New England Patriots, 27, Kansas City Chiefs, 20
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady benefitted greatly from the return of wide receiver Julius Edelman, who missed multiple games in the regular season with an injury. Tight end Rob Gronkowski looked relatively healthy following the bye week as well. When looking at what led to the Chiefs’ first loss since October, two things immediately come to mind: the Chiefs strayed away from their usual style of steady offense as QB Alex Smith attempted 50 passes, and secondly, the Chiefs’ time management was subpar during the fourth quarter.
Arizona Cardinals, 26, Green Bay Packers, 20 (F/OT)
With 55 seconds left in regulation, the Packers faced a fourth-and-20 and had 94 yards separating them and the end zone. QB Aaron Rodgers connected on a 60-yard pass with WR Jeff Janis, and, following a penalty, connected on a 41-yard Hail Mary—his second of the season. In overtime, Cardinals QB Carson Palmer hit WR Larry Fitzgerald, who carried the 75-yard reception down to the Packers’ 5. Fitz took a shovel pass into the end zone on the following play. The Cardinals edged the Packers in what was one of the most exciting games possibly in postseason history.
Carolina Panthers, 31, Seattle Seahawks, 24
The Panthers had an exceptional first half and jumped to a 31-0 lead against the reigning NFC champions. QB Cam Newton and co. looked unstoppable, and the defense did a great job at containing the Seahawks’ balanced offense. The Seahawks made the game somewhat interesting by putting up 24 unanswered points, but it was too little, too late against Carolina.
Denver Broncos, 23, Pittsburgh Steelers, 16
The Broncos capitalized on a late Steelers’ fumble, as Broncos running back CJ Anderson hit paydirt from one yard out in the fourth quarter. QB Peyton Manning was solid, and kicker Brandon McManus converted on all five field goal attempts—including a 51-yarder—in heavy wind. The Broncos defense, which finished first in the league during the regular season, pressured Ben Roethlisberger QB throughout the game.
(AFC #2) New England Patriots @ (AFC #1) Denver Broncos
(NFC #2) Arizona Panthers @ (NFC #1) Carolina Panthers