Finally, the NFL playoffs! After the first 17-game regular season, Super Wild Card Weekend is upon us. With six games to enjoy on the Jan. 16-17 weekend, I’m here to recap the two Saturday games and prime you for the remaining games.
By the time you’re reading this, Sunday’s Eagles-Buccaneers, 49ers-Cowboys and Steelers-Chiefs games are likely to be over, so I won’t be covering those matchups. Although, I anticipate the Bucs, Niners and Chiefs to move on to next weekend’s divisional round of the playoffs.
Raiders vs. Bengals
In the early Saturday game in Cincinnati, the Las Vegas Raiders and home team Bengals clashed in a game marked by refereeing woes and penalty flags. Even though Vegas kept it close, Cincinnati was in the driver’s seat all game long on the way to a 26-19 victory. The Bengals only trailed after the first Raiders field goal.
Controversy came late in the first quarter, as an inadvertent referee’s whistle came before wide receiver Tyler Boyd’s touchdown catch. And while it was an amazing show of quarterback Joe Burrow’s skill, the score shouldn’t have counted.
Other winners of the game include Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase, who picked up where he left off this regular season. He reeled in nine catches for 116 yards – the most receiving yards by a Bengals rookie in a playoff game. Aside from Chase, kickers also accounted for 27 of 45 points scored as Daniel Carlson and Evan McPherson drilled a combined 8/8 field goals and 3/3 extra points.
This was the Bengals’ first playoff win in 31 years. The last time they won a playoff game, the Soviet Union was still a country and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls hadn’t yet won a championship. Joe Burrow wouldn’t be born until almost six years later. It’s been a minute, Cincinnati.
On the Raiders side, interim head coach Rich Bisaccia took the team to the playoffs in a season marked by instability. Ugly departures from former head coach Jon Gruden, wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and defensive back Damon Arnette almost derailed the season for Las Vegas. If Bisaccia isn’t at least considered for the full-time head coaching job in Vegas, I’ll be disappointed.
Joe Burrow is a gunslinger. The Bengals will likely head to Nashville next weekend to take on the AFC’s top seeded Tennessee Titans. Even if the Titans send them home, this season will be a success for the Bengals. Head coach Zac Taylor has squeezed every bit of juice possible out of this team and the fans love him for it.
Patriots vs. Bills
Coming from a lifelong Patriots fan, this part of the story is the hardest to write – so bear with me. The Bills stole the Patriots’ lunch money in Saturday’s late game, dropping the Pats 47-17 in Buffalo.
The story leading up to the game was the cold weather in Buffalo, where temperatures dropped below -20 C with the wind chill during the game. On the Bills sideline, players were drinking hot chicken broth out of Gatorade cups to stay warm.
The Bills received the ball to start the game and never looked back. On the first drive, quarterback Josh Allen had 26 and 15-yard runs. The possession was capped with Allen extending the play for a Dawson Knox touchdown.
A diving Micah Hyde interception gave Buffalo another chance to score. The Patriots found themselves down 14-0 after 15 minutes as their season-long first quarter woes continued. (At this point in the game, I was ready to turn the TV off. But I stuck with it for you, the reader.)
In the lone highlight of the game for the Pats, defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. blocked an extra point attempt by Trevor Bass after the first Devin Singletary rushing touchdown.
By now, you get where this is going, so I’m going to try to put into perspective just how collosal Buffalo’s win was last night.
The first seven Buffalo possessions resulted in touchdowns. That’s right. Seven. No other team in the Super Bowl-era of the NFL ever scored touchdowns on their first five drives. The Patriots’ defense, which allowed only 17.8 points per game in the regular season – second best to the Bills – was simply annihilated.
The 47-17 blowout win was capped with 6’7″, 320 pound tackle Tommy Doyle catching a touchdown from Allen. The Pro-Bowl quarterback was nearly perfect, throwing more touchdown passes than incompletions and racking up 308 passing yards.
The Bills closed the game out in the victory formation, handing the Patriots the largest playoff loss in Bill Belichick’s 21-year tenure as head coach.
Monday Night: Cardinals vs. Rams
In the second division rival game of the weekend, the NFC West-best Los Angeles Rams are set to host the fifth seed Arizona Cardinals.
After winning eight of their first nine games, the Cardinals went 3-5 in their last eight games. Injuries to superstar quarterback and wide receiver combo Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins certainly derailed their momentum, and by season’s end many were thinking the Cardinals were the fool’s gold team of the year.
Lucky for the Cardinals though, this game will take place in L.A. – Arizona hasn’t won a game at home since October.
If Murray is still hampered by his midseason ankle injury, expect the Cardinals offense to struggle. Arizona needs Murray to extend plays and keep the Rams defense honest by scrambling for gain.
For the Rams and veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford, this is a chance to change the season’s narrative. L.A. went all-in on this season, spending money and draft capital to assemble an all-star squad. The team has failed to reach the high expectations they’ve set for themselves as turnovers remain a big concern. This really is Super-Bowl-or-bust for the Rams.
As long as Stafford can keep the ball out of the hands of Cardinal defenders, look for Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. to find the endzone regularly tomorrow.
No matter who you support in the NFL, you’re in for a treat over the next few weeks. There are dozens of compelling storylines to follow as teams vie for the chance to hoist the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy. Can Aaron Rodgers claim the second title that has evaded him for so long? Will Tom Brady claim his eighth championship ring? Does a young team like the Cardinals or Bengals go deeper than anyone expects?
After yesterday’s slate of games, I’m inclined to pick Buffalo as my title favourite. But, as they say: on any given Sunday… or Saturday. Or Monday.