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Arnie Leshin’s take on the NFL championships

Three game-winning field goals Saturday and Sunday, with the fourth contest a thrilling overtime victory for the Kansas City Chiefs over the visiting Buffalo Bills, while this weekend features the conference championships

The game winners via final-play field goals were the Cincinnati Bengals over the Tennessee Titans, the San Francisco 49ers over the Green Bay Packers, and the Los Angeles Rams over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

By ARNIE LESHIN, Santa Fe Today

It was two exciting days of “Can you top this?”

It began early Saturday afternoon with the National Football League division playoffs. Now, the previous weekend’s wild card round was a quality five games except that only one contest was close.

It was in Sunday’s middle game that the 6th-seeded San Francisco 49ers (12-7) disposed of the 3rd-seeded Dallas, 23-17, before a disappointed Cowboys turnout of 93,037 at A & T Stadium in Arlington, and Jerry Jones’ club concluded at 12-6.

The other four did not quite end that way. On Saturday, the 4th-seeded Cincinnati Bengals handed the visiting 5th-seeded Las Vegas Raiders a 26-19 setback, and in Buffalo in the nightcap, the 3rd-seeded Bills rolled past the 4th-seeded New England Patriots, 47-17.

Then came the other Sunday games. In the opener, the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Bucaneers, the 2nd-seed, dominated the visiting 6th-seeded Philadelphia Eagles, 31-15, and in the closer, it was last year’s Super Bowl runners-up Kansas City Chiefs, a 2nd-seed, overwhelming the 5th-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers, 42-21.  

But this weekend’s four-game divisional round clearly had much more excitement, three of the first four tilts ending with game-winning field goals, where on Saturday it was Cincinnati rookie Evan McPherson booting the 52-yarder clearly through the uprights to nip the top-seeded Tennessee Titans, 19-16, and end the Titans’ run at 12-7.

Then In game two, it was 38-year-old Robbie Gould doing the same in his 44-yard kick that sailed through the uprights and brought a thriller for San Francisco at the Green Bay Packers, where temperatures at Lambeau Field dropped to 10 degrees on a tundra-like frozen field.

Then came the Sunday opener and the same thing occurred when the 4th-seeded Los Angeles Rams’ Matt Gay took the snap with the game’s final play and his 30-yard field goal zipped through the uprights in a 30-27 squeaker at the Tampa Bay Bucs, and that wound down the Bucs’ season at 12-5, while LA advanced to 13-6.

The weekend’s final game at Arrowhead Stadium didn’t end the same way, but it was still a wild conclusion when the visiting Bills and the Chiefs combined for a record 25 points in the fourth quarter that also brought four lead changes.

It was a back-and-fourth tussle that Buffalo (12-6) thought it had won when quarterback Josh Allen tossed a 19-yard third touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis with 13 seconds remaining and a 36-35 lead. Before that, Allen tossed a go-ahead record fourth TD pass to Davis, with 1:54 left in regulation.

But just as sudden, KC’s versatile quarterback Patrick Mahomes wasn’t thinking overtime. From his own 30, he completed a 64-yard sideline pass to Tyreek Hill, and with 1:02 left, Harrison Bucker tied it with a 49-yard field goal into the chilly breeze that did bring the OT. 

But Allen, calling the overtime coin toss for the visiting team, made the wrong pick as he called out “tails.” But this time, “Tails never fails,” did fail and the important possession belonged to KC.

At 10:45 of the extra session, Mahomes floated an 8-yard pass to Kelce in the end zone and the victorious Chiefs stormed the field while the home crowd of 73,242 let loose.

So now, Kansas City (14-5) will play host to the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals (12-7), the 4th-seed, in the Sunday conference final scheduled for a 1:05 afternoon kickoff on CBS.

It will once again send Cincinnati onto the field as it has already eliminated yet another long drought in which it hadn’t reached this level in 16 years. On the road, Cincinnati figures to be a slight underdog.

Game two on Sunday is all-California. Now instead of the Niners (12-7)    taking another long flight, it now only has a 30-minute hop to Los Angeles to play at the Rams’ designated Super Bowl site at sparkling-new SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.

Plus the Niners have beaten their state and NFC West rival Rams six straight times, twice each over the past two seasons, and instead of traveling to face ageless Tom Brady in Tampa Bay, this destination will also bring more San Francisco fans as both teams get the same limited amount of tickets.

But with these negative results against the 49ers, will the Rams be favored? If not, whoever becomes the pick will not be favored by much.

Now Tampa Bay last year became the first franchise to win the Super Bowl on its home field, now LA can do the same.

But first the team from Hollywood must finally get past its northern coastal opponents.

In the 1:05 afternoon opener to be seen on CBS, it will be matching the AFC finalist — the Cincinnati Bengals at the Kansas City Chiefs, and in the NFC final scheduled for a 4:40 start, it will send the San Francisco 49rs to the Los Angeles Rams.

Next stop for the two winners will be the Feb. 13 Super Bowl, which would give both LA and San Fran an advantage after they meet up SoFi Stadium. But that’s only an afterthought, for the tilt itself will be the decider.

No Brady this time, but there’s other quality quarterbacks taking the field, with veteran Matthew Stafford, who played his entire pro career with the Detroit Lions before being traded to the Rams, Jimmy Garappolo in his final contract year with the 49ers, Mahomes still displaying his versatility with the Chiefs, and can’t forget the Bengals’ Heisman Trophy winner, Joe Burrow, with all four doing a dandy job getting their teams this far.

With nothing slated for Lambeau Field this time, the higher temperatures should be in Los Angeles, with no chance of snow and a slight wind with temps perhaps in the 50s. In KC, you can expect maybe snow flurries, some breezy winds, and temperatures as low as 20-30 degrees.

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