The Wild Card round of the playoffs kicked off Saturday in Western New York and, with the expansion of the NFL’s playoff structure, Super Wild Card Weekend certainly lived up to its name.
One of the two home teams to win was the Buffalo Bills who survived a last-second hail mary attempt to beat the Indianapolis Colts, 27-24. Despite Indy’s #7 seed, they were one of the better teams in the bracket and staged a furious 4th quarter comeback to give the #2 seeded Bills a serious scare. Philip Rivers showed he can still lead a team to the playoffs, but he’s 39 now and his one-year, $25-million deal with the Colts is over. Their secondary quarterback, Jacoby Brissett is heading to free agency as well and, between the two, Indy spent $46-million on the quarterback position this past season. They have a lot of good, young pieces in place for their future, so it’ll be interesting to see what they want to do at QB.
In the second game on the docket, the Los Angeles Rams upset the Seahwaks in Seattle, 30-20. Jared Goff wasn’t supposed to play but he was called on when John Wolford was knocked out of the game early with a neck injury. Goff was okay in relief, 9/19 for 155-yards and a touchdown, but he didn’t have to be great thanks to the Rams’ league-leading defense. They’ve always given Russell Wilson issues but this was particularly ugly. Wilson was 11/27 for 174-yds and 2-TDs but also had one of the most laughable pick-sixes you’ll ever see and ee also got sacked 5-times. For a guy who was the early front runner for the league’s Most Valuable Player and is considered one of the elite quarterbacks in this game, this was pretty disastrous. Despite a 12-4 regular season record that saw them go 7-1 at home, Seattle has some soul-searching to do after this loss and I think I’ll go over that in a separate post.
Saturday night’s game saw Tom Brady win his Buccaneers’ playoff debut in Washington, 31-23. He threw for 381-yds and 2-TDs and got big games from Leonard Fournette and Mike Evans. The Tampa Bay offense has looked good but their defense is going to be their Achilles’ heel as they move forward from here. Alex Smith was out for Washington but Taylor Heinicke stepped up and played a fantastic game to keep them in it, throwing for 306-yds, a TD, and running for one more. Even in defeat, Washington showed they have a solid foundation for future success. They will need to figure out what to do at QB next season but they’ll be in the conversation to repeat as NFC East champs next season.
Sunday started off with Lamar Jackson getting his first playoff win and leading the Baltimore Ravens to victory in a redemption game over the Tennessee Titans who ousted them from the playoffs last season and beat them earlier this season. The increasingly heated rivalry had some gas thrown on the fire when Marcus Peters led the Ravens in a celebratory dance on the Titans’ midfield logo following his game-winning interception. Baltimore did a great job keeping Derrick Henry in check and even after getting out to a 10-0 lead to start the game, the Titans didn’t do much. Tennessee’s defense played uncharacteristically good in the 1st quarter but they dumped a lot of adrenaline in the process and got outscored 20-3 the rest of the way. In order to be a run dominant, conservative, ball-control team, they’ll need to rebuild that defense in the offseason.
The New Orleans Saints were the only other team to win at home in the first round, handing the Chicago Bears a one-sided, 21-9 defeat. It was closer than it probably should have been considering how mismatched this game way, but the Bears’ defense did a great job giving their offense a chance. Mitch Trubisky didn’t even play all that bad. A couple of big drops really hurt their momentum earlier in the game and the Saints’ defense completely shut down their run game. It was an odd season for Chicago that probably should have seen them miss the playoffs, but I wouldn’t consider it an abject failure. They found their identity and forced Trubisky to play his best, so with a little more offensive weaponry they should be in good shape next season.
The final game of the Super Wild Card Weekend was undoubtedly the craziest, as the Cleveland Browns upset the Pittsburgh Steelers at home, 48-37. You know how I feel about omens and the first play of the game saw a high snap fumbled and recovered in the endzone by the Browns to put them up 7-0. It was as nice of a gift as Cleveland could have asked for but Pittsburgh wasn’t done giving, throwing interceptions on two of their next three possessions en route to a 28-0 start for the Browns. The Steelers eventually got on track but it was too little, too late and the Browns played well enough in the second half to hold off the comeback effort. Cleveland looks like the scariest team in the playoffs after that performance. Ben Roethlisberger put up some record numbers but also threw 4-interceptions and his future is in question after a clearly embarrassing game.
Here’s a look at the updated playoff bracket: