By Arnie Leshin
The guessing game has begun. Eight National Football League teams are left in quest of the confetti falling and another Super Bowl team celebrating.
Last year it was the Philadelphia Eagles carrying off the championship trophy for the second time and keeping the New England Patriots from winning the big prize for the fifth time. Entering the final weekend of the regular season, Philly appeared to run out of time.
But it was as time stood still, and because of games that went down to the final whistle with game-ending heroics, the Eagles got in as the National Conference sixth seed when the stunned Pittsburgh Steelers were eliminated in the final seconds, and then nipped the Bears, 16-15, by virtue of a missed field goal by Chicago on the final play.
These results also brought jubilation in Baltimore as the Ravens snuck in as a fourth seed. The Dallas Cowboys, who thought they eliminated division-rival Philadelphia the previous weekend, advanced by winning the division by blanking the Washington Redskins, who had been the leader for the first five weeks, and then shocking the upset-minded New York Giants by scoring on the last play in New Jersey.
That surprisingly earned both the Cowboys and Eagles playoff berths, and they didn’t stop there when Dallas held off the visiting Seattle Seahawks, 24-22, and Philly upset the Bears in Chicago.
Meanwhile, the red-hot Indianapolis Colts hit the road to open up a 21-0 lead in Houston and then hold off a late Texans challenge for their 11th win in the last dozen games.
Which left Indy packing its bags for Kansas City to tackle the top-seeded AFC Chiefs. And the 5thseeded Los Angeles Chargers won 23-17 in Houston by taking a 13-0 lead, and not only did LA win 8 of 9 road games, but had a chip on its shoulder while waiting for its new stadium to be built.
The Chargers came in with a 12-4 record, tying the Chiefs for the top record in the conference, but KC won the tiebreaker, and that dropped Los Angeles to second place in the AFC West and it became the fifth seed. Now its confidence is high as it plays the Patriots in New England, always a tough task, but Los Angeles has been a tough team.
And in the NFC, Dallas earned a trip to the 2ndseeded Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia travels to top-seeded New Orleans. Both are underdogs, but surprises are still possible.
The early morning odds have Kansas City by 5 points, the Rams by 7, New England by 4, and the Saints by 8.
The Colts and Chiefs lead off the playoffs at 2:35 (EST) Saturday on NBC. In the second game, the scheduled 6:15 (EST) kickoff matches the Rams and Cowboys on FOX.
On Sunday, the early game is slated for 11:05 (EST) with the Chargers meeting up with the Patson CBS. In the closer scheduled for 2:40 (EST), it’s the Eagles at the Saints on FOX.
The following Sunday is the final stop before the Feb, 3 Super Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. It will be for the conference championships, with the NFC final at 1:05 (EST) on FOX and the AFC final at 4:40 (EST) on CBS.
Indianapolis appears to be on a genuine run and is the pick to surprise Kansas City. The Chargers are also playing good enough and has a shot at winning in New England.
Philadelphia and Dallas have tough tasks, which could lead to Los Angeles versus Los Angeles for the conference title, but the unexpected is still in play.
The last teams from Los Angeles that won the Super Bowl were the Rams and the then-Los Angeles Raiders. It hasn’t been often, but all signs lead to an LA team getting there.