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The Falcons were a division champion and had a bye last season, but they did reach the Super Bowl and came about as close as a team can come to winning it without winning it.
Their coaches, quarterback and pretty much whole roster knows what it takes to win these games, and while the season was rocky, once teams get into the field, you never know what might happen.
Running back Devonta Freeman looks fantastic, too. The season was rocky, and the offense isn't humming the way it was this time a year ago.
Maybe it's as simple as the change in offensive coordinators, but maybe it's just a factor of "not every year is great.
While he hasn't had his best season, Jones is capable of making any catch at any time and taking over a game, as he did against Green Bay in last year's NFC title game.
If he and Ryan find that elusive connection, he'll be a nightmare for any opponent. The Patriots' first playoff game will be at home against either the Bills, Chiefs or Titans.
If the Bills beat the Jaguars in the wild-card round, they'd travel to New England for the divisional round. If the Jaguars win that game, the Patriots' first game would be against the Titans-Chiefs winner.
You can have a point lead against them in the Super Bowl, and they still win. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are the greatest of all time at what they do, and there's no team in the field that has even close to the amount of experience the Patriots have in big January games.
The defense has held together for much of the season in spite of a slew of big-time losses, and it still misses linebacker Dont'a Hightower. That's the kind of thing that could show up in a different way once the competition stiffens.
They're not far removed from a loss in Miami in which Brady looked terrible and the Dolphins ran all over their defense.
So while they're the favorite, they're not invincible. Dion Lewis has been a machine, and the Patriots will lean on him to carry the load.
But their run game is at its best when it has diversity with Rex Burkhead and James White , who can be factors in the passing game as well.
Each has dealt with injuries toward the end of the season, and it will be important for New England to get them back for their playoff run.
Brady can bring the Patriots back at the end, but it helps to control games if they have balance on offense. The Steelers' first playoff game will be a home game against either the Jaguars, Titans or Chiefs.
If the Jags beat the Bills, Jacksonville travels to Pittsburgh for the divisional round. It would be a Steelers home game unless the opponent is the Patriots.
The defense appears to be in better shape than it was this time last year, with Cam Heyward healthy and some of the younger guys like Artie Burns and Javon Hargrave having grown in their roles throughout the season.
The health of WR Antonio Brown. He suffered a serious calf injury in Week 15 and missed the final two games of the regular season. The Steelers are hopeful that they'll have him for their playoff opener, but they can't be sure A whether they will or B how close to full strength he will be.
Wide receiver Martavis Bryant. He has been disgruntled for much of his first season back from suspension.
He asked for a trade early in the season and probably will again after the season. But the Steelers kept him because they believe he can be a game-changing weapon for them with his rare combination of size and speed.
He was obviously a bigger part of the game plan with Brown out in late December. Perhaps that sparks something that makes a difference in January.
Bills in wild-card round on Sunday 1 p. The Jaguars' first playoff game in 10 years will be a home game against a team that hasn't played a playoff game in 18 years.
They will host the Bills in the divisional round. Should they win, they would travel to Pittsburgh for their second-round game, and if they win that, they would play an AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, Chiefs or Titans.
No team in the AFC field plays defense the way Jacksonville does. The Jaguars have stars at all three levels. They can rush the passer, their corners can cover receivers one-on-one and their linebackers are versatile.
On either side of that game, they whipped the Ravens and won in Pittsburgh. The franchise hasn't played a playoff game in a decade, and the roster is loaded with dudes who've never played in one.
This is a team built on its run game and its defense, which means it's built to play from ahead. Blake Bortles spent most of December red-hot, but if the Jags fall behind, is he capable of bringing them back?
The Jags lost top wideout Allen Robinson in the first game of the season and have had to play at times without Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns because of injury.
And while Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook have shown flashes, teams don't want to be leaning too hard on rookies at this time of year.
At some point, the Jags will have to rely on their passing game. When that time comes, it would help to have Lee and Hurns in there and healthy.
Titans in wild-card round on Saturday 4: The Chiefs will host the Titans in their opener at Arrowhead Stadium. If the Jags lose, the Chiefs -- as the highest-seeded wild-card-round winner -- would play the 2-seed Steelers in Pittsburgh in the divisional round.
The only way that game would be in Kansas City is if the opponent is the Bills. This team has been to the playoffs before -- just last year, in fact.
And while that experience was a disappointing home loss to a Steelers team that didn't score a touchdown, sometimes negative experiences help teams grow.
This Kansas City team has beaten the Patriots, Eagles and Chargers twice , and their loss to the Steelers was a close one.
They shook off their midseason slump with three straight wins to claim their second straight division title, and they come in playing well.
That midseason slump did happen, and it put on tape for a lot of teams a blueprint for limiting the Kansas City offense.
If the Chiefs' run blocking has a bad day, it makes them one-dimensional and allows teams to beat them with relatively simple Cover 2 shell concepts.
Oh, and on defense they struggle against the run. After the Steelers managed to advance to the Dallas yard line on their ensuing drive, the possession fell apart due to a miscue by center Dermontti Dawson.
