Tennessee vs. New England, Jacksonville vs. Pittsburgh—It’s on in the AFC!
Vincent Davis | 1/11/2018, 1:15 p.m.
At the beginning of the NFL season, the Kansas City Chiefs were ranked with this season’s most elite teams. Not only did they win their first five games, but also they defeated the Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots in the Patriots building on opening night, the league’s very first game to open the 2017-18 season.
New England also received their Super Bowl rings that night. Despite the ruination of their festivities, the Patriots went on to have a 13-3 record, the No. 1 seed in the AFC Conference, last Sunday, Wild Card weekend off, and home field advantage in each of the conference rounds.
The Chiefs switched directions, changed up after their five wins and preceded to lose their next six of seven games, ending the season 10-6, and losing to the Tennessee Titans 22-21 Sunday, Game 1 of the playoffs, the very first round of the playoffs, the road to the Super Bowl next month, February.
Tennessee got off to a slow start, giving up 21 first-half points. Down 21-3, third-year quarterback Marcus Mariota led Tennessee on a 19-point run and took the lead when it was most important, at the end of the game. An epic collapse reminiscent of last year’s Super Bowl was the Patriots’ come from behind victory over the Atlanta Falcons. It was a complete shutdown of the Chiefs’ offense—zero second-half points.
Mariota, chosen with the second pick in the first round held by the Titans in the 2015 NFL Draft, moves on to the Divisional Round, matching him against 18-year veteran Tom Brady, 40, and the Patriots Saturday night. Brady, a two-time league and four-time Super Bowl MVP, has led his team to five bowl championships.
Game 2 features the Jacksonville Jaguars, who beat the Buffalo Bills 10-3 last week in the lowest scored game of the weekend versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, the two-seed in the AFC.
Also 13-3 this season, the Steelers matched the Patriots in wins and losses, but two of those three losses haunt them: a loss to Jacksonville in Week 5 and a loss to the Patriots at the end of the season.
The Steelers’ 30-9 loss to the Jaguars gives Jacksonville confidence going into Sunday afternoon’s game that they can beat the Steelers again. Their loss to New England, 27-24, a close one, one of the league’s most competitive games this season that went down to the final seconds in Week 15, ended with a major calf injury to their receiver Antonio Brown, one of the league’s best, sidelining him for the remainder of the regular season. The loss assured the Patriots of their home field advantage. Brown has returned this week for practice after recuperating and rehabbing from surgery.
“He’s the best in the business,” said Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who’s been to the Super Bowl twice, winning one, losing the other. Having a world-class receiver such as Brown makes his job easier. It opens up the field because of the additional attention that needs to be paid to him—double-coverage or triple-coverage.
“He’s going to make plays,” said center Maurkice Pouncey.
“I feel I was able to go through practice,” said Brown, describing his first day back Monday. “I can still get a little better, but it feels good to be out there.”