What to Know About the NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend
Six games will be played over Saturday (two), Sunday (three) and Monday (one) in the opening round of the NFL playoffs
With Week 18 of the season wrapped up and Buffalo Bill Damar Hamlin on the mend, it’s officially playoff time in the National Football League. For pro football fans, the NFL postseason is the most wonderful time of the year and the league’s Super Wild Card Weekend in mid-January ranks as one of the top three-day stretches on the sports calendar.
By virtue of securing the top seeds in their respective conferences, the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles will sit out Super Wild Card Weekend with bye weeks. Of the 12 playoff teams that will be in action over the weekend, seven are making a return to the postseason after failing to qualify for the playoffs last season. That continues a 33-season streak of at least four teams qualifying for the playoffs after failing to make the postseason the year before. One of the teams to fall into that category this season, the Seattle Seahawks, will take on the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday afternoon to kick off the weekend. Here’s what to watch for in that matchup and the other five games that will be played over the course of Super Wild Card Weekend in the NFL.
No. 7 Seattle at No. 2 San Francisco, Saturday 4:30 PM (ET)
Favored by 10 points and playing at home, the 49ers will look to beat the Seahawks for the third time this season when Seattle travels to San Fran to open up the postseason. The heaviest favorites among the weekend’s NFC games, the 49ers are the hottest team in the NFL and will be looking to extend a 10-game winning streak with a victory over the Seahawks. With a league-best point differential of +173 on the season despite playing five games with third-string rookie Brock Purdy at quarterback, the 49ers outscored Seattle 48-20 combined in their two prior matchups this season.
The Seahawks and the re-emergence of Geno Smith as a viable starting quarterback in the league have been a great story this season and Seattle is in good shape moving forward thanks to the haul of assets the team received for dealing Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos during the offseason, but the 49ers are legit Super Bowl contenders with plenty of playoff experience. They also have dual-threat Christian McCaffrey and plenty of other offensive firepower so Purdy likely won’t even have to play all that well in his first playoff game for the 49ers to win. Saturday’s game will also be the first taste of postseason action for 32-year-old Smith.
No. 5 LA Chargers at No. 4 Jacksonville, Saturday 8:15 PM
Essentially a pick ’em as the Chargers are favored by a single point, Los Angeles will travel to Jacksonville to take on a Jaguars team they lost to 38-10 at home in Week 3. Led by young franchise quarterback Justin Herbert, who passed Andrew Luck this season for the most passing yards through a quarterback’s first three seasons and league-leading touchdown scorer Austin Ekeler, the Chargers have all the ingredients for a potent offense but have been very inconsistent this season. The same can be said for the Jaguars, but Jacksonville enters this game riding a five-game winning streak and would appear to have all of the momentum heading into kickoff.
The Jags should have a solid home-field advantage as Charger fans are not known for traveling well and the crowd in Jacksonville should be amped for the home team’s first playoff appearance since 2017. Second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence will be making his postseason debut, but he should have no problem performing in the spotlight as he has a good deal of experience playing in big games thanks to his time at Clemson. Second in the NFL in completion percentage (69.7%), third in passer rating (104.6) and eighth in Total QBR (63.5) since the start of November, Lawrence has really come into his own in his second season under the tutelage of Doug Pederson, who won a Super Bowl as the coach of the Eagles. A title is an unrealistic expectation for the Jags, but a win over the Chargers probably is not.
No. 7 Miami at No. 2 Buffalo, Sunday 1:00 PM
Though these divisional rivals split their two meetings earlier this season by extremely slim margins with Miami prevailing 21-19 at home in Week 3 and the Bills winning 32-29 in Buffalo in Week 15, there is no bigger spread on the board as the Dolphins are 10.5-point underdogs. It’s fairly easy to see why as the Dolphins lost five of their last six games and will likely be without injured starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa unless he is somehow miraculously cleared to return from concussion protocol. Given all the eyeballs on the NFL’s handling of injuries and the ugly scene on Monday Night Football last week in Cincinnati, it’s hard to see Tagovailoa getting back on the field and the Dolphins will probably start either seventh-round rookie Skylar Thompson or veteran backup Teddy Bridgewater.
Neither will be a great option against a Buffalo team that has won five games in a row and played an inspired game on Sunday against the Patriots as positive news about Hamlin’s recovery from last week’s on-field cardiac arrest continued to roll in. The Bills do turn the ball over (third-most in the league with 27) a decent amount, but quarterback Josh Allen has established himself as one of the top players in the league and has the ability to throw a touchdown on nearly every play thanks to arm strength and ability to evade pressure when protection breaks down. Allen also showed well in the postseason in two playoff games last season with nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions and there’s every reason to believe he’ll be able to continue that trend against a leaky Miami defense.