Pittsburgh had lined up in the shotgun formation , and Dawson's snap sailed over quarterback Neil O'Donnell 's head. O'Donnell managed to recover the fumble, but the Steelers were unable to recover from the yard loss, and they had to punt two plays later.
After the punt, Dallas drove to the Steelers' yard line. However, a pass interference penalty on Irvin nullified a yard touchdown reception and moved the ball back to the yard line.
On the next play, Aikman completed a yard pass to Novacek, bringing up second down and 1 from the yard line. However, the Steelers' defense stopped Smith for no gain on the next play, and then tackled him for a 3-yard loss on third down.
Boniol then kicked a yard field goal, increasing Dallas' lead to 13—0. After an exchange of punts, Steelers wide receiver Andre Hastings returned John Jett 's punt 11 yards to the Pittsburgh yard line.
After O'Donnell's first-down pass fell incomplete, Dallas linebacker Charles Haley then sacked the Steelers quarterback for a yard loss, forcing third down and Nine plays later, O'Donnell threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Yancey Thigpen with just 13 seconds left in the half, cutting Pittsburgh's deficit to 13—7.
Thigpen made the catch despite being shoved by Sanders prior to making the reception. After the third quarter began with another exchange of punts, the Steelers advanced the ball to their own yard line.
However, on third down, Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown intercepted O'Donnell's pass at the Dallas yard line and returned it 44 yards to the Pittsburgh yard line.
Aikman then completed a yard pass to Irvin to reach the 1-yard line, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Smith to increase Dallas' lead to 20—7.
On their next drive, the Steelers faced second down and 2 on their own yard line, but turned the ball over on downs after running back Bam Morris was tackled for no gain on three consecutive running plays: The Steelers defense held, however, forcing Dallas into a three-and-out ; after a 6-yard run by Smith and an incompletion, Aikman's third-down pass was broken up by defensive back Rod Woodson who had missed most of the season due to a knee injury , forcing the Cowboys to punt.
On their next drive, the Steelers advanced from their own yard line to the Dallas However, Dallas defensive end Tony Tolbert sacked O'Donnell on third down for a 9-yard loss, forcing Pittsburgh to settle for kicker Norm Johnson 's yard field goal with On the ensuing kickoff, Pittsburgh surprised the Cowboys by executing a successful onside kick , with defensive back Deon Figures recovering the ball for Pittsburgh at their own yard line.
O'Donnell hit Hastings on two consecutive passes for 23 total yards. His next pass went to wide receiver Ernie Mills for 7 yards, and then Morris ran for 5 yards and caught a pass for a 6-yard gain to the Dallas yard line.
Three plays later, Morris scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, cutting Pittsburgh's deficit to 20— With the aid of linebacker Levon Kirkland 's 8-yard sack of Aikman, the Cowboys were forced to punt on their next drive, and Pittsburgh regained possession of the ball at their own yard line with 4: However, on second down, Brown intercepted another O'Donnell pass and returned it 33 yards to the Steelers' 6-yard line.
The play was a mirror image of O'Donnell's first interception to Brown; a throw in the right flat thrown under a heavy Cowboys blitz into the arms of Brown with no Steelers receiver in sight.
After the game, O'Donnell said that he was throwing in the spot he expected receiver Corey Holliday to be on the second interception, stating that he expected Holliday to make an out-cut instead of an in-cut.
Mills responded by questioning why O'Donnell would throw to a spot and not a man in a Super Bowl. Brown said he was all alone on both picks because he expected O'Donnell to throw to the outside to seemingly get rid of the ball amidst the Cowboys' blitz.
Two plays following the interception, Smith scored once again with 3: Despite being held to 49 yards on the ground and only 9 in the second half, Smith scored the game-clinching touchdown by making a devastating cutback on Kirkland, the best player on Pittsburgh's defense that day.
The Steelers responded by driving to the Dallas yard line, but after O'Donnell threw four consecutive incompletions, Pittsburgh turned the ball over on downs with 1: After that, Dallas ran out most of the clock with three quarterback kneels and an intentional delay of the game penalty before punting the ball back to the Steelers.
Pittsburgh regained possession of the ball with three seconds remaining, but O'Donnell's Hail Mary pass was intercepted by Dallas safety Brock Marion on the final play of the game.
The Steelers had outgained the Cowboys in total yards, — —61 in the second half , had 25 first downs compared to the Cowboys' 15, and limited Dallas' powerful running attack to just 56 yards.
However, they were unable to overcome O'Donnell's interceptions, which led to two Cowboys touchdowns. Troy Aikman finished the game with 15 out of 23 completions for yards and a touchdown Aikman became just the third quarterback to win three Super Bowl games; Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana each won four.
Smith was the Cowboys' leading rusher with 49 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns Smith became just the fifth player to score a touchdown in three different Super Bowl games, joining Lynn Swann , Franco Harris , Thurman Thomas , and Jerry Rice ; he also became the first player to rush for two touchdowns in two different Super Bowls.
