The NFL’s best eight teams squared off on the gridiron this weekend to determine who would emerge at the doorstep of the Super Bowl. Saturday and Sunday featured some intriguing contests, with four teams advancing to the conference championship round, and four other teams starting their offseason earlier than they wanted to.
Let’s take a look at three important takeaways that fans can learn from the Divisional Round.
Mahomes Is A Tough Player
The slate of games started off with an interesting turn of events. The Kansas City Chiefs were predicted to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars handily on Saturday, and the contest appeared to be headed in that direction. However, when Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes painfully limped around in the first half of the game, it became apparent that the star signal caller was legitimately compromised.
He was seen demonstratively arguing with trainers and members of the coaching staff on the sideline, pleading them to let him back into the game. Reserve quarterback Chad Henne briefly entered the game, and led a long touchdown drive that kept Kansas City in control. No one knew whether Mahomes would come back on to the field with his high ankle sprain.
After halftime, the Arrowhead stadium crowd roared as their franchise player returned to the field, albeit still with a limp. He wasn’t able to run around the pocket as much as he normally does, but Mahomes still delivered throws down the field to send Kansas City to another AFC title game.
The Bengals Were Not A One-Hit Wonder
While their level of talent cannot be questioned, the Cincinnati Bengals weren’t necessarily viewed as a team that would be involved in the Super Bowl mix again this season. Their run a year ago was impressive, but now that teams caught on to them, they figured to take a step back as the AFC improved.
That has simply not been the case. The Bengals are as dangerous as any team remaining in the playoffs, and they proved it emphatically with a statement win on the road against the Buffalo Bills. Cincinnati’s offense seemed to do whatever it wanted during the game, as it got chunk plays from its ground game and through the air.
The likes of Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins figure to be competing in playoff games for many years to come, and might have a ring to show for it this year.
Dallas’ Most Important Player Might’ve Been Tony Pollard
The weekend concluded with a classic matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers. There were a plethora of stars on the field on both offense and defense, but perhaps the most unheralded was Cowboys running back Tony Pollard. Most fans have realized that Pollard is the most explosive player in Dallas’ backfield, but his value was underscored significantly on Sunday.
That’s because the Cowboys were forced to play without their speedy back, as Pollard suffered a broken leg and an ankle injury in the waning moments of the second quarter. His removal from the game essentially allowed San Francisco to focus in on Dallas’ passing game primarily, making them one-dimensional.
Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t able to churn out yardage in Pollard’s absence, which hurt Dallas’ ability to keep the 49ers off balance.