Divisional round up: what we learned from the playoffs this weekend

The divisional round of the NFLs 100th season is in the books and did not disappoint as it featured some absolutely sensational football and left just four teams standing one game away from the Super Bowl.

The Tennessee Titans shocked fans on Saturday when they produced one of the biggest playoff upsets of recent memory by toppling the Baltimore Ravens.

Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs showed phenomenal strength of character by putting up 51 points after going down 24-0 in the first half.

Here’s what we learned this weekend.

The Tennessee Titans are the real deal

After the Titans knocked out the defending champion New England in the wild card round, many pundits were blaming this on the decline of Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Bill Belichick, who has made a habit of losing to Patriots alumni, once again fell to an ex-pat and much of Vrabel’s success was put down to him learning from Bill during his tenure.

That might be true. He certainly showed flourishes of Belichick in his game plan for New England.

But Vrabel proved he was not a one-hit wonder on Saturday by orchestrating a near flawless plan to topple the top seed.

The Titans offense can rely on Henry to get their side of the job done and boy did he get it done.

Henry has already rushed for 337 yards this post season and helped eliminate the defending champs and the AFC’s top seed.

But it was on defence that Tennessee really impressed in the divisional round.

Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees put together a strategy that enabled the team to nullify Lamar Jackson and the league’s top rushing offense.

They held the Ravens to two field goals and a touchdown in their stunning 28-12 victory on Saturday.

The Titans came out with a clear plan and executed it perfectly.

Mike Vrabel proved he didn’t just use inside knowledge to upset the Patriots but he is slowly becoming one of the league’s top coaches by turning a 9-7 season into a Super Bowl run.

If he can put together a game plan to stop Mahomes and Kansas City’s explosive offense then he may just etch himself into legend next weekend.

The Green Bay Packers will do whatever it takes

Despite Green Bay marching to the NfC number two seed and finishing the season 13-3, pundits couldn’t help but dub them the most average team left in the playoffs ahead of their divisional clash with the Seattle Seahawks.

Yet come game time, the Packers once again delivered with old reliables producing magic as they did all season.

Both Aaron Jones and Davante Adams put up two touchdowns, the latter posting a franchise post-season record with 160 yards and helping to ice a Seattle comeback with a vital 32-yard reception.

But what really sold it for Green Bay, and should quieten doubters, was their defence.

Specifically Za’darius and Preston Smith’s performances who recorded four sacks and ensured Wilson’s attempted fourth quarter comeback was nothing more than a blip on their road to the NFC Championship.

Matt LaFleur will need to put together something special if they hope to secure a Super Bowl appearance but don’t be surprised if the Packers are able to mount an impressive challenge to the already heavily favoured San Francisco 49ers.

Patrick Mahomes proved he is Super Bowl ready

Divisional Round - Bill O'Brien had some explaining to do after loss to Kansas City
© ‘Ben Jones’ | no changes | licence

A true sign of a great leader is being able to rally the troops when your chips are down and things are looking bleak.

So when Kansas City suddenly and unexpectedly went 24-0 down to the Texans midway through the second quarter of Sunday’s divisional round game, all eyes were on quarterback Patrick Mahomes to see how he would respond.

What changed the game was his 17-yard pass to Damien Williams.

It was as if the whole of Arrowhead Stadium fed of his energy as he roared with a renewed sense of purpose – and it was all Kansas City from there.

Every time Mahomes got the ball, he led his team down the field for a touchdown drive, wracking up five touchdown passes himself.

Mahomes dominated the Texans and it was clear the team took their cue from him.

But for a flip of the coin in last year’s AFC Championship when they lost in overtime, who knows what would have happened.

But one thing is clear with this season’s Mahomes – he has a championship attitude that means you can never count out the Chiefs.

The 49ers are back to full strength and look as formidable as ever

The San Francisco 49ers ground the Vikings down in their 27-10 victory at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday.

Having earned a rest through the wild card round, the top-seeded niners were looking refreshed and saw key players return from injury in their divisional round.

The team rushed a soul-destroying 47 times against the Vikings for 186 yards.

While this meant quarterback Jimmy G didn’t really get a chance to prove his worth, when you can run like that it helps the quarterback immeasurably when it comes to selling the play action pass.

San Francisco’s defense, invigorated by three key players returning from injury, also impressed, keeping Minnesota scoreless in the second half and absolutely smothering quarterback Kirk Cousins.

The 31-year-old will continue to face questions about his ability to deliver on the big stage come next season after apparently unravelling in the divisional round.

The stage is set for what could be an extremely entertaining weekend.

The Titans will head to Arrowhead to take on the Chiefs while the 49ers will host the underdog Packers for the NFC title.

Can the league’s 100th season deliver any more upsets?

Katie Feehan
Born in Yorkshire, Katie is a freelance journalist currently based in York. As a keen sports writer, Katie has a diploma in Multimedia Journalism from the Press Association and has worked on the busy Newcastle Chronicle sports desk. She has also written for Gateshead FC and contributed to various websites including HITC and Give Me Sport.

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