NFL Wild-Card Round Preview: Multiple QBs face first playoff test, Tom Brady seeking eighth Super Bowl ring
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is the oldest active player in the NFL, so of course he is the oldest quarterback taking centerstage during wild card weekend to kick off the road to the Super Bowl.
But while Brady knows all about the pressure of playoff football, multiple other quarterbacks are about to experience it for the first time.
Every quarterback playing on Saturday night has never seen the field in a playoff atmosphere.
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Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert and Jacksonville Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence, two of the best young signal callers in the game, will be pitted against each other, while San Francisco 49ers surprise third-stringer Brock Purdy will be facing Seattle Seahawks journeyman Geno Smith, who finally gets to rock in some playoff football.
New York Giants first-rounder Daniel Jones makes the playoffs in Year 5, while the Miami Dolphins have to go with Skylar Thompson, as Tua Tagovailoa, who would’ve had his first playoff start, is still sidelined. Finally, another injury, this time to Lamar Jackson, has the Baltimore Ravens looking to Tyler Huntley to lead them in Cincinnati.
To put it into perspective, Patrick Mahomes is the oldest quarterback in the AFC in this playoff . . . at 27 years old.
The next generation is here, but can they handle the veterans? Let’s take a look at each matchup in this wild card weekend.
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San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks – Jan. 14, 4:30 p.m., FOXFox Bet Odds: 49ers (-9.5)
San Fran began the year 3-4, with many questioning whether Jimmy Garoppolo had what it took to get the 49ers back to the playoffs. And despite winning, those questions got even louder when he went down for the season, and Purdy, the seventh-round pick out of Iowa State, had to take his place.
Well, all of those questions were squashed as the 49ers continued their winning streak, finishing with 10 straight to win the NFC West and host the Seahawks.
Smith has been a surprise in Seattle under Pete Carroll, although the 49ers have been able to beat them twice now. The key for the Seahawks will be stopping Christian McCaffrey, who is expected to be featured prominently with rainy conditions in the Bay Area on Saturday night.
Since being traded to San Fran, McCaffrey has totaled 746 rushing yards with six touchdowns on 159 carries, while hauling in 52 catches for 464 yards with four more scores.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Los Angeles Chargers – Jan. 14, 8:15 p.m., NBCFox Bet Odds: Chargers (-2.5)
While most games have heavy favorites this weekend, this matchup is expected to be very close.
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The spotlight will be on who can outduel the other quarterback, as Herbert is looking to put naysayers to rest while Lawrence wants to keep his hot streak going.
Herbert has proved he can win in this league, but he hasn’t been able to make it to the playoffs. A 10-7 record this season gives him an opportunity as the No. 5 seed, and he doesn’t want to squander an opportunity to beat a Jaguars team on the road.
However, with a good defense and exceptional coaching on the offensive side by head coach Doug Pederson, Lawrence has lit it up in recent weeks, totaling 12 touchdowns to two interceptions with 1,779 passing yards and a 103.4 passer rating in his last seven games. That’s led to a five-game winning streak to end the season and give the Jags the AFC South title.
Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins – Jan. 15, 1:00 p.m., CBSFox Bet Odds: Bills (-13.5)
Miraculously, Damar Hamlin has been discharged from Buffalo General Hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest in Cincinnati two weeks ago. That has led many to speculate about Hamlin being present at Highmark Stadium on Sunday in what will certainly be an extremely emotional outing if that’s the case.
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Hamlin’s injury has also added even more unity to a Bills team that has dominated its competition, finishing the regular season with a seven-game winning streak. And they’re expected to do so again with Thompson, the Dolphins’ third-string quarterback, starting in a raucous Buffalo environment.
Between Allen’s pedigree in the playoffs and Buffalo’s tough defense, this one is expected to be a blowout.
Minnesota Vikings vs. New York Giants – Jan. 15, 4:30 p.m., FOXFox Bet Odds: Vikings (-3)
Kirk Cousins and the Vikings put together eight fourth-quarter comebacks in the regular season, tying the NFL record. No matter the score (it was quite literally 33-0 at halftime against the Indianapolis Colts), this team never says die.
But will their luck run up against a Giants team that needed just one season under Brian Daboll to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2016? Jones and Saquon Barkley have been a ground-and-pound duo that picks up first downs and wears down defenses on their way to a 9-7-1 record.
However, this Vikings team saw that on Christmas Eve and won on a last-second, 61-yarder by Greg Joseph to capture one of those comeback wins.
Can Cousins finally make a run with Minnesota? He’ll be in front of his home crowd where he went 8-1 this season to start off.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens – Jan. 15, 8:15 p.m., NBCFox Bet Odds: Bengals (-8.5)
No, a coin flip didn’t need to determine this one after the Bengals took care of the Ravens in Week 18 to win the AFC North. But just like that, it’s a rematch with the Ravens in the No. 6 seed in the conference.
Unfortunately, a Jackson-Joe Burrow matchup isn’t what we will see on Sunday night. Instead, the Ravens have yet to name a starter at quarterback for Sunday, as Tyler Huntley continues to deal with a right shoulder injury. Undrafted rookie Anthony Brown will go if Huntley can’t.
That’s why Burrow and the red-hot Bengals are expected to handle their division rival with ease. Aside from their postponed game against the Bills in Week 17, the Bengals won eight straight to end the year. Burrow threw for 18 touchdowns to six interceptions with a 67.44% completion rate over that span.
With the Ravens struggling to score points with Jackson out, the Bengals will want to run this one up early.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys – Jan. 16, 8:15 p.m., ESPNFox Bet Odds: Cowboys (-2.5)
The finale of this wild-card round goes to Brady and his Bucs, who snuck into the playoffs with an 8-9 record, and the Cowboys, a team looking to squash the stigma that they can’t win when it matters.
Dak Prescott has had a solid career in Dallas, but when it comes time for playoff games, he can’t seem to make that run, no matter how good his team may be. Last season, it was the controversial quarterback draw that ran the clock out in Dallas, giving San Francisco the pass to the next round. Fans and analysts alike couldn’t believe the play call.
The Cowboys will travel to Tampa to see Brady in search of his eighth Super Bowl ring, and despite the Bucs struggling to put up points, they’ve somehow managed to come away with enough wins to give him a shot.
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As we’ve seen in the past, that’s all Brady usually needs.
Brady has never lost to the Cowboys in his career, and Prescott was tied for the league-lead in interceptions this season, throwing eight in his last five games.