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NFL Playoffs Are Set

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

After the dust settled, a lot of teams were on the outside looking in, including the Cowboys yet again.

NFL Playoffs Are Set

The NFL regular season came to a close last night on the eve of several meaningful games. There were win-and-in games as well as other teams that played with playoff hopes in limbo, so there was plenty of action. The dust has settled after a wild week of games and the playoff field is set. Let's take a look at what unfolded yesterday.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 - Dallas Cowboys 22

Different quarterback, same story for the Dallas Cowboys. Head coach Jason Garrett, for some strange reason, had Kyle Orton drop back and throw the ball 46 times against the Eagles. Never mind the fact that Orton had thrown 15 NFL passes total over the past two seasons. Running back DeMarco Murray had been running the ball incredibly well over the past 3 weeks. He got just 17 carries and only one in the fourth quarter. Granted, he wasn't as successful as he had been in weeks past, but there was no balance on offense at all for Dallas.

And, weirdly enough, the Cowboys still almost won the game. Orton performed exceptionally well, but Brandon Boykin intercepted the first pass of Dallas' final drive to seal the win and NFC East title for the Eagles. There's an incredible amount of talent on that offense, but to put so much of the offensive responsibility on Orton seems misguided. It will be yet another offseason of questions for the Cowboys after their third straight 8-8 season.

I don't really know how the Eagles nearly lost that one, especially with the way their offense seemed to dictate the pace of the game. LeSean McCoy rushed for 131 yards on 27 carries and hauled in a touchdown pass on the goal line. Nick Foles wasn't as efficient as he usually is (the Dallas pass rush had something to do with that) but still went 17-26 with two touchdowns, no interceptions and only a fumble lost. That diversity on offense and the dual-threat of McCoy is going to make Philadelphia highly dangerous in the playoffs. Only their defense can hold them back.

Green Bay Packers 33 - Chicago Bears 28

This game was like a boxing match. I should re-phrase that: this game was like a Hollywood movie boxing match. In real boxing, fighters play a little defense. This was more like a Rocky Balboa fight that features wild haymakers and no attempt to block the punches coming at you. 

In the end, the Packers were the last ones standing in probably the most exciting game of the day. Both Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb returned for this win-and-in game, and the two hooked up on the play that eventually sent the Packers to the playoffs. After converting a couple big fourth downs as time wound down, Rodgers and Cobb did this (via SB Nation):

Just like the GIF says, Aaron Rodgers is pretty awesome. That's one hell of a throw. This was the highlight of Sunday, in my opinion.

Jay Cutler almost had the Bears in a position for a go-ahead score, but Brandon Marshall dropped a pass that would have given Chicago a more realistic shot at the end zone. Rodgers wasn't fantastic, but he was way better than anything Matt Flynn could have given them. The defense is atrocious in Green Bay, but in Rodgers I trust, especially with Eddie Lacy and James Starks in the backfield.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 - Cleveland Browns 7; Cincinnati Bengals 34 - Baltimore Ravens 17; New York Jets 20 - Miami Dolphins 7

The AFC Wild Card scenarios were so muddled that no team truly controlled their own destiny. Each one had to win and then hope for a host of other things to happen. In the early games, things seemed to be going Pittsburgh's way. They took care of business with a 20-7 win over the Browns, their sixth win in eight games. The Ravens and Dolphins each put up duds, which was quite surprising considering the dire situation ahead for them. Pittsburgh was looking good heading into the afternoon after those results, needing only a San Diego loss to get an improbably entry to the postseason after an awful 2-6 start.

San Diego Chargers 27 - Kansas City Chiefs 24 (OT)

But the Steelers didn't get the help they needed. They certainly didn't get that help from the Chiefs, who played their second unit against San Diego. With a playoff spot clinched, KC has every right to rest their regulars. It has to sting if your Pittsburgh, but they aren't owed anything by the Chiefs.

What has to sting even more for Pittsburgh is the fact that poor officiating in the game likely cost them a spot in the playoffs. With the game tied, Chiefs kicker Ryan Succup missed a 41-yard field goal at the end of the fourth quarter. However, ardent viewers were able to point out an illegal overloaded formation by the Chargers that should have resulted in a penalty and a replay of the down. Succup likely won't miss twice, especially once you move him inside 40 yards.

Then in overtime, the Chargers went for a fake punt in their own territory on a 4th and 2. Safety Eric Weddle took the ball and pushed forward for a first down. In the scrum, the ball ended up in the Chiefs hands somehow and they scampered in for what appeared to be the game-winning score. However, forward progress was ruled on the field. The Chargers got a first down and eventually a field goal. The "Chiefs" couldn't respond and the Chargers won the game. But take a closer look at this play:

It's tough to definitively say whether or not forward progress was stopped. It still looked like he was fighting for more yards and there are still Chargers linemen pushing Weddle forward when the ball is knocked loose. The play wasn't reviewed because, as FOX's analyst/former NFL official Mike Pereira noted, forward progress isn't reviewable under the current replay rules. In real time, it looks like the play should have been a fumble and touchdown. But instead, the Chargers are in the playoffs and Pittsburgh's season is over.

We'll have a look later in the week at the individual matchups, but what a way to go into the postseason. 

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