No. 6 New York Giants at No. 3 Minnesota, Sunday 4:30 PM
The unquestioned Comeback Kids of the NFL season, the Vikings beat the Giants on a 61-yard, walk-off field goal in Week 16 in Minnesota and are favored by three points against New York on Sunday. No team in NFL history has won more close games than the Vikings as 11 of Minnesota’s games this season have been decided by a single score and they have won all of them. That’s a huge reason why Minnesota somehow has 13 victories overall but also has a negative point differential of -3 on the season. Dominant at home this season at 8-1, the Vikings have a tendency to fall behind on the scoreboard before racing to catch up with Kirk Cousins airing it out to Justin Jefferson.
That may not be needed against a Giants team that also has a decent record (9-7-1) to go along with a negative point differential (-6). For the Giants to have a sniff in their first playoff game since 2016, New York will have to lean on running back Saquon Barkley, who is in a contract year and should have every motivation to play well in his first foray into the postseason. His quarterback, Daniel Jones, is also playing for a new contract and has never appeared in a playoff game. Jones’s predecessor, Eli Manning, lost in the team’s opening round of the playoffs during four out of his six trips to the postseason. In the other two, Manning led the Giants to a Super Bowl win. There’s no reason to expect Jones to be able to do the same, but the G-Men have surprised all year and it’s possible they do so once again against a Minnesota team that has been playing with fire all season.
No. 6 Baltimore at No. 3 Cincinnati, Sunday 8:15 PM
Although these teams play twice per season as part of their AFC North rivalry, Sunday night’s game will be the first playoff meeting between Baltimore and Cincinnati. It will also be the second straight game between the two as the Ravens were just in Cincinnati on Sunday to face the Bengals and lost 27-16. Baltimore won their Week 5 game 19-17, but are 6.5-point underdogs to the reigning AFC champs. Winners of eight in a row, the Bengals may have the luxury of taking on a Baltimore team that will be forced to start either Anthony Brown or Tyler Huntley at quarterback thanks to the lingering knee injury former MVP Lamar Jackson suffered on December 4. The Ravens have lost three of the five games they have played without Jackson but have at least been competitive thanks to their defense, which surrendered an AFC-best 315 points this season.
That defense will have its hands full against a Bengals team that is looking to return to the Super Bowl after reaching the NFL’s final Sunday for the first time in 33 years last season. Led by a rising star in quarterback Joe Burrow and his top target Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati should be able to rely on the experience and confidence the team gleaned from last year’s playoff run should they encounter any early issues against a Baltimore team that always plays tough and is willing to take chances with longtime head coach John Harbaugh calling the shots. However, unless Jackson is able to return at close to 100%, it seems hard to give the Ravens much more than a puncher’s chance against the Bengals. That said, Baltimore has won at least one playoff game in seven of the team’s nine previous trips to the postseason with Harbaugh at the helm.
No. 5 Dallas at No. 4 Tampa Bay, Monday 8:15 PM
The only playoff team with a losing record, the Buc (8-9) will nonetheless host the Cowboys in Tampa Bay when the teams meet for the second time this season. When the teams met in Week 1, Tampa Bay beat Dallas 19-3 on the road as the Cowboys struggled on offense after quarterback Dak Prescott injured his hand. Dominant at home this season with an 8-1 record, the Cowboys have gone 4-4 on the road this season but are still favored by three points heading into Monday night’s matchup in Tampa Bay. If the favored Cowboys are able to pull off the win in Tampa, it will be the first time Dallas has won a postseason road game since the team notched back-to-back seasons with a playoff win away from Big D in 1991 and 1992.
To win on the road, the Cowboys, who are averaging the most points per game (32.5) since Prescott’s return from his thumb injury, will need to get a dominant performance from their defense. They may get it as the Cowboys led the league in takeaways with 33 and have the sort of up-the-middle pass rush that has typically given Tom Brady trouble throughout his career. As for Brady, he will have to navigate playing behind a banged-up offensive line that has underperformed all season as well as dealing with a talented yet inconsistent group of pass-catchers. Brady may well handle both issues as he is undefeated (7-0) against Dallas in his career and we all know what he can do in big-time playoff games. The 45-year-old quarterback may go down in what could potentially be his final NFL game, but it won’t be without a fight.
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