By Buck Coquillette
The regular season has come to a close and the playoff picture is set. With six games, all at different times, Wild Card weekend should be a good one. Here is the bracket with game and team summaries with players to watch out for:
Game 1: (7) Seattle Seahawks (9-8) vs (2) San Francisco 49ers
Saturday, Jan 14 at 4:30
The Seattle Seahawks found their way into the playoffs thanks to the Detroit Lions beating the packers. Realistically, quarterback Geno Smith will need to be on top of his game if the Seahawks want a chance of beating the electric 49ers. The Seahawk’s offensive line will take on one of the top defensive lines and need to play well in order to create holes for rookie running back Kenneth Walker III and protect Geno. Geno has had a great comeback season, with regular season stats of 4,282 passing yards, 30-11 TDs-INT, and a completion percentage of 69.8. He will need to find receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, who both have over 1,000 receiving yards.
Defensively, Pete Carroll’s Seahawks will need to gameplan perfectly to stop the creative and fast-paced 49ers offense. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks has 161 total tackles and 103 solo tackles, which is tied for third in the league. Rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen, a defensive rookie of the year candidate, has been phenomenal this season with 16 passes deflected and 6 interceptions.
With Jimmy Garrapolo out, rookie Brock Purdy has been quite impressive with 13 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and 1,374 yards in just 7 games. Running back Christian McCaffrey has had a great comeback year playing in all 17 games with no injuries. Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk has had a good year amassing 1,015 yards and 8 touchdowns. Elite left tackle Trent Williams is one of the best in the league and a force to be reckoned with in pass and run blocking. Williams has not allowed a sack since the 2020 season and is lethal in the 49ers zone blocking scheme downfield and on the line of scrimmage. This 49er offense is a force to be reckoned with.
Defensively, the 49ers are ranking super high in every category. They are number one in the league with yards/per game with 300.6, points per game at 16.3, and first in the league with a turnover ratio of +13. Some standout names are Fred Warner and Nick Bosa. Bosa, the defensive end, won the sack title this year with 18.5 and tied for second in the league for TFLs (tackle for loss) with 19.
Should be a good matchup but the 49ers are the obvious favorites. Their overpowering offense and elite defense are a scary matchup in the first round for the Seattle Seahawks. However, the Seahawks were only predicted to win close to 1 game this year and have surprised everyone.
Game 2: (5) Los Angeles Chargers at (4) Jacksonville Jaguars
Saturday, January 14 at 8:15 est
Third-year quarterback Justin Herbert will finally get a chance to win the first playoff game of his career. Herbert this season has 4,739 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. The chargers have one of the most pass-oriented offenses in the league with the second most pass attempts in the league. Running back Austin Ekeler is proof of this with 915 rushing yards and 722 receiving yards. As one of the biggest backfield threats in the league, the Jags will have to gameplan well. Wide receivers Mike Williams, Joshua Palmer, and Keenan Allen all have similar workloads and are a threat to any secondary. Williams is injured and questionable for Sunday. The offensive line has had some struggles this year.
On the other side of the ball, the Chargers are the middle of the pack in every metric. They have a turnover ratio of +5 and let up an average of 346.1 yards per game. Some players to look out for are outside linebacker Khalil Mack and safety Derwin James Jr.
The Jags are hot. Second-year QB Trevor Lawrence has been playing spectacularly, and the Jags have won seven of their last nine games. Lawrence has 4,113 yards with 25 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. RB Travis Etienne Jr. has 1,125 rushing yards and 316 receiving yards. Wide receiver Christian Kirk has 1,108 yards and wide receiver Zay Jones has 823. Another bright spot of this offense this season is tight end Evan Engram who has 73 targets for 766 yards.
Defensively the Jags rank middle of the pack with 353.3 yards per game, however, rank 27th in the league for pass defense with 238.5 yards per game. That should be an interesting matchup with the pass-heavy chargers. Linebacker Foyesade Oluokon had the most regular season tackles with 184 total tackles and 128 solo tackles.
