© Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
The NFL playoffs kick off this weekend with six matchups. Twelve teams start their quest for the Lombardi trophy, while the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles await their next competitors.
The final week of the NFL regular season always provides fans with lots of drama, and this year was no different.
Starting Saturday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs convincingly defeated the Las Vegas Raiders by a score of 31-13 to clinch the AFC's number-one seed.
Saturday's second game saw the Jacksonville Jaguars use a late-game fumble recovery for a touchdown to beat the Tennessee Titans by a score of 20-16 to clinch the AFC South.
With the final AFC playoff spot undecided, many were watching the Bills vs Patriots and Dolphins vs Jets games. The Bills defeated the Patriots, while Miami used a last-minute field goal to secure the Dolphins a place in the postseason.
In Seattle, the Seahawks had to beat the Rams to keep their playoff hopes alive. Jason Meyers redeemed himself after his doink at the end of regulation sent the game to overtime. This kept Seattle's playoff hopes alive.
All eyes were on Aaron Rogers as his Packers would clinch the final playoff spot with a win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football. Falling behind 20-16 with six minutes left, they couldn't recover. The Seahawks secured the NFC's final seed with the Packers' loss. Rodgers' career in Green Bay remains uncertain heading into yet another interesting offseason for the legendary quarterback.
This Wildcard preview features three games that could go either way. The Jaguars vs. Chargers, Vikings vs. Giants, and Buccaneers vs. Cowboys all offer their own little stories. With the Vikings being the biggest favorite at only three points, the games are expected to be highly competitive and down to the wire.
Enjoy Super Wildcard weekend!
© Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Chargers (#5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (#4)
Time: 8:15 EST. Saturday, January 14th
- Spread: Los Angeles Chargers -1, Jacksonville Jaguars +1
- Total: Over/Under 47.5
- Money line: Los Angeles Chargers -120, Jacksonville Jaguars +100
Going from having the number one pick in the 2021 NFL draft to winning the AFC South with a 9-8 record a season later, the Jacksonville Jaguars are among the best stories in recent NFL history.
After a shaky rookie season by Jaguars franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the football world had doubts if Lawrence was the guy. After three spectacular years at Clemson University, Lawrence was the highly coveted prize the Jacksonville Jaguars got for finishing with the league's worst record. Bringing in Lawrence alongside new head coach Urban Meyer offered hope. That hope quickly turned into a nightmare due to Urban's terrible coaching antics and the rookie quarterback looking lost on the field. Meyer finished with a 2-11 record before getting fired with four games left in the season. Jacksonville would then finish 3-14 and select Georgia defensive end Travon Walker with the first overall selection. Proven NFL winner Doug Pederson would be hired as the next head coach.
Thanks to a Tennessee Titans collapse and Jaguars' four-game win streak, everything lined up in week 18. The Jaguars hosted the Titans under the lights on Saturday night with the AFC South on the line. In a hard-fought divisional matchup, the Jaguars found themselves on defense down 16-13 with under four minutes left in the game. Titans quarterback Joshua Dobbs stepped back to pass on 3rd & 6 at his 35-yard line before being sacked by Rayshawn Jenkins. Jenkins was able to force a fumble that was then recovered by Josh Allen for a 37-yard touchdown with a little under three minutes left. Pandemonium in Jacksonville and a lead they would hold onto for the rest of the game ensued. The Jaguars are now back in the playoffs for the first time since losing in the AFC Championship against the Patriots in the 2016-17 season.
The Chargers' path to the playoffs has been exciting but more relieving. Sitting at 9-7 last season going into a divisional battle against the Las Vegas Raiders, they needed a win or tie to advance to the playoffs. In maybe the craziest game all season, Herbert led a two-minute drive to tie the game at 29 and send it to overtime. Looking primed for an elusive tie, Daniel Carlson kicked a 47-yard field goal at the last second to send the Chargers packing.
Punching their ticket to the playoffs this season after a 31-10 win over the Los Angeles Rams in week 17, there's been a little bit of redemption from last season's heartbreak.
The story of this game is the young quarterbacks facing off against each other.
Third-year Chargers starting quarterback Justin Herbert, the NFL's second-leading passer, flies across the country to Trevor's house in Duval. Both are in the top ten for passing yards and attempts, therefore this game should see a lot of throwing by the quarterbacks.
Lawrence can rely on Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Evan Engram. Kirk and Jones both had 80+ receptions, while Engram had 70+ in the best year of his career. The Chargers defend the pass well, giving up the seventh-fewest passing yards per game, but Lawrence is too dynamic to be ineffective in throwing the ball.
If receivers are blanketed, Jacksonville has 1,000+ rushing in second-year running back Travis Etienne. Etienne can keep the Chargers' defense guessing and try to exploit a defense that gives up the 28th most rushing yards per game. Lawrence is also a threat to run when he's in the mood.
Dynamic quarterback Justin Herbert will try to lead the Chargers to a road victory. Herbert gets a dream matchup against a Jacksonville secondary that gives up the 28th most passing yards per game. Los Angeles has a plethora of offensive options with Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jesse Palmer, and Gerald Everett.
Both defenses feature impact players. Jacksonville will need Travon Walker, Josh Allen, and Foyesade Oluokun to play their best games of the season to slow down Herbert & co.
The Chargers will demand a great defensive effort from edge rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, along with cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. and safety Derwin James Jr., to leave Jacksonville a winner on Saturday night.
On paper, the Chargers are the more talented team. More weapons, big-play threats, and defensive versatility. Though the popular small road favorite, it just feels like there's this special air in Duval right now. With a culture change, an emerging franchise quarterback, and an unlikely five-game win streak, things have been breaking the Jaguars' way.
Let's keep the party rolling.
The pick - Jaguars win
© Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
New York Giants (#6) @ Minnesota Vikings (#3)
Time: 4:30 EST. Sunday, January 15th
- Spread: New York Giants +3, Minnesota Vikings -3
- Total: Over/Under 48.5
- Money line: New York Giants +135, Minnesota Vikings -155
The last time these two teams played in week 16, the Minnesota Vikings needed a career-long 61-yard field goal from Greg Joseph to defeat the New York Giants 27-24.
Down 24-16 on the road with three minutes left after a Justin Jefferson touchdown, the game felt all but over. Though the Giants outgained the Vikings in the game, going 75 yards for a touchdown and two-point conversion in limited time for a Giants team that's struggled on offense this season felt like a daunting task. Nonetheless, cool and calm Daniel Jones led the Giants down the field before Saquon Barkley ran for a 27-yard touchdown on fourth down to cut the deficit to two. Daniel Bellinger capped a seven-play-75-yard touchdown drive in 59 seconds by catching the two-point conversion to tie the game.
Needing to get into field goal range for a chance to win, the Vikings did what they do best, pull out a close victory. After Minnesota moved 33 yards in eight plays, the Giants used their second timeout with four seconds left to ice kicker Greg Joseph and make him think about the career-long 61-yard attempt. It was an unsuccessful attempt, however, as Josephs's kick was the icing on the cake for a Vikings team that yet again finished off a close win. A raucous U.S. Bank Stadium celebrated as Josephs's kick was perfect the second it left his foot.
Despite the close loss, it was an encouraging game for the Giants as quarterback Daniel Jones completed 30/42 passes for 334 yards. It was only Jones's second game this season with 300+ passing yards, but more importantly, he looked confident throwing the ball. Jones was able to finish out his season strong in week 17, completing 19/24 passes for 177 and two touchdown passes. He also rushed 11 times for 91 yards and two additional scores. The Giants quarterback and first-year head coach Brian Daboll have the Giants back in the playoffs for the first time since 2016-17.
When it comes to the Vikings, the focus is on the offensive side of the football. Kirk Cousins is not the most exciting of quarterbacks, but he's as solid as they come. Finishing fourth in the NFL in passings yards and tied for fourth in touchdown passes, Cousins was the signal caller behind the NFL's eighth-highest-scoring offense.
The Vikings have surrounded their quarterback with weapons at every position. Offensive player of the year frontrunner Justin Jefferson is the lead man of the three-headed wide receiving crew. Jefferson's 128 receptions and 1,809 receiving yards set Minnesota Vikings single-season records, passing legends Chris Carter and Randy Moss.
Alongside Jefferson are long-time Viking Adam Thielen and a suddenly budding K.J. Osborn. Osborn, the third-year wide receiver, was having a quiet season before exploding for 157 and a touchdown in the Vikings' epic week 15 comeback win over the Indianapolis Colts. He was able to close out the season strong, hauling in 5 catches for 117 yards in the week 18 win over the Bears.
If the receivers weren't enough to deal with, running back Dalvin Cook and tight end T.J. Hockenson can be a handful. Cook finished sixth in the NFL in rushing and is a threat catching the ball, bringing in 39 receptions, combining for ten total touchdowns. Hockenson, who the Vikings traded for earlier this season, finished his ten games with 60 catches for over 500 yards and three touchdowns.
