Once again, we have arrived at the Final Four of professional football, and we had quite the exciting docket of games this weekend. After last year’s resurgence of the ground game, the passing game has responded, as NFL quarterbacks have posted some absurd numbers this past season.
Much like March Madness, the NFL’s single-elimination style bracket often promotes upsets and other unexpected results. This was not one of those years, as the top two seeds in each conference found themselves one win away from the Super Bowl last Sunday.
This season was the year of the quarterback and the final four teams reflect that. The top four scoring offenses this season were all represented in the Conference Championships. All four teams had quarterbacks who were in the conversation for league MVP at one point or another. Each game was also a rematch, as each team played their opponent once in the regular season, and neither game disappointed.
The NFC Championship Game took place at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and was a rematch between the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams. During their regular season bout, the Saints were able to defeat the Rams in 45-35 thriller and it was this victory which would ultimately secure them home-field advantage in the NFC over the Rams, as both teams finished with identical records of 13-3.
That home-field advantage was for naught, however, as Los Angeles was able to escape the Superdome with a stunning 26-23 overtime victory thanks to a couple of clutch kicks from Greg Zuerlein. Despite holding a 20-10 lead late in third, New Orleans could not close out the game in regulation, and an interception by Rams safety John Johnson at the beginning of overtime would all but seal the Saints’ fate.
The game was not without controversy, however, as a blatant missed pass interference on Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman may very likely have changed the outcome of the game. Had the penalty been called, it would have been first-and-goal for the Saints. Had the Saints scored, the Rams would’ve had barely any time to get the ball back down the field.
Moving onto Arrowhead Stadium, the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the New England Patriots in a rematch of the 43-40 instant classic from Week Six which saw the Patriots emerge victorious. Unfortunately for Patrick Mahomes and company, history would go onto repeat itself on Sunday night as the Patriots once again emerged victorious in a 37-31 overtime thriller and advanced to their third straight Super Bowl appearance. The Chiefs and their league-leading offense got off to a slow start, trailing 14-0 at the half, and their second half heroics were all for naught as New England won the coin toss at the beginning of overtime and marched down the field to win on a Rex Burkhead walk-off touchdown.
Much like the NFC Championship Game, the Chiefs and their fans will look at this game and wonder what could have been. The Chiefs led 28-24 late in the fourth quarter and appeared to have sealed the victory with a Daniel Sorenson interception. However, a flag was thrown due to Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford being lined up offsides, nullifying the interception. The Patriots would go onto score a touchdown on the drive.
The conference champions have been determined, and now it is onto the Super Bowl. This Super Bowl has a bit of a cyclical feel to it, as the Patriots dynasty began with a victory over the St. Louis Rams and the “Greatest Show on Turf” in 2001. Astonishingly, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick still stand as strong as ever and will face off against Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams in Atlanta.
The storylines in this game are astounding. The Patriots, who have somehow become underrated this season, will attempt to continue to defy the odds and show that they are still the top dogs in the league. And now it is the Rams’ turn to attempt to take the crown and end the reign of Belichick’s empire.