NFL Playoffs - Road to the Super Bowl: Super Wild Card Weekend
First published: Thursday January 12th, 2023
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (-10) Saturday, January 14, 4:30 PM EST (FOX)
Right of the bat we get an intriguing matchup between two of the most surprising QB stories in the NFL. Behind the center for the 49ers is Brock Purdy, the third string quarterback who took over after both Trey Lance Jimmy Garoppolo suffered injuries during the regular season. Purdy went 5-0 through all his starts throwing for 13 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. The 49ers also made a massive move before the trade deadline, landing superstar RB Christian McCaffery. CMC racked up over 1,000 yards rushing along with another 741 receiving yards, putting him back in the category of one of the most elite dual-threat players in the league. On Seattle's hand, after trading away Russel Wilson, Pete Carroll called upon Geno Smith to fill the QB void Wilson left. Smith did that and more. He threw for 4,282 yards with 30 touchdowns, becoming one of the most elite quarterbacks in the early stages of the season. Kenneth Walker also had an outstanding rookie campaign, rushing for over 1,000 yards, and 9 touchdowns. However, injuries meant Seattle was barely able to squeeze into the playoff picture in week 18 with a win over the Rams. Expect the 49ers to come out aggressive, and challenge the Seattle defense. With 2 of the best running backs in the NFL, and 2 breakout quarterbacks, points could be coming before you can blink. If the Seattle defense can stay with the 49er offense, this could shape up to be one of the best games of the postseason.
Los Angeles Chargers (-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars Saturday, January 14, 8:15 PM EST (NBC)
After going 3-14 last season, nobody expected the Jacksonville Jaguars to win the AFC South the following year, but under former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, that was exactly what they did. Lead by 2nd year stars Trevor Lawrence, the first pick of the 2021 draft, who threw for over 4,100 yards, as well as Travis Etienne, who missed all of his rookie season with a foot injury, racked up over 1,100 yards rushing. For the Chargers, they came off a good enough second half to secure them the #5 seed. Lead by 3rd year standout QB Justin Herbert, who finished 2nd in the NFL in passing yards, throwing for 4,739 yards. Austin Ekeler also had a career season, finishing with 1637 combined yards and 18 touchdowns both rushing and receiving. The Chargers receiving corps has been one of the best in the game, having 5 players finishing with over 500 yards and 3 touchdowns each, despite dealing with injuries. The team's leading WR, Mike Williams, is currently questionable with a back injury, which should definitely be worth watching coming into the game. Both teams are very evenly matched, with talented young quarterbacks, good receivers and some of the best running backs in the game. This game will likely come down to who's defense can make the most stops, because of these teams high-scoring capabilities. The Chargers have a small edge, but this one could easily go either way.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (-13) Sunday, January 15, 1:00 PM EST (CBS)
The Dolphins come in as 13 point underdogs against the heavily favored Buffalo Bills. With starting QB Tua Tagovailoa still in concussion protocol and backup QB Teddy Bridgewater out with a finger injury, 2nd year QB Skylar Thompson will make his first career postseason start. The Dolphins are 1-4 without Tua, and even with him, they lost 5 of their final 6 games, barely winning against the New York Jets in week 18 to give them a playoff spot. The Bills, under MVP candidate Josh Allen, cruised into the playoffs, winning their last 7 games to give them the #2 seed with a 13-3 record, only missing the bye week because the NFL elected to cancel the Bills game against the Bengals in week 17 after DB Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest. Allen finished the season with 4,316 passing yards, 776 rushing yards, 35 passing touchdowns, 7 rushing touchdowns, with just 14 interceptions. Among the Bills elite receiving corps is Stefon Diggs, who finished the season with 1,455 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Dolphins also have an elite receiving corps, with Tyreek Hill, who they acquired from Kansas City in the offseason, finished with a career high 1,710 receiving yards. 2nd year receiver Jaylen Waddle, who finished with 1,356 receiving yards. Despite the strong offense, the lack of an experienced QB dramatically hurts the Dolphins chances of winning, with ESPN giving them a slim 3.7% of moving on. Unless the Dolphins defense can hold the explosive Bills offense, this game is not much to consider unless you have someone on your NFL playoff fantasy team.
New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings (-3) Sunday, January 15, 4:30 PM EST (FOX)
Time to be a biased Giants fan. The Vikings have not made the playoff since 2019, the Giants have not since 2016. The Giants, who had won more than 6 games since their last playoff appearance in 2016, were one of the most surprising entries to the playoff picture, finishing 9-7-1, edging out the other NFC Wild Card contenders under first year head coach Brian Daboll. The Vikings, coming off back-to-back losing seasons, fired their coach Mike Zimmer, and hired Kevin O'Connell, who lead them to their first division title since 2017. Lead by outstanding WR Justin Jefferson, who eclipsed 1,800 receiving yards, becoming the 6th player in NFL history to accomplish that feat. The Vikings were lead by veteran QB Kirk Cousins, who threw for 4,547 yards and 29 touchdowns. The Giants, lead by 4th year quarterback Daniel Jones and 5th year running back Saquon Barkley, who had his best season since 2018, rushing for 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns. While Jones wasn't astonishing, he was much more accurate with the football, throwing for only 5 interceptions, the lowest amount of his career. The main difference between these two teams is the defense. The Vikings have one of the lowest ranked defenses in the game, while the Giants are one of the better defenses, good enough to keep their slow-paced offense in contention for most of their games. Whether the Giants can keep up with Minnesota's elite offense will be the main difference in this intriguing game.
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-8.5) Sunday, January 15, 8:15 PM EST (NBC)
A rematch from last Sunday, where the Bengals defeated the Ravens to secure the AFC North. The Ravens come in as 8.5 point underdogs, with former MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson expected to miss the game with a PCL sprain. The Bengals, hoping to recover from last year's Super Bowl loss, under 3rd year star QB Joe Burrow, who had the best season of his young career, went 12-4, easily taking a playoff spot. The Bengals, along with Burrow, also have star WRs Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase, who both finished the season with over 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns. For the Ravens, they need backup QB Tyler Huntley to figure out the offense, as Baltimore has not scored more than 20 points since Lamar's injury, and haven't won since week 11. Baltimore could rely on their elite defense, which has been one of the best in the league for the past several years. This one could be low scoring, and if Baltimore has a strong running game with J.K. Dobbins finally healthy, they have a decent shot of pulling out the upset.
Dallas Cowboys (-2.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monday, January 16, 8:15 PM EST (ESPN/ABC)
With 2 QBs who have slowly seen regression at very different points in their career, this game will be interesting. 45 year old Tom Brady, about to play his 48th career playoff game, will face Dak Prescott, coming off the worst season of his career, throwing for 23 touchdowns, but a career high 15 interceptions. Brady has also seen negative trends in his stats, cutting his touchdown count from 43 in 2021 to just 25 in 2022, leading the Buccaneers to a losing record at 8-9, but still good enough to win the NFC South. While the quarterback matchup is less than ideal, the receivers on both teams, as well as running backs makes this game intriguing. CeeDee Lamb had his best season of his career with Dallas, with over 100 receptions, 1,359 yards, and 9 touchdowns. Running back Tony Pollard had a huge breakout season, finishing with over 1,000 yards, and tied RB Ezekiel Elliot with the most combined touchdowns with 12. For the Bucs, WR Mike Evans finished with over 1,000 yards again, having accomplished that feat in all 9 of his seasons in the league. WR Chris Godwin also eclipsed the same mark, despite only hauling in 3 touchdowns. Overall this game should be very close, and will likely be determined by which quarterback can break out of his regular season slump, and come up clutch in the postseason.