The NFL’s 12-team playoff field in 2015 is now down to just eight. The weekend’s Wild Card Round eliminated four teams (Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins) and advanced four others (Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers) to the Divisional Round.
Here’s a look at the best and worst from the Wild Card Round:
Kansas City won its first playoff game since Jan. 1994 with an attacking defense that tormented Brian Hoyer and the Texans. The Chiefs pitched a shutout, forcing five turnovers and sacking Hoyer three times. Houston finished with just 226 yards on 62 plays (3.6 yards per play), while making only one trip to the red zone (which ended in an interception).
Kansas City’s 30-0 win represented the third largest shutout win by a road team in NFL postseason history. The Chiefs are now allowing just 11.6 points per game over the team’s current 11-game win streak. Tom Brady and the Patriots are up next.
LB Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers
Shazier played like a heat-seaking missile for the Steelers against the Bengals. He tallied a game-high 13 tackles, with two tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery—but his impact transcended statistics.
His first big play came when he hammered down Giovanni Bernard and wrestled the ball away with the Bengals driving in the second half. Later, Shazier helped sniff out and stop Cincinnati’s odd two-point attempt after the Bengals took the lead late in the contest. He saved his best for last. Shazier kept the game alive when he stripped Jeremy Hill following a Landry Jones interception, giving the Steelers the ball back with 1:36 left in the fourth quarter. We’ll cover what happened next later.
Has the Packers offense finally flicked on the switch? Sunday’s win over Washington was a big step in the right direction, as Aaron Rodgers threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns and Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for 116 rushing yards and two more scores. Rodgers took just one sack—in the first quarter on a safety—and Green Bay scored 35 points for the first time since Week 3.
The Redskins don’t possess one of the NFL’s dominant defenses, but gaining a little confidence ahead of a rematch with the Arizona Cardinals—who blasted Rodgers and the Packers by 30 points in Week 16—can’t hurt. If the two-time MVP gets hot, Green Bay can still beat anyone.
S Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
Berry has to get a mention. From beating cancer, to playing in all 16 games, to making the Pro Bowl, to producing a playoff interception? All in one year? Berry continues to write the script for the very best story of the 2015 season.
QB Brian Hoyer, Houston Texans
Hoyer’s postseason debut was an unrelenting disaster. Houston failed to score over 12 possessions, as the Texans quarterback threw four interceptions and lost a fumble. Four of Hoyer’s five turnovers came in the first half, but head coach Bill O’Brien stuck with him despite a consistent chorus of boos from the NRG Stadium crowd.
While the Chiefs managed just two field goals off the five giveaways, the six points were more than enough to beat an offense that turned the ball over on its only real scoring opportunity of the contest. Hoyer’s four picks marked the 39th time in NFL history a quarterback has thrown four or more interceptions in a postseason game. Not surprisingly, teams are now 2-37 in those games.
LB Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati Bengals
Scan the boxscore and it’ll be a surprise to see Burfict’s name here. He finished Saturday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers with a sack, two tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and an interception. For the better part of 59 minutes, Burfict was arguably the best player on the field for the Bengals.
A few seconds of madness from one of the most volatile players in the NFL robbed the Bengals of a first playoff win in 25 years. Burfict’s foolish and dangerous hit on Antonio Brown handed the Steelers 15 free yards on their final drive, while also setting up the game-changing confrontation between Adam Jones and Joey Porter that tacked on another 15 yards. A play later, Pittsburgh kicked the go-ahead field goal and escaped Cincinnati with one of the craziest wins in recent playoff memory.
K Blair Walsh, Minnesota Vikings
Walsh’s three made field goals, from 22, 42 and 47 yards, provided the Vikings a 9-0 lead through three quarters. But it was his tragic miss—from 27 yards out with just 22 seconds left in the fourth—that cost Minnesota what should have been a sure-fire win. Holder Jeff Locke gave Walsh the laces (as he did once earlier in the game), and the Vikings kicker pulled his game-winning kick wide left. Struck from the left hash, the attempt never had a chance. It was an unfortunate, untimely miss on the cruelest of stages.
For the first time ever, all four road teams won in the Wild Card Round. Put another way, all four home teams lost. The Texans were blown out by 30 points, the Bengals threw away a comeback win, the Vikings missed a chip-shot field goal for the win and the Redskins allowed 35 of the game’s final 42 points in a 17-point loss.
The common denominator in all four games? The road team possessed the better, more experienced quarterback. Just like that, half of the NFL’s division winners in 2015 are out of the postseason.