San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brody Purdy celebrates during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Dec. 11, 2022. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.
TEDDY WYNARD | SPORTS REPORTER | email@example.com
With the wrap-up of the NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend, eight teams are left in the fight to win the Super Bowl. With underdogs and favorites alike in the last stretch of the season, here’s an overview of each team that approaches the Divisional Round.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs received the first-round bye so their upcoming game will be their first in this postseason. Finishing tied for a league-best 14-3 record with the Eagles, they have had yet another great season. Under the helm of former Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs have rolled to another playoff appearance.
Their strength undeniably stems from Mahomes and his pure arm talent. His ability to perform miraculously in and out of the pocket has given them the chance to gain success year in and year out. Mahomes threw for 5,250 yards with 41 touchdowns and 12 interceptions during the regular season. The connection Mahomes has with tight end Travis Kelce also is a major part of their offense. With the loss of Pro-Bowl caliber receiver Tyreek Hill in a trade to the Miami Dolphins during the offseason, that connection between Mahomes and Kelce has proven to be very pivotal in Kansas City’s offense.
Their defense has struggled from time to time throughout the year and with a number of players questionable going into week 18, they may have to be worried about that factor as well. This team has a very good opportunity nonetheless to go out and win their second championship in the last four years.
The Bills have a different kind of fuel making them burn through the playoffs this season. After safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during week 17, the Bills have a new motive to play for as they fight in the playoffs. They are also playing for their recent playoff woes, falling short of the Super Bowl in the past few seasons.
They are led by Josh Allen, their star quarterback. The last few seasons have turned the Bills into a team that is now consistently making the playoffs. With great help from star wide receiver Stefon Diggs, the tandem has become one of the best in the league and the most consistent. Although Diggs did not score in the Wild Card matchup, he still contributed seven receptions for 114 yards.
Tight end Dawson Knox has also been a very consistent target for Allen, mainly in the red zone where he has scored a touchdown in five straight games now.
Their defense is a bit shaken up with starting free safety Micah Hyde and now Hamlin both being on the IR. Pro-Bowl caliber defensive end Von Miller is also out as well so they are missing key pieces of their defense. Through the injuries and all else, the Bills still shape up to be one of the best teams in the AFC and have a good shot at making the Super Bowl.
With a record of 3-3 through six weeks, many wrote the Bengals off as a team to make the playoffs and believed their Super Bowl run last year was a fluke. Yet, Cincy went on a 10-game winning streak to put them as the third seed in this season’s playoff bracket. Sophomore business major Ben Marischen spoke about his hometown team’s underdog mentality.
“I think we had a great season this year,” Marischen said. “After a 0-2 start, a lot of people lost faith in us and didn’t think that we would go back to the playoffs. But we’ve always had that underdog mentality which led us to the Super Bowl last year.”
Their wide receiver room is one of the most talked about in the league. Consisting of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, they have three very capable and proven ball catchers. It was evident when Chase went down towards the back half of the season that Higgins and Boyd had to step up into the one-two receiver slots and the team never missed a stride.
Quarterback Joe Burrow has not missed a beat either since Cincinnati was able to overcome their slow start. He had the fifth most yards out of quarterbacks with 4,475 this season and was tied for second in touchdowns with 35. It is safe to say that he managed the Bengals’ early season woes well and has given them an opportunity to run the gauntlet in the playoffs.
The third biggest comeback in NFL history. That’s what Jacksonville did in their divisional game versus the Los Angeles Chargers. Second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence started the game off by throwing four interceptions in the first half. This led to a 27-7 deficit after two quarters. In a miracle second half, they outscored the Chargers 24-3 on three touchdowns from Lawrence, giving them a 31-30 win.
The Jags do not have many household names, but they do have enough true receivers and a good ground running back that can push them down the field. Travis Etienne, who was Lawrence’s teammate back during their days with Clemson, mans the ground game for the Jaguars. Since the departure of James Robinson earlier in the season, he has led the way in that department the last half of the year. Etienne racked up 865 yards and three touchdowns from Robinson’s departure to the end of the regular season.
Their receiving core consists of Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Marvin Jones Jr. All three have the ability to go down the field and match key catches in key spots and be consistent receivers — something Jacksonville had previously been lacking. The Jags have a very under-the-radar offensive group led by Lawrence that got them to the playoffs and gives them a chance to upset and advance.
Through eight games this season, the Eagles were undefeated and looked virtually impossible to beat. The QB shine of Jalen Hurts paired with newest addition wide receiver AJ Brown and a budding star in DeVonta Smith amped up their play. After their first loss to the Commanders in week nine, they still kept the momentum they had built all season — only losing when Hurts was injured. First-year computer science major Harry Savchuk discussed his hopes for the Eagles in the playoffs.
“I think the Eagles have what it takes to win the Super Bowl this year, but of course, nothing is guaranteed,” Savchuk said. “The Eagles have a great defensive line that has given many teams trouble over the season which is what I hope to continue seeing during the playoffs. One big concern is Hurts’ health. When the Eagles faced the Giants, a very limited Hurts took the field and was not playing at 100%. Although they might be able to get by with his injury, it would significantly affect their performance and possibly their chance at the Super Bowl.”
Their offensive line has provided great protection all season. Leading the way is future Hall-of-Fame center Jason Kelce. Next to him is offensive guard Landon Dickerson and offensive tackle Lane Johnson. All three were voted to go to the Pro Bowl this season.
On the defensive side, their mainstay cornerback Darius Slay is widely regarded as one of the best in the league. They also acquired Pro-Bowl defensive end Robert Quinn from the Bears, bolstering their blitz and defensive rush attack. Rounding out the defense is safety CJ Gardner-Johnson, who was tied for the league lead in interceptions with six.
San Francisco 49ers
The second seed in the NFC showed why they belonged there in their first matchup of the playoffs. Facing off against seventh-seed Seattle Seahawks, they cruised to a 41-23 victory.
Their recent success has come from the most unlikely of players in the final pick of the 2022 NFL draft, Brock Purdy. “Mr. Irrelevant” was not on anyone’s radar at the beginning of the year. He was in the third-string slot on the 49ers’ quarterback depth chart and behind budding star Trey Lance and proven quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. After injuries to both Lance and Garoppolo during the regular season, Purdy has made the most of his opportunity. Purdy threw for 1,374 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions during the regular season.
Purdy’s success has come thanks to his talented skill players. A top-tier running back in Christian McCaffrey, the NFC Pro Bowl starting tight end George Kittle and the wide receiver pair of Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk give him a variety of options in the playbook.
The 49ers have some of the best weapons in football and have continued to use them week in and week out, no matter who is under center for them.
The fifth seed in this year’s NFC playoff bracket walked into Tampa Bay and took care of business. They took control on offense early and their defense backed them up the whole way through the game to give them a 31-14 victory.
Dak Prescott led the offense, passing for four touchdowns and running one in as well on a bootleg that looked Peyton Manning-esque. He found tight end Dalton Schultz twice in the end zone, while throwing to CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup once each as well. Their run game also developed as they were able to churn out 128 yards on the ground as well. Senior health sciences major Andrew DeMinico spoke on his original expectations of his favorite team.
“Preseason, I thought the Cowboys were going to be a nine-win team and be a wild card team, so they definitely exceeded expectations as far as wins go,” DeMinico said. “A lot of credit has to go to the running back duo of [Ezekiel Elliot] and [Tony] Pollard. When they were both healthy the rushing attack was lethal. Also, the play of Cooper Rush after Dak went down with the hand injury gave us a chance to stay in contention for the division late in the season.”
Their defense also held up well with Micah Parsons and Johnathan Hawkins getting a sack each. Jayron Kearse also had an interception so combined with the sacks and only 14 points on the board for Tampa Bay.
A worry for the Cowboy is kicker Brett Maher, who missed an NFL-record four straight extra points. Despite this, they showed they have the firepower and strength to make a far run in these playoffs.
New York Giants
The New York Giants were one of the most surprising teams to make it into the playoffs this season. First-year head coach Brian Daboll took a struggling team in the past few seasons that showed sparks of being a playoff team and pushed them over that wall. First-year sports media major Mark Surhoff emphasized the success he has seen Daboll have in New York.
“I think Brian Daboll has done a fantastic job as the new head coach,” Surhoff said. “He has made every player on the team buy in to what he envisions this team can be in the future. He has also gotten the best from quarterback Daniel Jones, who has shown he has what it takes to be a starter in this league. I can’t wait to see what he can do for this franchise in the future.”
The one name that comes up the most when talking about the Giants is Saquon Barkley. One of the premiere running backs in the league single-handedly changed the game for the Giants in their 31-24 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the playoffs. He only rushed for 53 yards on the ground, but did contribute two scores in the game.
The rushing attack continued as quarterback Daniel Jones ran the ball on 17 times for 78 yards. Through the air, he hit six different receivers with the ball, completing 24 out of 35 passes for 301 yards and two touchdown passes. It is evident that the Giants have their guy to help them travel further into the playoffs.The G-Men also have threats on the defensive side, such as rookie and rapidly developing linebacker Kavyon Thibodeaux, who they drafted fifth overall in the 2022 draft. With tackle Dexter Lawrence and defensive end Leonard Williams alongside Thibodeaux on the defensive line, they have an attacking front that can wreak havoc for opposing quarterbacks.