Should be a good, entertaining matchup. The rematch of week 3 where the Jags won 38-10, however, they are two very different teams than they were in September.
Game 3: (7) Miami Dolphins at (2) Buffalo Bills
Sunday, January 15 at 1:00 ET
Without QB Tua Tagovailoa, this is a very uphill battle for the struggling Dolphins. Tagovailoa did not pass concussion protocol so he will be inactive this Sunday, meaning Skylar Thomson or Teddy Bridgewater will be starting. The best part of this offense, however, is wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Hill was second in the league in receiving yards with 1,710 and averaged 100.6 yards per game. Waddle has 1,356 and averaged 78.6 yards per game. The Dolphins need to give these two the ball as much as possible if they want a shot at beating the Bills
The Dolphin’s defense is not great. They are 27th in the league with a turnover ratio of -7 and give up an average of 337.8 points per game. Some names to look out for are Jevon Holland who has 77 solo tackles, 96 tot, and 2 interceptions.
The Bills will be a challenge for Miami. We all know Josh Allen is a top 3 quarterback in the league, and he has the weapons to score a lot of points on a weaker Miami defense. Stefon Diggs has 1,429 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, a threat to all levels of the defense. Gabe Davis is a dangerous deep threat (when he catches the ball…he has a 51% drop rate). On the ground, a combination of Allen, Devin Singletary, and James Cook makes for a creative, explosive offense. Their biggest weakness is turning the ball over, with 27 giveaways, and some of those have come in key red zone moments.
The Bills’ defense is great. They rank 6th in yards per game with 319.1 and rank 5th in rushing yards allowed per game with 104.6. Their turnover ratio is exactly even but that is mostly not the defense’s fault, they have 17 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries. Some key players to look out for are safety Jordan Poyer, linebacker Matt Milano, and cornerback Tre’Davious White. Special shoutout to Damar Hamlin for being released from the hospital after a scary incident.
These division rivals have played twice this year, with Miami taking it in week three 21-19, and Buffalo taking it in week 15 32-29. However, Miami only put up 11 points against the jets last week, so they will need some major changes if they want to win.
Game 4: (6) New York Giants vs (3) Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, January 15 at 4:30 ET.
Wow. The New York Giants are back in the playoffs. QB Daniel “Danny Dimes” Jones has successfully brought this team to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Jones has 3,205 passing yards and 708 rushing yards for a total of 22 touchdowns and a passer rating of 92.5. Jones has done a great job protecting the ball with only 5 interceptions. Another standout is running back Saquon Barkley who has 1,312 rushing yards and 338 receiving. He carries this offense on his back and will need to have a great day against the Vikings. The receiving core has struggled all season and the last time they played the Vikings, there were a few drops by the Giant’s receivers that could have changed the game drastically. The Giant’s coaching, led by Brian Daboll has been phenomenal, making up for some holes in the roster.
On the other side of the ball, the Giant’s defense is alright. They rank 24th in yards allowed per game and on average, they give up 21.7 points per game. On the defensive line, DT Dexter Lawrence has been good with 7.5 sacks and 7 tfls including a crazy sack where he tackled all-pro Quentin Nelson and Nick Foles at the same time. Rookie edge Kayvon Thibodeaux has also been good with 4 sacks, 6 tfls, and 5 pass deflections (hopefully no snow angels this week). Safety Julian Love has also been good with 124 total tackles, 6tfls, 5 pass deflections, and 2 interceptions.
Offensively, this team is great. QB Kirk Cousins has 4,547 passing yards with 29 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Running back Dalvin Cook is also a threat in the backfield with 1,173 yards this season. But the superstar of this team is wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who probably will be the offensive player of the year. He has 1,809 receiving yards and averages 14.1 yards per catch. Also, look out for receivers Adam Thielen and KJ Osborn and tight end TJ Hockinson. This offense can certainly score a ton of points, very fast. (As seen in the crazy NFL history record-breaking Colts comeback game)
Defensively is where this team struggles. They allow 388.7 yards per game (31st) and allow 25.1 points per game (27th). However, they have some standouts with linebacker Jordan Hicks, safety Harrison Smith, and lockdown cornerback Patrick Peterson.
