NFL Playoffs 2021-2022: Divisional Round

Parth Joshi, Editor-in-Chief

The competitive parity of the NFL is as strong as ever, and that was made incredibly evident this past weekend. All four divisional round playoff games were decided on the final play by a combined total of only fifteen points. This resulted in an average margin of victory of 3.8 points per game, the smallest in NFL playoff history. Teams and players displayed resilience, patience, and strength as they fought for an opportunity to reach next week. Such dedication to the sport of football provided fans with four games which turned into intense nail-biters. 

The divisional round kicked off on January 22nd with the Tennessee Titans hosting the Cincinnati Bengals. On the first play of the game, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw an interception, setting up a Bengals field goal. Little went right for Tennessee offensively in the first half. However, Cincinnati was forced to settle for three field goals. After the two teams traded scores, the game was tied 16-16 with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson made a huge play by intercepting Tannehill. In the waning seconds of the game, Cincinnati kicker Evan McPherson made a 50-yard field goal, sending the Bengals to their first AFC Championship Game since 1988 with a 19-16 victory.

Later that day, the San Francisco 49ers visited the Green Bay Packers to play in frigid conditions. The Packers went on the board first as running back A.J. Dillon ran for a touchdown. After that drive; however, Green Bay’s offensive execution faltered as San Francisco neutralized the Aaron Rodgers – Davante Adams connection. Green Bay’s special teams became an issue as the 49ers blocked a Mason Crosby field goal and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. A subsequent Green Bay punt allowed the 49ers to regain possession, march down the field, and set up a Robbie Gould field goal to propel San Francisco to its second NFC championship in three years with a 13-10 win.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosted the Los Angeles Rams the following day. With huge plays such as a 70-yard Cooper Kupp run for a touchdown, the game initially looked to be a rout as the Rams jumped to a 27-3 lead halfway through the third quarter. However, after accumulating such a large lead, Los Angeles became careless with the ball by committing several turnovers. In typical Tom Brady fashion, the Buccaneers rallied and scored twenty-four unanswered points, tying the score 27-27. It seemed inevitable that the game would go into overtime until Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford hit Cooper Kupp for a huge 44-yard gain. This set up a Matt Gay field goal which advanced Los Angeles to the NFC Championship Game in a 30-27 victory.

The divisional round concluded with the Buffalo Bills facing the Kansas City Chiefs in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game. The game began with touchdowns being exchanged, tying the score 14-14 by halftime. At the end of the third quarter, Kansas City jumped to a 23-21 lead. However, Bills quarterback Josh Allen wasted no time and threw a touchdown to Gabriel Davis to give the Bills a 29-26 lead. Davis would finish the game with more than 200 yards and four touchdowns. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs responded with a touchdown of their own, forcing the Bills to respond again with a score. The Bills then led 36-33 with only thirteen seconds left. Inexplicably, Mahomes led the team down 44 yards in ten seconds to set up the game-tying field goal. Allen’s only mistake all night was calling “Tails” instead of “Heads” during the coin toss, giving Kansas City the ball and allowing Mahomes to throw a game-saving touchdown to Travis Kelce to win 42-36.

Last weekend’s divisional round was one of the most entertaining displays of football seen in recent history. The thrill and suspense of each game proved just how captivating the NFL playoffs are and how narrow the difference between victory and defeat is. The focus now turns to the Conference Championships. The AFC Championship Game will be played between the Bengals and Chiefs and the NFC Championship Game will be played between the 49ers and Rams.