Saquon Barkley is the leader of the New York Giants offense and things get very thin after that. Barkley had a great season, finishing with over 1,300 rushing yards, fourth in the NFL. More importantly, he played in 16 games this season, showing durability. New York will need Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones to keep the ball moving on the ground and the Minnesota offense off the field.
On defense, the Giants do have some game wreckers. Nose tackle Dexter Lawrence, defensive tackle Leonard Williams, and rookie outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux all will try to get to Cousins early and often. Cornerback Adoree' Jackson and finally healthy free safety Xavier McKinney work to hold down the backline against the formidable Vikings receiving attack.
The Giants will be a trendy upset pick in the wildcard round over the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota may have too many offensive weapons for the Giants to handle, and countering scores is not playing into the Giants' strengths. Look for Cousins to spread the ball around quickly and utilize his weapons all over the field.
An astonishing 11-0 in one-score games, the 13-4 NFC North champions hope their luck continues Sunday.
The pick - Vikings win
© Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Cowboys (#5) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (#4)
Time: 8:15 EST. Monday, January 16th
- Spread: Dallas Cowboys -2.5, Tampa Bay Buccaneers +2.5
- Total: Over/Under 45.5
- Money line: Dallas Cowboys -140, Tampa Bay Buccaneers +120
Despite an 8-9 record with a negative 45-point differential, the NFC South-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers host a wildcard game.
It's been a frustrating season for the Buccaneers, who haven't looked comfortable on offense all season. Tom Brady had a pretty good season, throwing for the third most passing yards in the league. Also, connecting on 25 touchdown passes to nine interceptions was very solid and matched Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence. The concerning stat for Brady going into the postseason is his pass attempts. Not shy about letting it fly, the 45-year-old Brady led the NFL in passing attempts by a healthy margin for a second straight season. Never showing real weakness, it will be interesting to see if Brady has any arm fatigue after another taxing season. Based on history, Tom should be just fine.
It was an intense and often confusing season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who many thought were the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers beat these Cowboys 19-3 on Sunday night in week one, and so much has happened since then. There were bad games, even worse performances, and then the dramatic wins over the Rams, Saints, Cardinals, and Panthers. This 2022-23 season has been an emotional roller coaster for Bucs fans.
Although it hasn't been pretty, the Bucs still house undeniable talent on their roster.
A great sign in the week 17 division-clinching win over the Carolina Panthers was Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans formally reintroducing himself to the 2022-23 season. Catching ten passing 207 yards and three touchdowns, it was Evans' first 100+ game since week eight and his first game catching a touchdown since week four. Chris Godwin, Evans' receiving counterpart, managed 104 receptions this season, eighth most in the NFL. The receiving duo that helped the Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl in 2020 will both need to step up against a top-ten Cowboys secondary.
Running the football is one area that has set the Bucs back all season. Finishing dead last in rushing yards per game, they could use anything they can get from Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White to keep the chains moving. Dallas ranks 22nd in rushing yards allowed per game.
Opposite of the Buccaneers' struggling offense this season, the Cowboys have clicked. Even with quarterback Dak Prescott only playing 12 games this season, the Cowboys have been up to put 27.5 points per game, fourth best in the league.
There are three people they can thank for this: CeeDee Lamb, Tony Pollard, and Ezekiel Elliot. The Trio has been a touchdown machine this season, combining to find the end zone 33 times. Lamb's ascent to the top tier of NFL receivers has been incredible to watch, and he has the big play ability to affect a game on any play. Elliot and Pollard make up one of the NFL's best running-back duos. Elliot is more the power runner, while Pollard has the finesse out of the backfield. Pollard is also extremely dangerous catching passes.
On the defensive side, Brady and the offensive line will have to try their best to contain linebacker Micah Parson. Not an easy task, as Parsons finished seventh in the NFL in sacks this season. Ball-hawking cornerback Trevor Diggs will draw the assignments against the combinations of Evans and Godwin, which should be fun to watch.
The Buccaneers will be hoping their fierce linebacking duo of Devin White, and Lavonte David can help slow down this Dallas offense. Cornerback Jamel Dean and safety Antoine Winfield Jr. will have their work cut out, stopping Lamb. Unfortunately, there's also tight end Dalton Schultz and receivers Michael Gallup and Noah Brown to account for in the passing game.
It's hard to pick against Tom Brady, but Dallas just offers too much offensive upside. Lamb and the running backs have seen Dallas put up some monster-scoring games this season. The Cowboys' defense can do enough while letting the offense dictate the pace and flow of this game. The road favorites should leave the Raymond James Stadium victorious.
The pick - Cowboys win
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