For the majority of NFL teams, the commencement of a new calendar year also represents the end of a long, grueling NFL season.
A season which began with so much promise back in the dog days of summer has unfortunately ended too early for 20 of the 32 NFL teams. And along with the harsh cold weather that Mother Nature can provide this time of year, the harsh, cold reality has also set in that their dreams of hoisting a Super Bowl trophy come February 4th will remain unfulfilled.
Then there are the remaining twelve that have withstood…those that proved on the field that they deserved an invite to the playoff dance.
Of course, there are always the usual suspects such as the Patriots, Steelers, and Chiefs receiving an invite. Including 2017, both Kansas City & Pittsburgh have made the playoffs in four of their last five seasons, while this season marks the 14th out of the last fifteen that New England has been in the postseason.
But what sticks out about the 2017 playoffs are the “newbies”.
The Jacksonville Jaguars & Tennessee Titans received an invite to the playoff party for the first time since 2007 & 2008, respectively, while the Los Angeles Rams will be making their first appearance since 2004. But that still pales in comparison to the Buffalo Bills, who have not made the playoffs in 18 years, which was, until last week, the longest current playoff drought not only in the NFL, but in all of sports.
And while only the Rams, out of those four, look like they have a chance to be Super Bowl bound this season, a playoff appearance at least represents some success and an important stepping stone to the other three organizations, and something for their fans to get excited about.
So while the Eagles have the week off and are preparing for their divisional playoff game next Saturday against what is a yet to be determined opponent, here is a look at the four games that will make up the NFL’s Wildcard weekend:
Titans at Chiefs 4:35 PM ABC/ESPN (Sat)
The Chiefs began their season as gangbusters, starting 5-0 before faltering and losing six of their next seven, before ending the season on a 4-game winning streak.
But while 10-6 won Kansas City the AFC West, their midseason slump prevented them from getting a bye and made their playoff path much more difficult.
The Titans also limped to the finish line, ending the season 9-7 after being 8-4 at one point, which prevented them from winning the AFC South and playing at home this weekend.
Kansas City wins at home today and stays alive at least for one more week, while the Titans go home and their coach’s future hangs in the balance.
Kansas City coach Andy Reid dressed up as Santa Claus two weeks ago after the Chiefs won their division. I predict that he will be dressed like a snowman after today’s game.
Falcons at Rams 8:15 PM NBC (Sat)
The Falcons are this year’s recipient of the “Super Bowl blues” hangover, given annually to the loser of the previous year’s Super Bowl. But what made it even worse for Atlanta is that they suffered the worst collapse in Super Bowl history.
While their offense has remained mostly intact, they have not played up to par when compared to last season. Ten wins is still a pretty good season though, especially considering they were 4-4 at the midway point.
Rams coach Sean McVay has not only turned the fortunes of his 2nd year QB, Jared Goff, around, but the Rams look to be a team that will be in the playoff picture for many years to come.
Atlanta has a chance only because they represent the team with playoff experience, while most of the Rams players have not experienced much postseason success. The Rams also are a surprise 4-4 at home versus 7-1 on the road. Having said that, I still think the Rams are the better team that will advance to the 2nd round.
Bills at Jaguars 1:05 PM CBS (Sun)
It is rare when two teams are facing each other in the playoffs, and yours truly hasn’t watched a single one of their games all season. But that is exactly the case with Buffalo & Jacksonville.
With neither team coming off a successful 2016 season and both in relatively small markets (Jacksonville being the smallest in the NFL), seeing these two teams on a Sunday night or marquee late Sunday afternoon game is a rarity.
The Bills had to beat the Dolphins on the road last Sunday and then watch the Cincinnati Bengals defeat Baltimore in the closing minutes, knocking the Ravens out of the playoffs and sending Buffalo in.
Bills fans were so excited, they started partying like it was 1999 – which makes sense since that was the last time that Buffalo had actually made the playoffs.
While 2008 represented the year of the last major financial crisis, it also represented the start of a “football crisis” for Jacksonville, which went nine straight years without a winning record until 2017.
The good thing is that at least one of these teams will advance to the next round of the playoffs after suffering from losing for so long. But that’s only because they are facing each other, not because they are Super Bowl material.
If I were a betting man, I’d place my bets on Jacksonville.
Panthers at Saints 4:40 PM FOX (Sun)
The Saints rebounded from three straight 7-9 seasons to go 11-5 and win the NFC South, while the Panthers are another team that has made the playoffs in four of their last five seasons.
New Orleans defeated Carolina in both of their regular season meetings this season, but doing so three straight times is no easy feat, as the third time is usually a charm for the loser of the first two. For that reason, I’m picking the Panthers as the only road team to win on Wildcard weekend.
Assuming the Falcons lose tonight, the winner of this game would come to Philadelphia next Saturday to face the Birds. I’ll gladly take the Panthers as our opponent (or the Falcons preferably), as the Saints, with Drew Brees, would give us the toughest test in my opinion.
While Thanksgiving was two months ago, I’m thankful that the Eagles earned a bye. Otherwise, I would be freezing my butt off in 5 degree weather at the Linc today to watch the Birds play. Instead, I look forward to a balmy 38 degree Saturday next weekend.
But whether that will result in Nick Foles playing any better remains to be seen.
Enjoy the games everyone!