The first 17-game regular season in NFL history is a thing of the past and it’s time for the playoffs, with three days of action starting tomorrow and through Monday night. Will the indestructible Tom Brady still make his own at the helm of the Buccaneers attack with an eleventh appearance at the Super Bowl? Will a team that no one expects come to scramble the waters? The playoff tournament begins with six games without a future. To make your mouth water, here are 10 stories to watch out for in the first round.
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1) Young wolves
The first weekend of the playoffs features the Young Wolves as quarterbacks. Six of the 12 starters in action are under the age of 27 and the oldest of that group of six is none other than Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs at 26. The others are Josh Allen (Bills, 25), Joe Burrow (Bengals, 25), Kyler Murray (Cardinals, 24), Jalen Hurts (Eagles, 23) and Mac Jones (Patriots, 23). Among them, four youngsters will make their playoff debuts: Burrow, Murray, Hurts and Jones. For those who would ask the question, the pivots who are in their first serial start in the first round have an unconvincing record of 11-31 since 2002. To this category, we must also add Derek Carr, who will live his first moments in the playoffs with the Raiders, at age 30.
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2) Historical rivalry
Younger football fans probably don’t see anything historic in a playoff duel between the 49ers and the Cowboys. And yet! These two teams with a rich history have fought seven playoff battles, which produced unforgettable moments. Three times in the 1970s, the Cowboys beat the 49ers. Then, in January 1982, the 49ers savored their revenge when Joe Montana joined Dwight Clark in the end zone late in the game. The game, immortalized as “The Catch”, still resonates with longtime enthusiasts. From 1993 to 1995, the two clubs were superpowers and had faced each other in three straight conference finals. In total, the Cowboys dominated this tasty streak with five wins and two losses.
3) The Bengals’ black series
On January 6, 1991, the Bengals won their last playoff game. It’s been so long since the event took place against the Houston Oilers, which have since become the Tennessee Titans. The following week, the Bengals lost to the Los Angeles Raiders (that’s been a long time, too!), In what turned out to be the last game of legendary running back Bo Jackson. Since then, the history of the Bengals in the playoffs has been nothing but sadness and calamity. It was not until 2005 for another presence in the playoffs. For 10 years, the team made the playoffs seven times, but never won a game. That 30-year period without a playoff triumph equals the drought the Detroit Lions are experiencing. With Joe Burrow and an explosive offense, the Bengals can dream of the end of purgatory.
4) Big Ben’s farewell?
Few are giving the Steelers a chance against the Chiefs, who are 12.5 point favorites by the bookmakers. If logic is followed, this will be the last career game for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. This will be his 23e start in the playoffs, which will give him the fourth highest total in the quarterbacks, ahead of Joe Montana. He claims 13 wins and if he does manage to beat the Chiefs he would join Terry Bradshaw, John Elway and Peyton Manning in third place in history. Big Ben has lost his last three playoff starts, including last year to the Browns, a game in which he threw four touchdowns and four interceptions. His last playoff victory dates back to January 15, 2017 … against the Chiefs.
5) No home advantage
After a 2020 season without supporters, or at least in bare stadiums, the 2021 season was played normally. The home advantage was not monstrous, however, with an overall record of 140-131-1 for the host clubs. In the first round of the playoffs, the trend is definitely on the side of visiting teams in recent years. Last year, four of the six visiting teams won. This is much more than an anecdotal year, since going back to 2017, the teams on the road show a record of 12-6. We must believe that this finding does not frighten the bookmakers, who have established the six local teams (Bengals, Bills, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Chiefs and Rams) as favorites this year.
6) A ghost among the Rams
The Rams are in deep trouble on the eve of their duel against the Cardinals, in the position of marauder. With Jordan Fuller who has just seen his season come to an end and Taylor Rapp, who found himself in the concussion protocol, the management felt the urgency to the point of repatriating Eric Weddle, retired since 2019. It is difficult to know what role will play the 37-year-old marauder, who made a two-time All-Star Team and six-time Pro Bowl appearance. In his final season with the Rams in 2019, Weddle was a captain and he was responsible for defensive signals. As for the Cardinals, we hope that another veteran, JJ Watt, will be able to return to the game. The defensive end has been on the sidelines since Week 8 with a shoulder injury.
7) Reunion in the series
The Bills and Patriots will be in a third matchup since Dec. 6, a situation that is not common. What is even more unusual is that even though they are division rivals who cross each other twice a year, they have only experienced one playoff duel against each other. And it’s been a while! It was during a time when the Patriots were the Boston Patriots, in 1963, in a game they won 28-6. Most recently, the Bills have won three of the last four games against the Patriots. This is the second straight year the Bills have played in the playoffs in Buffalo, but last year sanitation measures limited the crowd to 6,700. The atmosphere should be electric for this first playoff game in Buffalo in front of a full stadium, since 1996.
8) Race to the foreground?
For just the second time since 2013, the average aerial yards per game has dropped below 250 (244.1). Several menacing passing attacks faced covers with two deep marauders and thus limited explosive plays. Does this mean that the present series will feature offensives more focused on ground play? One thing is certain, no less than six teams in action this weekend occupy a place in the top 10 in terms of rushing yards per game. The Eagles are the first in this area, followed by the Bills (6), like what athletic quarterbacks also play in the equation. The 49ers (7), Patriots (8), Cowboys (9) and Cardinals (10) are the other teams among the top 10 on floor. The Titans will join in the second round.
9) old friends
How to forget the colossal collapse of the Falcons at Super Bowl 51, at the hands of the Patriots? These same Falcons had escaped a 28-3 lead in the third quarter and then lost in overtime. Why come back to this episode? Because two of the main architects of this cursed team are found against each other on Sunday. Dan Quinn, who was the head coach, now leads the Cowboys defense. Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator under Quinn, was then promoted to head coach, along with the 49ers. In 2019, the two faced off when Shanahan was in charge of his team with an 11-2 record in San Francisco, while Quinn struggled with the Falcons at 4-9. Quinn had yet guided his team to a 29-22 victory, with 19 points in the fourth quarter.
10) big monday night
The NFL has made the choice this year to stretch its programming of the first playoff round until Monday evening. The Cardinals and Rams will pay the price for this duel in the spotlight. It will be the first playoff game presented on a Monday night since December 26, 1988. The Rams had just been involved in this duel, a loss to the Vikings. It will be intriguing to see how the Cardinals perform in Los Angeles. On the one hand, they’ve been the best team in the NFL this season on the road with a record of eight wins and one loss. However, they have been defeated three times in as many evening games this season.