Essentially the most closely followed month on the American sports calendar is finally here.
After a chaotic season that included tweaks to the postseason format after Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s scary injury in Week 17, the NFL has its 14-team playoff field. It includes old faces, like Buccaneers quarterback and elder statesman Tom Brady, and latest blood, just like the upstart Jaguars and Giants.
Here is one trend to control on this weekend’s six wild-card games.
Seahawks at 49ers: Which unlikely playoff quarterback will come up big?
“They wrote me off, I ain’t write back though,” Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith memorably said in September after kicking off the most effective season of his well-traveled NFL profession. Unbelievably, Smith might need the less compelling quarterback story on this game, because the 49ers are riding the ultimate pick of the 2022 draft in Brock Purdy. In rainy Northern California conditions, which signal-caller rises to the occasion will determine this one.
Chargers at Jaguars: Los Angeles hoping to beat Staley’s folly
Chargers coach Brandon Staley’s baffling decision to play his starters against the Broncos last week has already had cataclysmic consequences, as Los Angeles lost wide receiver Mike Williams for 2 to 3 weeks with a back fracture. Deprived of his top goal this season by yardage, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert might want to get creative against a hungry Jacksonville team.
Dolphins at Bills: Injuries will affect each teams in other ways
If each teams had healthy, normal 2022 seasons, this could rank as a high-quality divisional showdown. However the Dolphins are missing quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the scepter of Hamlin’s collapse still looms around Buffalo. The Bills showed resolve by beating the Patriots last week on an emotional afternoon. Miami, meanwhile, will pin its hopes on seventh-round rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson.
Giants at Vikings: Who’s “real”?
Prove-it games for each teams are relatively rare within the NFL playoffs, but each Latest York and the Vikings have handled questions this season. Minnesota has been discussed nearly as much for its -3 point differential as its 13-4 record in considering fan circles; the Vikings had a greater point differential last season (-1) once they went 8-9. The Giants, then again, will look to validate their faith in quarterback Daniel Jones after the most effective season of his profession.
Ravens at Bengals: High-octane offense versus stifling defense
The Ravens hired defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald away from Michigan within the offseason and got immediate results; they finished third within the NFL in points allowed and held regular without quarterback Lamar Jackson. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, nonetheless, has been his usual excellent self for many of 2022. Baltimore, relatively speaking, held him in check last week — can it repeat the feat in a more meaningful setting?
Buccaneers at Cowboys: Can Dallas shed its postseason monkey?
30 years have lapsed for the reason that Cowboys won a playoff game on the road, within the 1992 NFC Championship against San Francisco. Their reward for a sensational 12-5 season is a visit to Florida to satisfy 8-9 Tampa Bay. Brady has vexed Dallas through the years — if quarterback Dak Prescott returns to form after an injury-marred season, the Cowboys could mount a deep playofff run.