Previewing the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs, which will include a rematch of the Minneapolis Miracle from January 2018.
Rejoice, NFL fans, because the postseason is finally here. After four months of regular-season games, 12 teams will compete for the ultimate honor of receiving the Lombardi Trophy in early February.
Eight teams will play in the Wild Card round this weekend, with the top two seeds in each conference possessing a first-round bye.
On Saturday, we’ll be able to witness the four AFC teams play, with the four NFC teams performing on Sunday. In one of the latter two matchups, a rematch of the Minneapolis Miracle of January 2018 will take place between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints.
That being said, let’s reveal what fans should look forward to in this weekend’s quartet of matchups. Per usual, predictions for each game will be provided at the end.
What to watch for during the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs
5. Buffalo Bills at 4. Houston Texans – Saturday, Jan. 4, 4:35 p.m. ET
Storyline to pay attention to: Deshaun Watson vs. Bills defense
The Bills have returned to the playoffs for the first time since the 2017 campaign, and they’ve done it with their young quarterback. In just his second season in the pros, Josh Allen has taken a team that finished 6-10 last year into the postseason. They’ll now take part in a battle against another young quarterback. Deshaun Watson is in his third season with the Houston Texans.
Watson will possess a large task on his hands, being that he’ll be going up against this tough Bills defense that has proven to be of the league’s most dominant. This past year, Buffalo finished third in the NFL with 298.2 yards allowed-per-game. Their secondary was fourth in the league with 195.2 passing yards allowed-per-game. The latter effort was led by cornerback Tre’Davious White, who just earned AP All-Pro First-team honors.
Watson experienced a second consecutive Pro Bowl season this year. He completed 67.3% of his throws for 26 touchdowns and 12 picks through 15 games. He additionally rushed for 413 yards and seven touchdowns on a 5.0 yards-per-carry rate.
Will Watson be able to continue his dominant season against this successful Buffalo defense? It’ll definitely be interesting to witness come this weekend.
6. Tennessee Titans at 3. New England Patriots – Saturday, Jan 4, 8:15 p.m. ET
Storyline to pay attention to: Is this the end of the Patriots dynasty?
Let’s break out the facts here. Tom Brady is in the final year of his current deal. He’ll be a free agent this offseason and his future in New England is still undecided. It was obvious it was also a down year for him in 2019. The six-time Super Bowl champ didn’t reach the Pro Bowl for the first time since the 2008 season, a campaign in which he missed all but one game due to injury.
Not to mention, the Patriots didn’t finish as strong as their fans had hoped. They ended up without a first-round bye, which is the first of such a finish for them since the 2009 season. In that campaign, they lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card round in January 2010 by a score of 33-14. Additionally, in their final regular-season game this year, the Miami Dolphins upset New England 27-24 in Foxborough.
Nonetheless, they’re 12-4 and will be facing a familiar face in Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The veteran spent time with the Dolphins from 2012-2018, thus facing the Pats numerous upon numerous times during in-division games. He’s 0-6 in Foxborough, so it should be intriguing to see if he turns that around.
If the Pats do indeed lose this game, look for the narrative surrounding the dynasty to change.
6. Minnesota Vikings at 3. New Orleans Saints – Sunday, Jan. 5, 1:05 p.m. ET
Storyline to pay attention to: Can Kirk Cousins erase his own narrative?
There are differing opinions regarding Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Yes, he’s a good quarterback that can put up productive numbers. In this year alone (15 games), he completed 69.1% of his throws for 3,603 yards, 26 touchdowns, and six picks. But can he win clutch games?
In the five losses he experienced from the starting quarterback spot this year, four were to playoff teams (Green Bay (twice), Seattle, and Kansas City). And guess what this weekend is? A clutch matchup against a playoff team in the Saints.
The New Orleans secondary is 20th in the league with 241.8 passing yards allowed-per-game. Simply speaking, they’re not exactly dominant. Therefore, Cousins has a great opportunity to pick apart an average secondary and erase the narrative that he’s not a clutch, big-game quarterback. A three-touchdown, 270-yard performance along with a victory could absolutely increase the veteran’s confidence and alter the perception that many fans possess of him.
This game is also a rematch of the Minneapolis Miracle of January 2018. During that NFC Divisional round game, the Saints nearly had the game put away with a go-ahead field goal to go up 24-23 with 25 seconds remaining. They just had to stop the Vikings from reaching field-goal range to potentially win the game.
New Orleans did stop a potential winning kick from happening…but not a winning touchdown. Quarterback Case Keenum hit Stefon Diggs near the right sideline. The wideout then kept his feet in bounds and had an open lane to the endzone after Saints safety Marcus Williams whiffed on a tackle. It was a walk-off 61-yard touchdown to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship.
This weekend, these two teams will face off in the rematch of that game almost two years later, with that moment still haven’t been forgotten by either organization.
5. Seattle Seahawks at 4. Philadelphia Eagles – Sunday, Jan. 5, 4:40 p.m. ET
Storyline to pay attention to: Can the Eagles stay hot?
The Eagles were 5-7 heading into Week 14, with their chances at a third consecutive postseason berth looking slimmer by the minute. That didn’t alter their perception of the ultimate goal though. They won each of their last four regular-season games and stole the NFC East division from the Dallas Cowboys. Philly locked up the title with a 34-17 win over the New York Giants last Sunday.
Nevertheless, the four wins were against the Giants (twice), the Redskins, and Dallas. Yes, division wins are hard to come by. But the Giants did indeed finish 4-12, the Redskins 3-13, and the Cowboys 8-8. Having said that, the combined end-of-the-year record for those teams is 15-33.
Therefore, the Eagles will take on the toughest team they’ve faced in over a month this Sunday. The Seahawks ended up 11-5 and could’ve won the NFC West division if they defeated the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night.
Seattle also has a better quarterback than the Cowboys, Giants, and Redskins all do in Russell Wilson. The veteran was just given Second-team AP All-Pro honors.
If the Eagles want to participate in the NFC Divisional round for the third straight year, they can’t just stay hot. Overall, Philly is going to have to take it to another level, as their opponent will be a step above any of the teams they’ve faced in recent weeks.
NFL Wild Card round predictions (In bold) (Lines as of Friday afternoon)
5. Bills at 4. Texans (-2.5)
6. Titans at 3. Patriots (-4.5)
6. Vikings at 3. Saints (-8.0)
5. Seahawks (-1.5) at 4. Eagles