For football fans, their favorite time of the year is here as the National Football League playoffs begin this weekend as it is Wild Card Weekend. With it only being the first round, there’s always a lot of drama and some of the best postseason games have happened in this round. Eight teams enter this weekend, four on byes, and only four will move on to the Divisional Round. This preview will take a look at the matchups for this Wild Card Weekend.
American Football Conference
Buffalo Bills vs Houston Texans
Buffalo came out of nowhere in 2019 and looked like a legit contender to dethrone Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots of their AFC East crown, but they earned a Wild Card berth and are a dangerous team. The Bills defense has been phenomenal all season long and the emergence of their quarterback Josh Allen has helped make their offense productive, especially with his legs, that being said, the offense hasn’t been impressive as there are some huge flaws. This version of Buffalo is building something special that could make them contenders for a while. The Bills will be looking to win their first postseason game since 1995, so there’s a lot at stake here. Buffalo also went 6-2 on the road, so they are used to playing in a hostile environment.
Players to watch out for on offense: quarterback Josh Allen, running back Frank Gore
Players to watch out for on defense: linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, cornerback Tre’Davious White
The Texans were the class of a weak AFC South Division, but they have the makings to be a dangerous team for a deep playoff run. Quarterback Deshaun Watson has shown to be a very good quarterback and has an offense to work with that is very potent. The one thing Houston has over Buffalo is they have more experience in the postseason, plus Watson usually comes through in the clutch. An important statistic about Watson is that he is 5-0 against teams that have a top five pass defense and the Bills are ranked fourth. The Texans, though, does not have a good defense and that might hurt them even with Buffalo’s offense.
Players to watch out for on offense: quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Players to watch out for on defense: defensive end J.J. Watt, linebacker Whitney Mercilus.
James Rowe: Buffalo. This has the makings to be an absolutely great game, but the question here is whether which offense makes the right playcalls. I had always thought these two were dark horses to go deep in the postseason, but of course with this matchup, one of them has to go home. That being said, I personally feel like the Bills have the best opportunity here to move on they seem balanced and have such a stout defense. Oh and Josh Allen has really impressed me, though I do think Deshaun Watson is going to make a huge impact in this contest.
Tennessee Titans vs New England Patriots
The Titans used a late season run to make it to the playoffs from a rejuvenated Ryan Tannehill as his play from quarterback was superb in leading the offense. Don’t underestimate the Tennessee offense, they are really good, plus the run game is excellent. They just have a lot of options on offense. The defense is pretty good too, but the secondary is the weakest part of the defense as they rely mostly on their defensive line in it’s pass rush, though they don’t blitz much. That being said, if you’re looking for a team to upset, the Titans are your team.
Players to watch out for on offense: running back Derrick Henry, wide receiver A.J. Brown
Players to watch out for on defense: safety Kevin Byard, linebacker Rashaan Evans
New England Patriots
How far the mighty have fallen. The Patriots just are not quite the same team as they have been in the past and it really looks like they will have a hard time winning another Super Bowl. New England’s offense has been surprisingly anemic this season. At the beginning of the season, their defense looked like it was going to be one of the best of all time, but then a simple flaw was exposed: they started playing good teams. Sure, the numbers make their defense look good, but those statistics don’t tell the whole story. They have dealt with injuries this season, but even when they were healthy, the Patriots have struggled despite a 12-4 record. Had they gotten that Bye, it would have benefitted all their players dealing with injuries. That being said, all the negativity about New England, there’s a reason why they are in the playoffs: because they know how to win. With Tom Brady under center and a genius head coach in Bill Belichick, they just know how to beat you and how to win games in the playoffs.
Players to watch out for on offense: running back James White, wide receiver N’Keal Harry
Players to watch out for on defense: cornerback Stephon Gilmore, linebacker Dont’a Hightower
James: New England. The last two playoffs I have doubted the Patriots because of their defense, but one thing I learned was to never count them out and well they mostly proved me wrong. While I like Tennessee’s chances and they will probably make this a really close one, New England just knows how to win especially when they are doubted.
National Football Conference
Minnesota Vikings vs New Orleans Saints
The Vikings are back in the playoffs and they have a lot to prove as despite a promising start, a Wild Card berth feels like an underachievement. Minnesota’s offense will be dictated by how quarterback Kirk Cousins does as has not been successful in prime games. Whether that’s an anomaly or not, it’s certainly an ongoing narrative. However, Cousins has a lot to work with as the Vikings offense is very potent. The big question is their defense as it’s not quite the same as it once was as their secondary is dealing with some injuries, though their defensive line will give New Orleans’ offensive line a lot of fits.
Players to watch out for on offense: running back Dalvin Cook, quarterback Kirk Cousins
Players to watch out for on defense: cornerback Xavier Rhodes, safety Andrew Sendejo
New Orleans Saints
The Saints have a huge advantage over Minnesota this time around, they have a great defense especially in their pass rush, something the Vikings have struggled with all year. Expect the Saints to pressure Cousins a lot in this game. Another part of New Orleans game is it’s offense as they can absolutely put a ton of points on the board. They are led by Drew Brees who has still been effective even at the age he is at. You can expect Brees to attack Minnesota’s secondary a lot, but the run game is pretty good for the Saints as well.
Players to watch for on offense: running back Alvin Kamara, wide receiver Michael Thomas
Players to for on defense: defensive end Cameron Jordan, cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
James: New Orleans. I really want to see the Vikings advance, but the Saints just look too good right now and don’t have nearly as many injury concerns either. I have a feeling this one won’t be close.
Seattle Seahawks vs Philadelphia Eagles
The Seahawks were so close to earning a Bye and the NFC West title in the last week of the regular season, but here they are on the road against a woeful Philadelphia team. Seattle has an elite quarterback in Russell Wilson and has some great weapons, but some of his best options are injured. That being said, with what Wilson has worked with has been great to watch. Problem with their offense is the offensive line as they have not been all that good in protecting Wilson. What hurts Seattle is their defense as they are just not as good as they were once heralded for, something the Eagles will try to exploit.
Players to watch out for on offense: wide receiver DK Metcalf, running back Marshawn Lynch
Players to watch out for on defense: linebacker Bobby Wagner, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney
The Eagles won the NFC East by default seemingly and they were one of the most injured teams in the league. That being said, their offense has still been able to produce with their quarterback Carson Wentz red hot of late. Wentz has a lot of weapons at his dispense, so look for him to share the wealth. That being said, while the defense has been good this season, the secondary has taken quite a toll due to injures, something the Seahawks are likely to take advantage over.
Players to watch out for on offense: running back Miles Sanders, tight end Dallas Goedert
Players to watch out for on defense: defensive end Brandon Graham, linebacker Nigel Bradham
James: Seattle. Some say this will be a close one, I don’t believe it. The Eagles are so banged up and limped so much into the playoffs, they won’t be able to catch their breath as the Seahawks are a much better team. If this is going to be a good game, Philadelphia’s run game will have to be great and Seattle’s defense will need to force some turnovers. That’s a lot to ask for from both teams.