proving to be the dominate team in a game with a final score of 44-21. \

Fortunately for Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, Green Bay’s usually unbeatable defense decided not to show up to work on Sunday. The Falcons offense ran up the field all game with impressive running backs, including Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. The greatly renowned wide receiver Julio Jones also had an explosive game, scoring two of the team’s touchdowns.

That is not to discredit Ryan, however, who had one of the best games of his career; accommodating 392 passing yards, he earned four of Atlanta’s touchdowns. On the other side, Rodgers passed 287 yards, adding three touchdowns in the second half of the game. Despite this, the Packers looked sloppy as they clumsily fumbled the ball and failed to recover it. Atlanta also fumbled the ball but managed to pick it up quickly after.

The main factors which stood out in the game were penalties and third down efficiency plays. These factors usually make or break any game, and they were especially apparent Sunday afternoon.

For the 13 third downs Atlanta had all game, 10 of them were converted into first downs, giving them a high 76 percent in terms of third down efficiency. Meanwhile, Green Bay had 10 third downs total but only made four of them first downs, putting them at a low 40 percent for third down efficiency.

The countless penalties also hurt both teams, the Packers more so than the Falcons. Atlanta picked up four penalties, costing them 31 yards, but Green Bay gained six penalties against them, losing 63 yards.

Overall, Atlanta had more first downs, more net yards, and most importantly, more possession time. This heavy loss put a damper on Green Bay’s winning streak, leaving a sour taste in their mouths for the start of next season.

On the other hand, the Falcons last Super Bowl appearance was in 1999, and this will only be the second time in its history that the team has made it this far into the playoffs. NFL fans are now patiently waiting to see how Matt Ryan and his team will handle this rare occasion.

Three and a half hours after the NFC championship game, the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers fought for the AFC title on the Patriot’s home turf. The Patriots have made eight Super Bowl appearances, ranging from a blowout in 1986 to more recent victories in 2015. Of the six appearances New England quarterback Tom Brady has made, he has won four of them.

Meanwhile, like the Patriots, the Steelers have made it to the Super Bowl eight times, winning six of those games. Under quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has made three Super Bowl appearances in his career, the Steelers walked away with two victories. Both of these teams came into their most recent game equally ranked; they both knew their strengths and their key players. The undeniably eccentric energy at Gillette Stadium, however, caused the Steelers to crack under pressure.

Going into the event, New England was favored to win by four and a half points. This prediction, though sensible. was a complete understatement, seeing as the Patriots owned the game, taking home a victory with a final score of 36-17. For the Steelers, Roethlisberger passed 314 yards and added one touchdown for Pittsburgh. Brady brought his A-game with 384 passing yards, giving the Patriots three touchdowns.

A key difference between the teams, one which football fans thought was going to lead the Steelers to victory, was running back Le’Veon Bell. Breaking team records left and right, Bell has proven to be a player worthy of making to the playoffs. Surprisingly, he was not the star player of this game. That spot belongs to another running back: DeAngelo Williams. The athlete acquired 34 rushing yards and a touchdown for Pittsburgh in the game. Bell accumulated 20 rushing yards but failed to live up to his potential and usual ingenious strategy.

This case was eerily similar for the home team; the Patriots secret weapon and running back Dion Lewis also did not excel as fans thought he would, gaining a mere 11 rushing yards. It was actually another running back,  LeGarrette Blount who obtained 47 rushing yards and a touchdown for New England, who stole the show.

For the Steelers, explosive wide receiver Antonio Brown earned the highest amount of receiving yards with 77 total. Despite this, rookie Cobi Hamilton was the only wide receiver to give the Steelers a touchdown. For New England, wide receiver Chris Hogan proved to be a dominate veteran, earning two of the Patriots touchdowns and 180 receiving yards. Likewise, wide receiver Julian Edelman contributed a touchdown towards the Patriots and earned 118 yards.

By the third quarter, the game was sealed as a Patriot victory. Overall, the New England offense was 33 percent more dominant in the red zone than the Steelers and had less fumbles in the end. Both teams managed to take in few penalties, but those earned seemed to hurt Pittsburgh more than New England. The Patriots had two penalties and lost 10 yards while the Steelers had three penalties and lost 19 yards.

Similar to the previous game, the Patriots were the winners in every front, earning them a slot in the Super Bowl and giving Roethlisberger and his team something to think about for the next season. Meanwhile, Brady and the New England Patriots have yet another Super Bowl appearance to prepare for.

The playoff games were incredibly unpredictable this year; the two talented teams who have made it thus far have had the odds against them since day one. No one could have predicted the Atlanta Falcons or the New England Patriots, the latter who was without Tom Brady for the first four games of their season, could have made it this far.

These teams have overcome less than favorable situations, proving they rightfully earned their places in the championship game. A myriad of predictions have been made for the Super Bowl, justifying the fact that no one truly knows who will win the big game.

When all’s said and done, however, there is no doubt that Super Bowl LI will go down in history.