Tom Brady beats Washington in the search for his seventh Super BowlWikimedia Commons

Everybody loves the play-offs. There’s nothing simpler than a make-or-break, win-or-lose, knockout game. And in the last fortnight, we had 10 of these. The history of the play-offs is filled with ‘miracles’ and drama. The 2020 postseason has not disappointed.

Post-Season: Head Coaches Hired and Fired, QBs Retire and Super Bowl Officials Announced

Following the end of the regular season, teams who have struggled this year have made wholesale changes to their coaching staff. The Jets, Jaguars, Falcons, Lions and Chargers, all of whom finished the season with losing records, have hired new head coaches. Most interestingly of all, Robert Saleh, the man who coached San Francisco’s defence to the Super Bowl last year, has become the first Muslim head coach in the NFL, having been snapped up by the New York Jets this week.

Equally, two of the great quarterbacks of the 2010s, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees have considered retirement following the ends to their teams’ seasons. Despite their esteemed careers, Brees was the only one out of the two to win a Super Bowl (2010). While Rivers has officially announced his retirement, Brees is not officially calling it a day. However, all evidence suggests that he will follow suit after his twenty years in the league.

In other exciting news, the officiating team for the Super Bowl in February has been announced and, for the first time, includes a female official. Her role will be as the ‘down judge’, who keeps an eye on how many yards have been made and whether the attacking team has gained a first down.

Wildcard Round

In previous years, the first round of the play-offs would usually consist of four games. However, this year, the NFL treated us to an extra two. The nature of the wildcard round is such that there are usually one or two obvious underdogs and this year, Washington and Chicago filled these spots. While the Bears were suffocated by the Saints defence, managing only 9 points, Washington put up a stronger effort to take Brady’s Buccaneers all the way to the final quarter. Forced to play their third-string QB, Taylor Heinicke, the game was never out of sight for Washington. However, after missing their chance to tie it at 18-18 late in the third quarter, they were ultimately unable to stage an upset.

Interestingly, we also saw two divisional match-ups, both of which had just been played in the last two weeks of the regular season. While the Browns were able to replicate their Week 17 victory over the Steelers, the Seahawks could not do the same against the Rams, losing 20-30 thanks to the impressive performance by the Rams defence. The Steelers, on the other hand, have no one to blame but themselves, gifting away points so quickly that by the end of the first quarter, they found themselves 28-0 down. There was no coming back.

With this, the Browns dramatically marked the end of a long and difficult run by winning their first play-off game since 1994. Against their biggest rivals. 48-37. The city of Cleveland was rocking on Sunday night. The Buffalo Bills marked a similar achievement with their 27-24 win against the Indianapolis Colts, having won their last play-off game in 1995.

Divisional Round

So, with the Steelers, Bears, Titans, Colts, Seahawks and Washington eliminated, the two top-seeded teams, the Chiefs and the Packers joined the fray to fill out the final eight.

Despite being the favourites, the top two were put through their paces by the Browns and Rams respectively. Although the Packers always seemed just too far ahead in their game with the Rams, there was a window in the fourth quarter where a victory might not be guaranteed. At 18-25, Packers QB Rodgers showed why he is one of the best in the league: looking across the field, he coolly points to his receiver, Allen Lazard, where he might find a gap downfield, receives the snap and promptly launches the ball all the way down to Lazard for a 58-yard, game-winning touchdown.

Elsewhere, we witnessed a matchup between two titans of the game: Tom Brady and his Buccaneers and Drew Brees and his Saints. The two legendary QBs have over 40 years of experience between them and the game did not disappoint. It was a tight affair until the final quarter which, beginning at 20-20, ended with a 10-point Buccaneer victory, following two interceptions thrown by Brees. This may well be the last time we see Drew Brees on a football field.

The Browns provided us with yet more drama this week in their game against the current champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. Having lost their star QB to a concussion in the third quarter but winning 19-10, the Chiefs were forced to use their backup QB, Chad Henne. With the Browns mounting a late comeback, Henne made an impressive effort to cling on to a 22-17 victory.

The Ravens, who also lost their QB – Lamar Jackson – to a head injury, were not so lucky. Following his departure, they were subsequently beaten 17-3 by the Bills.

Play-Off Bracket

Following the last fortnight of football, we are left with four teams and three games to be played: two conference championships and Super Bowl 55. Plenty of entertainment left in store.