Last one standing: A guide to the NFL playoffs

by Muthu Panchanatham, Sports Reporter

Since the beginning of January, the top NFL teams have been battling it out on this country’s biggest stages, hoping to make it to the most-watched sporting event in America: the Super Bowl. Tomorrow, the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers will face off at 3:40 p.m. following the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans at 12:05 p.m. in their respective conference finals, with the winners of each matchup advancing to the Super Bowl. 

Aditya Singhvi

How do the playoffs work?

 The NFL is split into two conferences, the AFC and NFC, and only the twelve teams with the best records in the regular season make it to the playoffs. The two teams with the highest win percentage in each conference receive a bye in the first round of the playoffs;  their players rest up and do not have to worry about being knocked out of the playoffs during the first round, called wild card weekend. 

The remaining eight teams without a bye week must play within their conferences to make it to the divisional round, where the first and second seeds will play the wild card winners. The teams that win these matchups face off in conference championships for a spot in the Super Bowl, ultimately hoping to lift the Lombardi trophy on Feb. 2 in Miami. 

What has happened so far?

This year, the playoffs have presented a vast amount of controversies, thrills, and disappointments. The Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs received a bye in the AFC, while the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers had a week off from the NFC. 

In the AFC, the Houston Texans defeated the Buffalo Bills in an overtime thriller, stemming from miraculous plays made by quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Tennessee Titans, spearheaded by their bulldozer of a running back Derrick Henry, pulled off an upset against the reigning champion New England Patriots, provoking since-quelled rumors of Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady’s retirement. 

The NFC also exhibited its share of excitement as the Philadelphia Eagles were routed by the Seattle Seahawks after the Eagles’ star quarterback Carson Wentz was injured on a play made by Seahawks defensive end Jadaveon Clowney. The Minnesota Vikings squeezed past the New Orleans Saints on a questionable touchdown catch by the tight end Kyle Rudolph, making it three straight seasons that the Saints have lost in the playoffs on the last drive of the game.

In the divisional round, the top teams who had rested up during their bye week returned to the field, taking on the wild card winners who had just won tough victories. In the NFC, the 49ers comfortably defeated the Vikings, their stout defense stopping the powerful Minnesota offense in its tracks. The Packers held off a late game comeback from the Seahawks to advance to the conference championship.

In the NFC, after trailing 24-0 in the first quarter, quarterback Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs past the Texans, securing their spot in the conference championship. Meanwhile, for the second time in a row, the underdog Titans came out on top, this time against the Ravens, the number one seed and original favorite to win the Super Bowl. 

What will the games tomorrow look like?

Playing at home in Santa Clara, the stout 49ers defense, led by the likes of Richard Sherman and Nick Bosa, will have to stand up to the Packers’ dynamic offensive trio of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Davante Adams, and running back Aaron Jones. On the other side of the ball, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will look to quiet his critics and secure a spot in Miami for his team. The 49ers routed the Packers, 37-8, during their only regular-season matchup in November. 

The Chiefs, the new favorites to win the Super Bowl, are heavily favored against the underdog Titans; however, if the Chiefs defense fails to contain running back Derrick Henry tomorrow, the Titans could potentially pull off yet another upset against a talented young Kansas City team. When these teams last met, the Titans overcame a deficit late in the fourth to secure a 35-33 comeback victory in Week 10. 

The Chiefs and Titans kickoff at 12:05 p.m. tomorrow, with the 49ers and Packers following at 3:40 p.m.