The divisional round of the NFL playoffs was a bit of a disappointment from an entertainment perspective; despite having four interesting matchups, only one was decided by fewer than ten points. That one close game was the Chiefs and backup quarterback Chad Henne surviving a rally from the Browns to keep their title defense alive. The Packers, Bills, and Buccaneers all advanced to conference championship weekend with relative ease.
Still, there were plenty of notable moments and performances. Like we did last week with the wild card round, let's run through everything that happened from a Vikings-centric angle.
Stefon Diggs shines again as Bills advance
One week ago, Stefon Diggs showed why he was the NFL's leading receiver in the regular season by posting a 6/128/1 line in his Bills playoff debut. He was back at it in the divisional round, catching eight of 11 targets for 106 yards and Buffalo's lone offensive TD. Diggs saw 30 percent of Josh Allen's targets but made up 51 percent of his passing yardage as the Bills beat the Ravens 17-3.
It was yet another all-around dominant performance from Diggs, who earned PFF's offensive player of the week award. He thrived in the short and intermediate areas of the field with his route-running, sure hands, and YAC ability, and could've had a much bigger day if Allen hadn't overthrown him on a deep ball. Diggs consistently helped Allen and the Bills move the chains, and got into the end zone on a screen pass in the third quarter.
It's becoming more and more difficult to argue that Diggs isn't a top-three wide receiver right now. He's gone over 100 yards in five of the last six games, and he rested after halftime in a blowout during the one time that he didn't reach that mark. He has meshed perfectly with Allen and is now one game away from the Super Bowl. The Bills are headed to Kansas City next weekend for the AFC title game.
Every time Diggs plays well, particularly over these past two postseason games, he generates a lot of discussion on Vikings internet circles. There are two main ways of viewing the situation. One is that the Vikings were smart to get good value in trading a player who didn't want to be in Minnesota, and since they replaced him with record-breaking rookie Justin Jefferson, everything worked out for all parties. The other is that the Vikings' run-first offensive philosophy, which caused Diggs to want out in the first place, is holding the team back from legitimate contention and an overhaul (which would mean replacing Mike Zimmer) is needed if they want to be Super Bowl contenders in the near future.
I won't get into my full thoughts on that issue right now. There will be time for that later on. But if Diggs and the Bills win next week, and potentially even win the whole thing, those conversations are going to keep getting louder in Minnesota.
Leslie Frazier pitches a gem
Diggs was excellent, but Buffalo's offense wasn't the reason why it beat the Ravens. That unit only put up 10 points all game. No, it was Leslie Frazier's defense that led the way. The former Vikings head coach had a fantastic gameplan that held Lamar Jackson and Baltimore to just three points on the evening. The Ravens had moderate success on the ground, but could get nothing going through the air. The game's defining play was a 101-yard pick six by the Bills' Taron Johnson.
Frazier has spent the past four seasons as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach to Sean McDermott, and he may be on his way to receiving another head coaching gig in the near future. Frazier interviewed for the Texans' opening on Sunday, and even if he doesn't get that job, teams could be interested in his services in the coming years. He's done a fantastic job in Buffalo.
Kevin Stefanski's amazing first season in Cleveland ends
The Browns, who are coached by Kevin Stefanski and are loaded with former Vikings on the active roster and coaching staff, very nearly upset the defending champion Chiefs on Sunday afternoon. Trailing 19-3 at half, Cleveland rallied to make it a 22-17 game in the fourth quarter. With Patrick Mahomes having already left the game due to a concussion, the opportunity was right there for the Browns to take.
They couldn't get it done. Stefanski made a questionable choice to punt the ball on 4th and 9 from his own 32 with a little over four minutes remaining and one timeout in his pocket. It wasn't an egregiously bad decision to punt, but it didn't work out as the Browns never got the ball back. Henne made a huge play to scramble for 13 yards on 3rd and 14, and then found Tyreek Hill on a shocking pass play on 4th and 1 to seal the game.
Even though they won't play in the AFC championship game, what a season for Stefanski and the Browns. First playoff appearance since 2002. First playoff victory since 1994. There's work to do this offseason, but Stefanski appears to have the franchise headed in the right direction.
Vikings rivals go 1 for 2 in the NFC
Heading into the weekend, Vikings fans had two clear rooting interests: the Rams to beat the Packers and the Buccaneers to beat the Saints. Green Bay is Minnesota's most hated rival, but New Orleans isn't far behind.
It started out poorly, as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers handled the Rams in a 32-18 victory. The No. 1 seed Packers have looked like the best team in the NFC all season and nearly doubled up LA in total offense, sealing the victory with a long touchdown pass from Rodgers to Allen Lazard in the fourth quarter.
But things went better for the Vikings faithful on Sunday. The Saints limped to a 30-20 loss to the Bucs, with Drew Brees having an awful day in what may be his final NFL game. Brees was held to 134 yards and threw three picks, Michael Thomas didn't catch a single pass, and the Saints were sent home without a Super Bowl appearance for the fourth straight season. Over that time period, they've gone 49-15 in the regular season but just 3-4 in the playoffs, with each of the past three losses coming at home.
Making it even sweeter for Vikings fans who are still angry about 2009-10 is that Antoine Winfield Jr. played a role in Tampa Bay's victory by forcing a fumble. His dad, Antoine Winfield Sr., was on that 2009 Vikings team and was present in New Orleans on Sunday.
Now, Minnesotans will be hoping Tom Brady and the Bucs can come through again by preventing the Packers from getting back to the Super Bowl next Sunday.
Other performances by former Vikings:
- Ravens DE Yannick Ngakoue: 1 QB hurry
- Browns S Andrew Sendejo: 1 tackle
- Browns DT Sheldon Richardson: 2 QB hurries, 2 tackles
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