The NFL's divisional playoff round is in the books and saw some high-quality play in each of the four games, while ending with the highest drama imaginable on a play that will live on in the pro football annals. In the end, four teams are left in the tournament: The New England Patriots will host the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC title game, while the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings square off in the NFC's version.
Before looking too far ahead, though, let's take a look back at a wild divisional round weekend. Here are six things we learned.
1. The Pittsburgh Steelers overlooked the Jaguars: Some members of the Steelers were absolutely looking past Jacksonville – and the Jaguars made them pay for it. Pittsburgh came out flat against a fired up number three seed and despite some momentum swings was never able to recover from an early 21-0 deficit to the AFC's number three seed (some questionable coaching decisions by Mike Tomlin, who spoke of a playoff meeting between the Steelers and Patriots earlier in the year, did not help either). Now, Pittsburgh will have to watch the Jaguars play in the AFC title game.
2. The Patriots are capable of playing dominant front seven defense: One week before their divisional round game, the Tennessee Titans ran wild over the Kansas City Chiefs. Against the Patriots, the team failed to do that as New England's defense was able to hold the Titans rushing attack to 65 yards – 37 of which by quarterback Marcus Mariota. The AFC's top seed dominated in the trenches and Tennessee's ground game never found a rhythm all while the Patriots registered eight sacks.
3. The NFC South sure knows how to lose a playoff game in heartbreaking fashion: First, it was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' in the 1999 NFC title game. Then, the Carolina Panthers losing Super Bowl XXXVIII on a last-second field goal and the Atlanta Falcons seeing the Patriots come back from a 25-point deficit in Super Bowl LII. The NFC South's playoff misery continued this weekend as New Orleans had to watch the Vikings defeat them on a literal last-second, 61-yard touchdown pass – a play that will live in New Orleans Saints infamy for a long, long time.
4. Case Keenum and Stefon Diggs never have to buy another drink in Minneapolis again: No matter how far the Vikings will advance in the playoffs, the team delivered a moment for the ages – a semi-redemption for some of the franchise's playoff losses over the last years. Two players will stand out above the rest from the epic game: Quarterback Case Keenum and wideout Stephon Diggs, who connected on the above-mentioned 61-yard score. Their heroics will cover up some of the deficiencies of the Minnesota's game, namely allowed the Saints to come back and almost pull off the victory.
5. Jacksonville and Philadelphia play pretty good complementary football: Controlling the game and trying to keep mistakes at a minimum, all while playing sound and opportunistic defense: This is the recipe that has helped the Jaguars and Eagles advance to the AFC and NFC Championship Games, respectively. While it did not always work to perfection, both teams have fared pretty well using this complementary approach especially considering their comparatively average level of quarterback play.
6. Defense wins titles – but can lose them as well: As Rich Hill noted yesterday, four of the NFL's top five scoring defenses have found their way to the championship round. The old adage “defense wins championships” certainly appears to hold true, although in one instance it cost a team a chance to win: Had the Saints been able to tackle Vikings wideout Stephon Diggs in bounds, the team would almost certainly have defeated its opponent. Maybe “60-minute defense wins championship” is the more realistic saying.