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American Football The NFL play-offs are taking shape

THE Minnesota Miracle, The Tip, The Music City Miracle, some of the most famous plays in NFL history all come to you from the NFL play-offs — not the Super Bowl, but from teams and players striving to get there, giving it their all for a shot at the big game. 

The NFL, as you may know, is split into two conferences, the NFC and the AFC. The season so far is all to decide who goes into the end of season play-offs, a knockout competition to decide who plays in the NFC and AFC championships, the winners then playing each other in the Super Bowl. 

Just two years ago, the Minnesota Vikings knocked the highly favoured New Orleans Saints out of the play-offs with the final play of the game, to win 29-23.

Having come back from 17-0 down, the Saints were leading by one point and with just 25 seconds remaining, the Vikings had the ball 61 yards from the end zone. 

Enter wide receiver Stefon Diggs who caught a 27-yards pass from quarterback Case Keenum, dodged safety Marcus Williams and ran in for the winning score. 

It was the first time in play-off history that a team had won with a touchdown as time expired. 

Diggs was a little lost for words following the game. 

“I still don’t know what just happened. I really don’t.

“Damn, that shit felt good!”

In 2013, the Seattle Seahawks won one of the biggest walkover Super Bowl victories we have ever seen, 43-8 v the Denver Broncos.

They led from the first play of the game when Broncos QB Peyton Manning didn’t catch the snap and the ball was recovered for a safety score in the end zone. 

The route to the play-offs was tougher for the Seahawks though and in the NFC Championship they needed to beat division-mates, the San Francisco 49ers.

The Seahawks led but needing just a score, the Colin Kaepernick-led 49ers were advancing on the Seahawks end zone. 

“The Tip” then occurred. With just 30 seconds remaining, the quarterback took aim at his wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the corner of the end zone, only for Richard Sherman to “tip” the ball to stop Crabtree from making the catch. 

It was some quick-thinking from Sherman because he was able to deflect the pass into the welcoming arms of future Super Bowl MVP Malcom Smith. 

Sherman gave a controversial interview after the game, sounding like there had been some words with Crabtree during the contest.

“Well, I’m the best corner[back] in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get! Don’t you ever talk about me!”

Finally, the Music City Miracle, called that as it took place in Nashville, home of the Tennessee Titans, in the year 2000. 

With a one-point lead and 16 seconds to go, the Bufallo Bills players were already celebrating moving on to the next round of the play-offs — they kicked off having scored a field goal. 

Titans special teams coach Alan Lowry had a special play in mind, one which he had apparently seen 18 years earlier in a university game between Southern Methodist University and Texas State University. 

Having caught the kick off, the ball was flipped to tight end Frank Wycheck, he then threw a lateral (backwards) pass across the field to Kevin Dyson. 

The Bills defence was thrown completely off guard and Dyson was able to run the ball 75 yards into the end zone behind an escort of blockers. 

The was a lot of controversy which followed the game as the Bills would suggest Wycheck actually threw the ball forwards, which would have been an illegal pass.

“I still haven’t gotten over it,” said Bills cornerback Daryl Porter in 2018. “That will be something that’s in the back of my mind for the rest of my life.” 

That was the last play-off game the Bills would play for 17 years.

This year in the build-up to the play-offs, just about the most interesting sub plot in the League is the New England Patriots. With Tom Brady surely coming to the end of a career of dominance, and their team losing the odd game here and there, usually it’s a case of seeing who plays the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

But not so much this year. In fact, if the in-form Buffalo Bills win their final few games and New England slip up just once more, it will be the Bills who win their division and go into the play-offs with the No 1 seed and guaranteed home advantage throughout.

The Baltimore Ravens continue to win behind entertaining second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson, while in other divisions there is a dogfight for the remaining play-off places between teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders and Titans. 

In the NFC, the West division looks like sending at least two teams to the play-offs in the 49ers and Seahawks, with the Los Angeles Rams also battling for a wildcard spot. 

The Vikings and Saints look set to feature too, as well as the Green Bay Packers. 

But the most interesting contest might be between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, as both teams can’t string two wins in consecutive weeks at the moment — most recently the Cowboys lost to the Bills on Thanksgiving and the Eagles lost to the resurgent Miami Dolphins. 

But most interesting of all, in a league which promotes parity and equal opportunities for the worst teams, using a salary cap and a draft order of new players in which the worst teams pick first, we are still talking about the same teams entering the play-offs in 2019 as we were during the time of the Miracles and The Tip. 

This week’s article is dedicated to the memory of Steve Raynes and his loving family. NFL fandom in Britain lost Steve to Cancer just a few weeks ago. He was a big part of the NFL fantasy podcast Kickers Matter. Check out their twitter account for details of a charity competition in his memory. 

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