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Illini in the NFL: Divisional Playoffs Weekend Update

Need a team to root for on Championship Sunday, Illini fans? Kansas City is your pick.

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints eliminated from playoff contention, only one regular starting and active Illini alum in the NFL has a chance to reach the Super Bowl. If you’re a casual NFL fan looking for a team to root for on Championship Sunday, look no further than the Kansas City Chiefs.

Nick Allegretti — you got this!

Baltimore Ravens

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens had their second straight road playoff game when they went to western New York to take on the AFC East champs Buffalo Bills. Baltimore struggled in a windy game and couldn’t get much going offensively, losing 17-3.

Jihad Ward, defensive end: It was a weird, almost non-existent performance from Ward. He was held off the stat sheet and participated in only 13 snaps: 12 on defense and 1 on special teams. Of the games Ward played this season for the Ravens, it was his lowest snap total of the year. Looking forward, he’s a really solid edge rusher with a great feel for the game. As an unrestricted free agent in 2021, he should have a bunch of potential suitors this offseason.

Buffalo Bills

Del’Shawn Phillips, linebacker: Unfortunately for Phillips, he was put on the Injured Reserve list for the second time this season. Per league rules, that means his season was officially over as of Week 10. He played in two games for the Bills in 2020, totaling 14 combined snaps on special teams in Weeks 1 and 9.

He’s still listed on the Bills’ official website as a member of their inactive/injured list roster. The Bills, by virtue of beating the Ravens, will travel to Kansas City on Sunday to take on the defending Super Bowl Champions for the AFC crown.

Kansas City Chiefs:

The Chiefs are onto the AFC Championship after edging out the Cleveland Browns 22-17. As has been the case the last month-plus with these Chiefs, close games are becoming the norm. All eyes will be on the status of star quarterback Patrick Mahomes leading up to Sunday.

Nick Allegretti, guard: Allegretti started and played every single offensive snap for the Chiefs against the Browns. He also played some on special teams, too. In the post-game press conference, head coach Andy Reid noted how all of the Chiefs players took their game up a notch when Mahomes went down and back up Chad Henne had to come in the game. No doubt Reid was including former Illini Nick Allegretti in those comments.

As his father notes, the Chiefs starting left guard gets some inspiration from the ‘rasslin world:

New Orleans Saints:

NFL: DEC 20 Chiefs at Saints Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Saints hosted their divisional rivals the Tampa Bay Bucs. In their third and most important meeting of the year, the Bucs came up with the 30-20 win to advance to the NFC Championship.

Justin Hardee, cornerback/special teams: To no fault of Justin Hardee, the Saints lost to the Bucs primarily because of their -4 turnover ratio. Hardee was incorrectly called for an illegal block in the back during a punt return touchdown early on in the game. Post-commercial, the officials and the broadcast team noted this and switched the block in the back call from Hardee to his teammate Carl Granderson.

In 2020, Hardee was playing on a 1-year, $1.5 million contract. He’s a free agent in 2021. With a ton of experience as a gunner on special teams and the fact he can play both cornerback and some safety at this level, he’s guaranteed to find a landing spot for next season either with the Saints or another team.