Wildcard weekend lived up to the expectations in my book, as four of the six games were decided by one score. We saw a near record breaking comeback, an actual record breaking defensive score to decide a game, and a never before seen kicking performance (though not in a positive way).
As the dust from round one settles and the teams that advanced plan for their divisional matchups, I'm going to go through each game to give my brief thoughts about what transpired. We'll go in chronological order, starting with the first game played on Saturday.
Seattle Seahawks 23
San Francisco 49ers 41
While the Seahawks kept this one closer than the final score indicates, the thing I was most impressed with was how Brock Purdy performed in his NFL postseason debut. I was on the under 42 going into the game as I thought Purdy would get eased into his first playoff start and that the Niners would rely more on their run game and defense to beat their division rivals. But I was very wrong, as San Francisco nearly hit the over by themselves and Purdy threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers.
Seahawks fans were probably just happy to be there after trading away Russell Wilson in the offseason, and they had a legitimate shot to win until the 49ers pulled away in fourth quarter. San Francisco has now won ten straight games and hasn't lost since Christian McCaffrey's second game with the team. They are probably the most talented team on both sides of the ball excluding the quarterback position, but if Brock Purdy continues to play like this, I'm not sure if they'll lose to anyone. They'll take on the Cowboys at home on Sunday evening.
Los Angeles Chargers 30
Jacksonville Jaguars 31
Absolutely everything went wrong for the Jaguars in the first half. Trevor Lawrence threw four(!) interceptions, the Chargers were doing whatever they wanted offensively, and a Charger punt even bounced directly off a Jaguar helmet to be recovered by L.A. just when it seemed Jacksonville could gain a bit of momentum. However, after the Jags scored a last minute TD to close out the first 30 minutes, the second half became an entirely different story. Trevor Lawrence brushed off his poor first half performance to mount a 27-point comeback and steal a win after a 36-yard field goal from Riley Patterson as time expired.
This was a monumental collapse for the Chargers, and people are right to criticize Brandon Staley for getting too conservative in the second half. But it's not entirely on him. Justin Herbert and the rest of the offense disappeared in the final quarter, and Jacksonville's last-second field likely would have just been for the tie had Joey Bosa not committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to give the Jags an opportunity for a two-point conversion at just the one-yard line. The 27-point comeback was the third largest in NFL playoff history, and I wouldn't want to play any team coming off a win like that. Jacksonville will travel to Kansas City to attempt to topple the top-seeded Chiefs in the Divisional Round's first game on Saturday.
Miami Dolphins 31
Buffalo Bills 34
This was probably the most surprising result of the weekend. The Dolphins were playing with their third string quarterback and were coming off a regular season finale against the Jets where they struggled mightily to score nine points (not counting the fluke safety on the lateral-filled final play of the game). I was expecting Buffalo to come in and dominate for the entirety of the game, which it looked like they were about to do after mounting a 17-0 lead early. However, turnovers and unforced errors kept the Dolphins in the game, and they actually took the lead early in the second half after a Josh Allen fumble led to a scoop and score.
Dolphins fans should be proud of how their team fought given their quarterback situation, and I think they would have most likely won if Tua TagovailoaIa had been healthy given how bad Buffalo played. I still think the Bills are one of the best teams in the league and are a legitimate contender to win the Super Bowl this year, but Josh Allen has to take better care of the football for that to happen. They'll finally get to play the Bengals at home on Sunday in what should be the most highly anticipated game of the weekend for me.
New York Giants 31
Minnesota Vikings 24
Man, oh man, would I hate to be a Vikings fan. It seems like that franchise is cursed worse than my Tennessee Volunteers, as they seemingly lose in a crushing way every postseason. Minnesota was 11-0 in games decided by one-score in the regular season, which probably inevitably meant they were finally going to taint that record the first chance they got in the playoffs. New York got out to an early and never trailed, as the best the Vikings could do was tie it at 24 before a 2-yard TD run by Saquon Barkley sealed it.
Giants fans should be ecstatic with how their team is playing, as Brian Daboll's squad has thoroughly impressed everyone after such a poor display for the last decade or so in New York. This was their first playoff victory since Eli Manning's Super Bowl win in 2011, and it's possible that Daniel Jones becomes capable of leading them back to the promised land eventually if he keeps progressing like he has so far. I don't know if they'll be able to outlast the beast of the NFC this season, but they'll have a shot at another rematch with their division rival and 1-seed in Philadelphia on Saturday night.
