NFL Storylines Intensify as Wild Card Weekend Rolls Through

NFL Storylines Intensify as Wild Card Weekend Rolls Through

Wild Card Weekend has kicked off in thrilling fashion with comebacks, Cinderella stories, and dominant performances from some of the league’s top superstars.

The NFL’s Wild Card Weekend is the first round of the NFL playoffs, which typically takes place in the middle of January. The Wild Card Weekend features six games; the top team from each conference earns a first-round bye and the next six teams face off in the Wild Card round. The winners of these games then advance to the Divisional Round to play against other winners within their conference.

The Wild Card Weekend was first implemented in 1978 amidst the NFL’s expansion to a 16-game schedule; prior to 1978, only the division champions from each conference advanced to the playoffs.

This past weekend, 12 teams faced off in these win or go home matches with the winners advancing.

Two games on Saturday kicked off the action-packed weekend.

The 49ers vs. Seahawks, two bitter divisional rivals squaring off against each other, saw an extremely well-rounded 49ers roster take on a rebuilding Seahawks team who overperformed in the regular season thanks to the improved play from quarterback Geno Smith and the breakout performances from running back Kenneth Walker III.

Geno Smith, a comeback player of the year candidate, had seemingly been able to revive his career at the quarterback position with career bests in almost every statistical category. Smith threw for a career high of 4,282 yards and 30 touchdowns this season, according to ESPN, and boasted a top six passer rating in the league.

Youngster Kenneth Walker, offensive rookie of the year candidate, surpassed all expectations for his first year with his 1,050 rushing yards, and 9 touchdowns. The Seahawks have also demonstrated their trust in Walker by giving him a large role in the offense with nearly 230 attempts of running the ball, which netted him just outside of the top ten in the league for carries according to ESPN.

Despite the promise from these two talents, this game was not much of a contest. The 49ers were much too well rounded, and the rebuilding Seahawks simply couldn’t contain their high-powered offense. The final score was 41-23 in favor of the Niners. This game also amplified the underdog story of San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy, who despite being picked last in last year’s draft, has been able to lead his team to the divisional round of the playoffs.

The next game saw the Jaguars pit against the Chargers, two teams with bright futures due to their young superstar quarterbacks. Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars and Justin Herbert of the Chargers had both been putting up stellar performances within their offenses, and they had both been wildly consistent throughout the year.

Trevor Lawrence this season had showcased why he was worthy of the first overall pick in the 2021 draft with his ability to be a leader and ability to hold a strong presence within the pocket. Lawrence threw for just above 4,100 yards and 25 touchdowns, putting him top ten on the year in both statistics according to ESPN. He also put up these stats with an underperforming offensive line.

Justin Herbert, who seemingly has a cannon for an arm, made waves all season with his ability to put the football anywhere he wants it to go. He finished the season second in passing yards with 4,739, and 8th in touchdowns (tied with opponent Trevor Lawrence) with 25, per ESPN.

Although they were a higher seed due to winning the AFC South division, the Jaguars were considered to be pretty big underdogs due to their relatively inexperienced roster with lots of young, developing players. Despite this, the Jaguars were able to put up one of the greatest postseason comebacks of all time, winning 31-30. The Jaguars were 27 down at one point but never gave up and chipped at the Chargers extensive lead. This allowed for Jacksonville to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired.

Early in the afternoon on Sunday, the banged-up Dolphins who were desperately missing their first or even second-string quarterback, faced off against the AFC’s powerhouse Buffalo Bills. Many had written them off, but some believed that the Dolphins star-studded defense was capable of keeping the game close. The Dolphins X-factor defensive players include outside linebacker Bradley Chubb and pro-bowl corner Xavien Howard.

The Dolphins were indeed able to keep the game close with their impressive defensive performances, including a fumble recovery touchdown scored by defensive tackle Zach Sieler.

Despite the high scoring game, however, the Bills defense are who sealed the win for Buffalo with a key fourth-down stop to turn the ball over on downs with little time left. Buffalo’s defense was clutch when it mattered, forcing 6 punts and two turnovers throughout the game.

Third string quarterback of the Dolphins, Skylar Thompson, performed much better than many had anticipated, but starter Tua Tagovailoa was deeply missed for Miami. Tua had suffered multiple head related injuries throughout the season.

The final score of the game was 34-31 in favor of Buffalo.

The Giants and Vikings matched up late on Sunday afternoon in one of the most anticipated games of the weekend. Just a few weeks ago the Vikings took down the Giants in a close game which ended with a game winning field-goal. The Giants headed into wild-card weekend with a chip on their shoulder and looked to take down a Vikings squad who many deemed to be fraudulent compared to their record.

Giants quarterback Daniel Jones had a stellar performance both throwing and rushing the ball, with 301 and 78 yards respectively.

Giants running back Saquon Barkley was able to make up for the lack of Giants receiving talent with two rushing touchdowns of his own.

Despite these convincing performances, the Vikings did keep it close and had a chance to drive for a game tying touchdown. This ultimately fell short, leading the Giants to win 31-24.

Junior Giants fan Calvin Klumpp believes that quarterback Daniel Jones is massively underrated and deserves more credit for much of the Giants success due to his ability to put together solid performances like the wildcard game despite having little offensive help.

“He’s been really reliable with turnovers this year and his performance has been particularly impressive considering his largely weak offensive line and receiving core of practice squad guys,” Calvin said. “Richie James [Giants wide receiver] being the best receiver is usually not conducive to productive quarterback play, but Jones has been good regardless. Also, his legs are slept on and add to his ability to game manage really well.”

Sunday’s night game set the stage for a Ravens vs. Bengals match up, another intense divisional rivalry.

The Ravens, similarly, to the Dolphins, were missing a superstar quarterback; Lamar Jackson, who was injured in week 13, had been the catalyst for the Ravens early season success which propelled them into the playoffs.

A strong Ravens defense was responsible for this game not being labeled to be a complete blowout, especially by a well-rounded Bengals team.

In a relatively uneventful game, besides a 98-yard fumble recovery touchdown for the Bengals defense which gave them the lead that they won with, Cincinnati took down Baltimore 24-17.

The last game, a Monday night match up, saw the Cowboys and Buccaneers face off in a clash of two pretty well-rounded teams.

The underperforming Buccaneers are led by who many consider the G.O.A.T., quarterback Tom Brady, who had never lost to the Cowboys before Monday night.

The Cowboys stacked roster, with star youngsters Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs on the defensive side of the ball, looked to break the Cowboys losing trend against Brady.

Dallas was able to hand Tom Brady his first loss to the Cowboys after dominant performances on both sides of the ball. The Cowboys defense shut Brady down, keeping him to just two touchdowns, while Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott did his thing. The final score was 31-14 as the Cowboys celebrated moving on to the divisional round.

Senior William Chalfant is confident in his pick of Dallas to take home the Vince Lombardi trophy (super bowl trophy), because of their success leading up to the playoffs.

“I’ve stuck with the Cowboys as my pick to win it all because of their recent dominance down the final stretch of the season,” Will said.

[Update: The Cowboys lost to San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Jan. 22.]