NFL playoffs: Rested Chiefs, Eagles join postseason party
(AP) - The rested Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles join the NFL playoff party on Saturday in the divisional round, adding a pair of heavyweights to the postseason mix.
In the AFC, the Chiefs host the Jacksonville Jaguars in the afternoon game. The Jaguars and second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence provided one of the most surprising playoff performances in recent history when they rallied from a 27-0 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Chargers 31-30 last weekend.
The top-seeded Eagles host the New York Giants in an NFC nightcap. The Giants already have won once on the road this postseason, beating the Vikings 31-24.
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones — in his first playoff game — became one of the stars of wild-card weekend after throwing for 301 yards and two touchdowns while running for 78 yards in a stellar all-around performance. Saquon Barkley rushed for two scores.
The Eagles and Chiefs are the top seeds in these playoffs for a reason. Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts has enjoyed a breakout season leading a talented roster while Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been among the game’s elite for several years and helped the Chiefs win the Super Bowl three years ago.
The Chiefs and Eagles didn’t have to play during wild-card weekend because the top-seeded team in each conference receives a bye to the divisional round.
Vegas likes both top seeds on Saturday: The Eagles are a 7 1/2-point favorite while the Chiefs are an 9 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
There will be two more games on Sunday. The Bills host the Bengals in the afternoon while the Cowboys travel to face the 49ers at night.
Football fans are undoubtedly hoping this weekend’s games can live up to last weekend’s performance during the wild-card round, when no lead was safe.
The Bills blew a 17-point advantage before recovering to beat the Dolphins. That narrow escape came less than 24 hours after the Jaguars overcame a 27-point deficit in one of the most stunning rallies in playoff history.
Multiple games were decided in the final minutes. The Bengals beat the Ravens 24-17 after Sam Hubbard returned Baltimore quarterback Tyler Huntley’s fumble 98 yards for a tiebreaking touchdown in the fourth quarter, a surprising turn of events after the Ravens were poised to take the lead.
Huntley tried to go over the top of the line for the go-ahead score. But he was stood up by Germaine Pratt and stripped by Logan Wilson.
The ball went right to Hubbard at the 2, and the defensive end took off down the field for the longest fumble return for a touchdown in NFL postseason history. It also was the longest go-ahead TD in the fourth quarter in the playoffs.
WHAT’S THE FORMAT FOR THE PLAYOFFS?
This is the third straight year of the current playoff format, which includes the top seven teams from both the AFC and the NFC.
The four division winners in both conferences automatically get the top four seeds, regardless of record, and then the top three teams with the best record that didn’t win their division are the wild-card selections. That’s why it’s fairly common for a wild-card selection to have a better record — but worse playoff seeding — than a team that finished as a division winner.
The No. 1-seeded team in each conference gets a bye into the second round — that’s the Chiefs and Eagles — while No. 2 hosts No. 7, No. 3 hosts No. 6 and No. 4 hosts No. 5 during the wild-card weekend.
The NFL re-seeds teams after each playoff round. That means no matter how the bracket started, the lowest-seeded team always travels to the highest-seeded team.
There are four rounds to the playoffs: The wild-card round finished last weekend, the divisional round is this weekend, the conference championship games are on Jan. 29 and the Super Bowl is scheduled for Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona.
WHAT CHANGED WITH BILLS-BENGALS CANCELLATION?
Players and fans watched in horror on Jan. 2 as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field at Cincinnati when his heart stopped and he received CPR before leaving the field in an ambulance. Over the next week, those same players and fans reacted with joy at news of Hamlin’s recovery.
Even better news came last weekend: Hamlin visited with teammates at the Bills’ facility for the first time since being discharged from a Buffalo hospital.
The cancellation of the Bills-Bengals game because of Hamlin’s medical scare could lead to one big change to the AFC playoff format.
The AFC championship game would be played at a neutral site if the Chiefs and Bills reach that point under a rule adjustment approved by NFL owners. That’s because Buffalo (13-3) played one fewer game than Kansas City (14-3) and missed out on a chance to earn the top seed. The Bills beat the Chiefs 24-20 on Oct. 16 and would have held the tiebreaker had the teams finished with the same record. Buffalo lost 42-36 at Kansas City in a divisional-round classic last season.
The Chiefs would host the AFC title game against any other team, including the third-seeded Bengals (12-4).
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