Side note: If you would have told me before the season that three of the last four NFC teams remaining in the playoffs were going to come from the NFC East, I would have called you insane. Props to that division for figuring things out and going from the worst in football just a couple years ago, to statistically the best this season.
Side note 2: Can NFL quarterbacks please stop checking down on fourth and medium or long with their seasons on the line? It was one thing when new Titans QB Josh Dobbs did it in his second career start, but Kirk Cousins is an 11-year veteran. And he has Justin Jefferson on his team! I mean, just throwing it anywhere in Jefferson's vicinity is likely your best option when you need to pick up significant yardage down the field.
Let's just move on.
Baltimore Ravens 17
Cincinnati Bengals 24
Cincinnati was fortunate to win this game. Baltimore was playing with a backup QB, Tyler Huntley, who I think has a good chance of starting somewhere next season after some impressive outings in back-to-back seasons filling in for Lamar Jackson. However, his decision to reach for the goal line on a QB sneak on 3rd and goal led to a 98-score the other direction by Sam Hubbard of the Bengals. This was the longest fumble return TD in playoff history, and it turned out to be the deciding factor in the outcome. I haven't seen many people talking about how close the Ravens were to pulling off a miraculous touchdown themselves on the game's final play, as Huntley's fadeaway heave was tipped right into the hands of James Proche, who just couldn't hang on.
Still, since most people anticipated the Bengals to win big, I think most NFL fans are more curious as to whether Lamar Jackson will be back in Baltimore next season or not as opposed to dissecting the ins and outs of this game. It seems like his relationship with the organization is fractured, and I'm not sure if it will be repaired. I know there are several teams who would love to bring Jackson to their offense, but I've not seen any inside information regarding the subject of his or the team's plans for next year.
As for Cincinnati, they'll take on the Bills in Buffalo on Sunday, and it'll be interesting to see how both teams bounce back from shaky performances as large favorites in their rematch of the game that was stopped early in Cincinnati a few weeks ago.
Dallas Cowboys 31
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14
The Cowboys came to play on Monday night... Well, everyone but Brett Maher, that is. Maher missed an unbelievable four extra points in a row to start the game, something that has never happened before in either a regular or postseason game. He also missed his final PAT in the regular season finale against Washington, meaning a professional kicker missed five consecutive extra points across two NFL games. Everyone felt bad for the guy, but luckily for him, his errors didn't end up mattering in the slightest as his team dominated the Bucs from start to finish.
The biggest takeaway from this game for me is that Tampa Bay wasn't just coasting through the regular season or waiting until the playoffs to figure things out. They were just simply a bad team this year with the benefit of playing in the worst division in the entirety of the NFL. (Yes, even including the AFC South). I think there's almost no way Tom Brady plays in Tampa again next season, and I'm wondering if he has anything left in the tank at all after such a poor season. Still, I can't see him walking away from football after a year like this, so I think he'll end up in a new location (or maybe a familiar one?) when the 2023 season kicks off.
As for the Cowboys, you can't really indict much of anything about how they looked outside of the kicking unit. That was almost assuredly just a fluke, but you have to wonder if Dallas will look to bring someone else in for the remainder of the postseason after such a bad performance from Maher. Kicking is a very mental position, and there's no time to wait for a guy to get himself out of a slump when you're battling for a spot in the NFC Championship. Which is unfortunate for a kicker as consistently solid as Brett Maher has been in his career.
The Cowboys will have their work cut out for them when they travel to San Francisco to battle the 49ers with two days less rest that their opponent. We'll see if they can beat the odds and pull off an upset to keep their chances of finally reaching the Super Bowl again alive.
Stay tuned for the additional content coming later this week as the Divisional Round approaches. On Thursday, I'll recap what I got right and wrong from the Wildcard Round as well as who I have winning each of the four games this weekend. And on Friday, I'll give you some of my favorite betting plays for Saturday and Sunday.
Let me know in the comments what you loved or hated from the opening round of the playoffs. I'd love to hear what surprised you most or how you're feeling about your team's chances going forward if you're lucky enough to root for one of the eight teams remaining.
Written by Nick Swatson