Fans of every team that qualified for the NFL Playoffs have their sights set on Miami, the location of Super Bowl LIV. However, work still needs to be done by the players in the locker room to reach the ultimate goal of playing in South Beach for the Super Bowl title.
Step 1 for 8 teams next weekend is a win in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. As for the Ravens, Chiefs, 49ers, and Packers, they will get a much needed week off to kick back and take in the Wild Card weekend with every other football fan in the country.
AFC Wild Card: Bills @ Texans at NRG Stadium
On Saturday Houston, TX, the Texans will find themselves in extremely familiar territory. The Houston Texans have played 5 home games on Wild Card weekend since 2011. Claiming the AFC South title has never been an issue for the Texans, it’s parlaying that into a deep playoff run that remains to give the franchise trouble. Led by Deshaun Watson, Deandre Hopkins and hopefully a healthy JJ Watt, the Texans will try to make the AFC Championship for the first time as a franchise.
Their opponent will be the Buffalo Bills which is led by Josh Allen and a stingy defense. The Bills have made the playoffs for the second time in three years, but this will be the first playoff game for quarterback Josh Allen. The Bills defense doesn’t have an outright star just yet, but as a whole, they rank in the top ten in a number of important defensive categories.
The match up to watch will be Carlos Hyde vs. the Bills defense. Hyde quietly rushed for over 1,000 yards this season and provides balance for the Texans offense. They need him to be a threat to give Deshaun Watson time in the pocket and opportunities to flash his unbelievable talent. Texans 20-14.
AFC Wild Card: Titans @ Patriots at Gillette Stadium
Can you believe that this will be the first time this decade that the New England Patriots will play during the Wild Card weekend of the playoffs? After a decade of dominance and a number of stats that boggle the mind, this one, in particular, could be a sign of things to come in New England. Brady has looked a step slower this season and a prolific Patriots defense has seemingly gotten worse as the season has progressed. If New England advances deep into the playoffs this will be the toughest road yet.
Written off by many, the Tennesse Titans are here and are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. A running attack that features Derrick Henry, one of the best in the league, and a passing attack that is led by the red hot Ryan Tannehill and the potential Rookie of the Year AJ Brown has the Titans feeling extremely confident as the playoffs begin.
The Patriots dynasty is seemingly coming to an end, but it doesn’t feel right that the Titans would be the team to do it. New England survives one more week in my opinion before losing to Kansas City in the next round of the NFL Playoffs. Patriots 23-20.
NFC Wild Card: Vikings @ Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome
The Minnesota Miracle is a play that most NFL fans will never forget, especially fans of the New Orleans Saints. Stefon Diggs’ catch will live on as one of the most memorable in the history of the game, but the Saints are itching for revenge and will finally get it this Sunday. Another record-breaking year for Drew Brees (most touchdown passes of all-time) and Michael Thomas (most catches in a single NFL season) has Saints fans believing they can get back to the Super Bowl. A home game in the boisterous Mercedes-Benz Superdome has fans liking their chances that much more. Alvin Kamara has gotten hot lately and Swiss-army knife Taysom Hill makes New Orleans one of the scariest teams playing on the first weekend of the playoffs.
The Minnesota Vikings have their work cut out for them. Injuries to star players Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook have set the Viking back this year. They started out as one of the best teams in the NFC but enter the playoffs as a six seed. There is also the issue of Kirk Cousins in big games. There is no doubt he is a serviceable NFL quarterback, but his reputation is still the guy that is unable to step up when his team needs him most. He can change that this weekend in the NFL Playoffs but I don’t think he will. Saints 31-17.
NFC Wild Card: Seahawks @ Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field
The last match-up of Wild Card weekend will be the only regular-season rematch of the first round. The Seattle Seahawks prevailed in an ugly road game holding on to win 17-9. However, both teams have changed drastically since that Week 12 game. The Seahawks dominated from start to finish, but both of their top rushers (Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny) have since suffered season-ending injuries. Russell Wilson’s genius at the quarterback position has been the saving grace this season for the Seahawks. He was arguably the first-half MVP of the regular season but Lamar Jackson quickly changed that down the stretch. Wilson just has a knack for getting it done when Seattle needs him to step up and due to the injuries he is reunited with backfield mate Marshawn Lynch who is known to conjure up a moment of magic himself from time to time.
The Philadelphia Eagles found themselves in the playoffs mostly due to the Dallas Cowboys’ ineptitude down the stretch, but they will be keen on taking advantage of their playoff berth this season. Quarterback Carson Wentz seemingly loses an offensive weapon every week. The Week 17 stars included the likes of Boston Scott and Greg Ward Jr. Thanks to all these injuries Carson Wentz made history this season by becoming the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season while not having a receiver to have 500 yards. This was a good season for Philly that will be highlighted by a hard-fought NFC East title and a berth in the NFL Playoffs, but the Seahawks should be the team advancing in this matchup and the only road team to win this weekend. Seahawks 24-12.