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NFL divisional round provides entertainment-filled weekend

After a close game, the San Francisco 49ers won 24-21 against the Green Bay Packers, securing themselves a spot in their second NFC Championship in a row.

The divisional round of the 2024 NFL playoffs featured top-tier kicker drama, the Baltimore Ravens continuing to be the scariest team still alive, a new chapter in the Bills-Chiefs rivalry, special appearances from Taylor Swift and Jason Kelce and the City of Detroit living out a dream season.

Last weekend’s games started with the young, revamped Houston Texans led by rookie of the year favorite quarterback C.J. Stroud playing the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens. The game started out competitively, with the Texans’ defense and special teams making big marks early, aided by a punt return touchdown from Texans wide receiver Steven Sims. Both offenses struggled to score in the first half, but Baltimore pulled away after the break, with their offense finding their groove. Probable NFL MVP and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson finished the day with 4 touchdowns total, 2 on the ground and 2 through the air, while the Ravens’ defense smothered the high-powered Texans’ offense, holding them to just 213 total yards. The Texans failed to score a single offensive touchdown. The Ravens are back in their first AFC Championship game since they won the Super Bowl during the 2013 season.

The NFC’s top-seeded San Francisco 49ers hosted the Green Bay Packers, who found their post-Aaron Rodgers identity late in the season, leading them to win four of their final six games and sneak into the playoffs as the seventh seed. The Packers routed the Dallas Cowboys in the wild-card round on Jan. 14 and played a competitive game with the 49ers.

In the pouring rain, the game started out slowly on offense; the score at halftime was 7-6 for the 49ers. After the break, the dramatics shot up. Packers quarterback Jordan Love found wide receiver Bo Melton for a 19-yard score, but 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey responded for the 49ers to retake the lead. Their lead lasted for all of two minutes as Love hit tight end Tucker Kraft in the endzone and made a 2-point conversion to running back Aaron Jones. A second McCaffrey touchdown and field goal from kicker Jake Moody put the 49ers up 24-21. The Packers had the ball with under two minutes left to drive for the game-tying field goal, but Love’s pass was intercepted by 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw, sending the 49ers to their second NFC Championship in a row.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quarterback Baker Mayfield had a statement win at home on wild-card weekend, beating the reigning NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles 32-9. They traveled to Motown to take on the NFL’s “feel-good” Detroit Lions who just won their first playoff game in over thirty years. The Lions won the NFC North for the first time ever and hosted their first playoff games in Detroit since the 1990s, so the city was fired up like none other.

It was a tie game 17-17 until the fourth quarter when the Lions pulled away, with touchdowns from rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs and All-Pro wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. Quarterback Mayfield responded with a touchdown to wide receiver Mike Evans to cut the score to 31-23 after a failed two-point completion, but it was the dream team Lions who would advance to their first NFC Championship since the 1991 season.

The final game of the divisional round was in Western New York as the Buffalo Bills hosted the Kansas City Chiefs, who were playing in their first ever road playoff game in the Patrick Mahomes era. This rivalry has put the Bills Mafia through a lot over the years, but the loss this time might just be the most harrowing of them all.

The game was a back-and-forth affair, with both Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen playing tremendous football. In the fourth quarter, the Chiefs took a 27-24 lead after a rushing touchdown from running back Isiah Pacheco. Then, in a feel-good movie fashion, the Bills faked a punt in their own territory with safety Damar Hamlin, but the trick play failed. The Chiefs were inches away from extending their lead, but wide receiver Mecole Hardman Jr. fumbled at the goal line, so due to the controversial touchback rule, it was Buffalo’s ball. A few plays later, Kansas City knocked the ball out of Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen’s arms but the Bills were able to recover. This eventually led to a Tyler Bass 44-yard field goal attempt to tie the game. Bass’ kick sailed wide right in heartbreaking déjà vu fashion. The Chiefs advanced to their sixth AFC Championship in a row since the Mahomes era began, and the Bills are left wondering: if not now, then when?

The conference championships will be held this Sunday, Jan. 28. The Chiefs and Ravens will face off in Baltimore for the AFC title at 3 p.m. followed by the NFC game between the Lions and the 49ers in Santa Clara, California at 6:30 p.m.

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