This is a rematch of an intense and dramatic week 16 game where kicker Greg Joseph nailed a 60-yarder to win the game for the Vikings, 27-24. The Giants could be out for revenge…
Game 5: (6) Baltimore Ravens at (3) Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, January 15 at 8:15 ET
The Raven’s fate almost absolutely lies in Lamar Jackson’s hands. If he plays, they have a chance. If he doesn’t…well. He is questionable with a knee injury. The Ravens have looked unlike themselves without Jackson and most likely will not be able to score many points with backups Tyler Huntley or Anthony Brown. Jackson leads the team in rushing yards (764) and passing (2,242). In the past few weeks without him, we have seen how valuable he is to this team. Their best weapon is tight end Mark Andrews who has 847 receiving yards this season. There are not many standout receivers. The offensive line has let up 38 sacks in 17 games.
The Raven’s defense is solid. They are 10th in the league for yards per game with 324.3 and third in the league for points allowed per game with 18.5. They have a +4 turnover ratio with 14 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. Some key players to watch are linebacker Roquan Smith, linebacker Patrick Queen, DT Calais Cambell, and Cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
The Cincinnati Bengals are electric. Fan favorite QB Joe Burrow has only gotten better from last year with 4,475 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes, and 12 interceptions. He has plenty of weapons, receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and running back Joe Mixon. Chase has 1,046 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns despite missing the entire month of November with an injury. Higgins is also a threat with 1,029 yards and 7 touchdowns and Boyd is as well with 762 yards. Mixon has 814 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. Their offensive line has improved significantly from last season as well.
Defensively, the Bengals are pretty good. They rank 6th in points per game with 20.2 and are more middle of the pack for yards allowed per game with 335.7. Their turnover differential is +6 with 24 takeaways. Some players to look out for are safeties Vonn Bell and Jesse Bates III who both have 4 interceptions. Also, watch linebacker Logan Wilson and defensive end, Sam Hubbard.
These two teams played last week with the Bengals winning 27-16.
Game 6: (5) Dallas Cowboys at (4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Monday, January 16 at 8:15 ET
Finishing with a record of 12-5, the Cowboys have had a great season so far. Despite the many interceptions, QB Dak Prescott has played decently. He missed a few weeks earlier in the season but with 12 games played, he has 2,860 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. Running back Tony Pollard has had a great season with 1,007 yards on 193 carries while Ezekiel Elliot only has 876 on 40 more carries. These two make quite the running back core. Out wide, CeeDee Lamb is a versatile weapon. With 1,359 yards and 9 touchdowns, Lamb has had quite the season. Tight end Dalton Schultz is good and receivers Michael Gallup and Colts legend TY Hilton made his return to the league earlier this year.
Defensively, the Cowboys are the best of the best. They have 33 turnovers and star players left and right. Names such as Micah Parsons, Malik Hooker, Trevon Diggs, and Donovan Wilson have led this elite defense to allow only 20.1 points per game and 330.2 yards per game. If they can cause enough havoc, they can beat Brady and the Bucs
Legend Tom Brady has never lost to the Cowboys in his career. Not once. He does not plan to change that. He has 4,694 passing yards with 25 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions. This man knows how to win playoff games too with a playoff record of 35-12. This Bucs team passes the most out of any team in the NFL. Receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin both have 1000+ receiving yards this season. Veteran Julio Jones is around too with running back Leonard Fournette who has not had his best season. Everyone will need to show out if they want a chance to move on past this difficult Cowboys D.
The Bucs’ defense is solid with 21.1 points per game allowed and 324.3 yards per game allowed. Their turnover differential is -2, having 20 total turnovers with 10 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries. Some key players to watch are Lavonte David, Devin White, Vita Vea, and Shaquille Barrett.
This game should be a good one and who knows what will happen with the goat versus one of the best defenses in the league.