Irvin was Dallas' top receiver with 5 catches for 76 yards. Novacek caught 5 passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. Defensive end Chad Hennings recorded 2 sacks.
Although his 3 interceptions were costly, O'Donnell recorded 28 of 49 completions for yards and a touchdown. Morris was the top rusher of the game with 73 yards and a touchdown, and also caught 3 passes for 18 yards.
Hastings was the top receiver of the game with 10 receptions for 98 yards, and returned 2 punts for 18 yards. Mills caught 8 passes for 78 yards and gained 79 yards on 4 kickoff returns, giving him total yards.
A knee injury he sustained in the fourth quarter would keep him out for most of the season. Barry Switzer became the second head coach, after former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson , to win a college football national championship University of Oklahoma , , and a Super Bowl title.
After a many-year long tradition of presenting the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the winning team in its locker room after the game, the NFL began the tradition of presenting the trophy on the field.
The outcome of the game had rather large ramifications for two soon-to-be free agents after their performances.
Larry Brown, who was named Super Bowl MVP for his two interceptions, parlayed his performance into a lucrative free agent contract with the Oakland Raiders.
However, he was not very effective and was cut from the team after two injury-plagued seasons. Neil O'Donnell left the Steelers in the offseason and signed a long-term free agent contract with the New York Jets , accepting New York's more lucrative offer.
O'Donnell's tenure in New York, like Brown's in Oakland, was plagued by injuries and ineffective play, and he was released from his contract following the season.
Both players finished their careers as backups, Brown returning to the Cowboys in and O'Donnell playing for the Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans until his retirement in Both teams would post 10—6 records in and would win their opening playoff games by sizable margins before losing in the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
Pittsburgh would reach the AFC Championship Game in before breaking up most of the team's nucleus during the and offseasons. The team would acquire running back Jerome Bettis in the offseason after releasing Morris for possession of illegal drugs months after Super Bowl XXX.
Dallas would win only one more postseason game until Injuries forced Michael Irvin and fullback Daryl Johnston to retire after the season, and Aikman also retired due to injuries one year later.
Smith became the NFL's all-time leading rusher in before he was released by the team after that season. The Vikings had led the Saints at halftime, but New Orleans scored three straight touchdowns.
Inside the play that saved the Vikings' season -- and crushed the Saints O'Connor: Magic in Minneapolis -- Keenum, Vikings get moment they've waited for Cronin: Saints' incredible comeback season ends with stunning heartbreak News: How players, celebrities reacted to Vikings' game-winner Video: Payton not blaming Williams for missed tackle Video: Vikings' Griffen -- 'It's unbelievable' Video: Initial reactions to Diggs' dramatic TD.
The Chiefs raced out to a halftime lead, but Marcus Mariota and the Titans stormed back with 19 unanswered points as the Kansas City offense stalled.
Derrick Henry rushed for yards and a touchdown in the win. Andy Reid may not be right coach for Chiefs after latest playoff collapse Wolfe: Titans can no longer be lukewarm on Mike Mularkey Graziano: Alex Smith, Andy Reid, and the questions ahead Wolfe: Mariota, Henry fuel comeback, first Titans playoff win since Teicher: Chiefs add a sad chapter to already dismal playoff history Video: The Monday Night Countdown crew breaks down the game.
Neither quarterback had efficient passing days, but Blake Bortles had a touchdown pass, ran for 88 yards and committed no turnovers, while Tyrod Taylor had an interception and couldn't get the Bills in the end zone in the loss.
Bills defy expectations by ending playoff drought DiRocco: Where will Tyrod Taylor play in ? Playoff loss to Jaguars should end Tyrod Taylor era in Buffalo.
Two early turnovers put the Rams in a hole, kicker Matt Bryant hit four field goals, and the Falcons' defense stifled Los Angeles when it mattered.
Julio Jones had nine catches for 94 yards and a touchdown, and Atlanta didn't turn over the ball. Sean McVay sees 'a good foundation we can build on' Sando: Falcons can soar against Carson Wentz-less Eagles in divisional round Gonzalez: Rams' turnaround comes up short, but their future looks bright Gonzalez: Rams' resurgent season ends early with loss to Falcons McClure: Falcons look up to challenge of being road warriors in Super Bowl quest Video: Jeff Saturday says the Falcons' commitment to the run helped them beat the Rams Video: After losing to the Falcons , Aaron Donald has a positive outlook on the Rams' season.
The Saints didn't get their ground game going, but Drew Brees torched the Carolina secondary for almost yards and two touchdowns. Cam Newton had a big game, too, but the Panthers' defense didn't hold up in New Orleans.
Panthers set for many changes in offseason, starting with new owner O'Connor: With season over, Panthers officially up for sale Triplett: Brees, Cam Jordan make sure Saints don't squander long-awaited playoff return Newton: Lack of playmakers, inability to beat Saints will define Panthers' season.
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