It’s going to be difficult to top the regular-season finale play-in thriller between the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers this past Sunday night. But if there’s ever a place that can match the wildness that the football viewing world witnessed in Vegas, it’s the NFL playoffs.
Super Wild Card Weekend kicks off this coming Saturday, Jan. 15, with none other than the Silver & Black marauders from the desert. The Raiders head to Ohio to face the Cincinnati Bengals in an afternoon clash to start the postseason. That’ll be followed by an AFC East showdown with the New England Patriots at the Buffalo Bills as a the nightcap.
Then on Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers game gets the action rolling, followed by the San Francisco 49ers matching up with the Dallas Cowboys inside Jerry World. The Pittsburgh Steelers face off with the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead on Sunday night to close out the weekend.
Let’s take a glance at all the aforementioned matchups and the lingering question each team faces in the win or go home postseason tournament:
(Note: All times listed are Pacific Standard Time)
Saturday, Jan. 15
No. 5 Raiders at No. 4 Bengals, 1:30 p.m. (NBC): Just how much energy do the Raiders have left after a taxing, but highly entertaining, finale against the Bolts? How the team mends and preps for the clash in Cincy is critical as Mother Nature will not do Vegas (maybe even the home Bengals) any favors with the forecast slated for the mid 30s and potentially snow at kickoff. Perhaps the resolve the Raiders have shown during their four-game win streak to get into the playoffs carries the day once more. For the Bengals, the main question is trench warfare. Can Cincy’s offensive line protect quarterback Joe Burrow (55 total sacks given up)? And can the Bengals defensive line get to Raiders signal caller Derek Carr? Snow or not, Vegas will need to throw at some point.
No. 6 Patriots at No. 3 Bills, 5:15 p.m. (CBS): Aside from the 50 burger New England dropped on the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17, the shine the Pats had has faded a bit. Can Bill Belichick’s defense go from opportunistic to susceptible and back to dominant? In the final weeks of the regular season giving up a total of 93 points during a 1-3 stretch run. A strong defensive effort is a must-do for New England. Why? Because Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen had his way with the Pats in a 33-21 Week 18 win. In this rubber match, can the Bills find offensive balance? Allen tore up the Pats for 314 yards through the air and 64 more on the ground with a trio of touchdowns and zero turnovers. A repeat of that Week 18 outing would be a boon for Buffalo.
Sunday, Jan. 16
No. 7 Eagles at No. 2 Buccaneers, 10 a.m. (FOX): Winners of the last seven of its 10 games, Philly is an ascending team. But, is quarterback Jalen Hurts healthy? He’s been battling an ankle ailment and for a mobile quarterback, lower-leg injuries are quite debilitating. The Eagles boast the league’s top rushing attack with Hurst a big part of that formula. Flip it to the defending champs, can quarterback Tom Brady get it done with a shifting supporting crew? Tampa lost the ever-reliable Chris Godwin at wide receiver to injury. Tailback Leonard Fournette has a gimpy hamstring. And, who could forget Antonio Brown’s tantrum and release? But if there’s a quarterback that can do more with less, it’s Tom Terrific.
No. 6 49ers at No. 3 Cowboys. 1:30 p.m. (CBS and Nickelodeon): The Niners willed themselves into the playoffs with a gutsy comeback win over the Rams. That said, can quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo snare consistency that eludes him? He may have an injured thumb on his throwing arm but it didn’t hinder him too much in the season finale. San Francisco needs him to be on point and healthy because having rookie quarterback Trey Lance take snaps against the Cowboys defense isn’t ideal. For Big D, can the offense put it all together? The team boasts elite skill position players but running back Ezekiel Elliot is hurting. Wide receiver Amari Cooper is underwhelming and quarterback Dak Prescott is suddenly inconsistent.
No. 7 Steelers at No. 2 Chiefs, 5:15 p.m. (NBC): Big Ben’s last ride but exactly how much does Ben Roethlisberger have in the tank? Pittsburgh has the most question marks of any team in the playoffs. The quarterback is a shadow of his former self. The offensive line is a turnstile and the defense, even with elite pass rusher T.J. Watt (22.5 sacks), disappears too often. Pittsburgh will have its hands full against KC. For the Chiefs, can they score points in the second half? That query likely won’t matter against the Steelers, but the rest of the playoffs, the answer must be yes. KC scored 13 second-half points in the 36-10 win over the Steelers and then just three in the 34-31 loss to the Bengals the following week. Kansas City’s must be as explosive offensively in the second half as it is in the first half.
Monday, Jan. 17
No. 5 Cardinals at No. 4 Rams 5:15 p.m. (ABC/ESPN): Suddenly floundering Arizona gets one major question here: Can it recapture the magic that made it a sexy Super Bowl pick? The Cardinals can’t seemingly tackle and the offense isn’t the same without wide out DeAndre Hopkins who is out with a MCL injury. The team ended the regular season 1-4 with the lone victory a 25-22 win over the Cowboys. But the team did lose to Lions and Seahawks in that span. Looking at the Rams and it’s a pair of queries too: Can they be physical and can quarterback Matthew Stafford avoid throwing interceptions? L.A. has a penchant to get bullied and pushed around so they’ll need to return fire and stand their ground in the playoffs. And if Stafford can stop giving the opposing team the ball, Rams boss Sean McVay’s offense can shine.