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Saturday, April 20, 2024

NFL playoffs preview

The ‘21-22 season has concluded with a wild race into the playoffs

By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org

There’s a saying around NFL circles that rings true of weekly games during the 18-week season — “any given Sunday.” Essentially, this means any team has an opportunity to win no matter their respective records nor the standings. That’s the beauty of the NFL; no matter who has the better overall team, the game is decided on game plan and execution. According to the numbers, major upsets frequent nearly one once per week in the league. And so, the 2021-2022 season has concluded with a wild finish that saw three teams from the AFC clinch wild card spots and one team from the NFC clinch a playoff berth.

 The 2021-2022 season was a refresher, as it was the first season back to some sort of normalcy given that fans were in attendance since the pandemic rocked the nation. Additionally, the NFL added an extra game to the schedule; instead of 16 traditional games, the league expanded to 17 games

Since the newly contagious omicron strain of COVID-19 has emerged, the NFL and players association came to an agreement late into the season that players who tested positive had to isolate for five days instead of the standard 10 days for asymptomatic individuals. In addition, players must be cleared at least 24 hours before they return, meaning a team doctor must approve clearance before they are cleared to return to play. These new protocols came into play when 17 players and the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, tested positive a few days before they were set to play against the Las Vegas Raiders. 

With that being said, it has been quite the journey considering the high and the lows of the NFL grind, from overtime victories to the last second field goal game winners. This year’s playoffs are set to go underway on Jan. 15. The winner advances, and the loser goes home.

AFC Playoff picture 

No. 1 seed: Tennessee Titans (12-5) clinched a first round bye with a win 28-25 against the lowly Houston Texans. 

How they got here: The Titans started the season 8-2 beating the likes of the Seahawks, Colts twice, Jaguars, Bills, Chiefs and the Rams with three wins coming in overtime thrillers during that span. The Titans lost their star running back Derrick Henry in week eight due to a foot injury and went 6-3 without him. Tennessee clinched its second division title and expect Henry to return from injury in the playoffs. Since Tennessee gets a first round bye, they get plenty of time to let Henry get healthy in anticipation for his return in the second round. Prior to injury, Henry was having a spectacular season, rushing for 937 yard along with 10 touchdowns. 

No. 2 seed: Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) clinched the AFC West for the sixth consecutive season. They beat the Denver Broncos 28-24 in their season finale.

How they got here: The Chiefs got off to a rough start going 3-4. They looked out of sync and their offensive line looked to be in turmoil with opposing teams easily getting to Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes looked out of rhythm and uncharacteristically threw 13 interceptions in the regular season. However, since their rough start they’ve got back on track winning 10 straight, going 10-0 and looking like a Superbowl contender. The Chiefs will host the Steelers in a wild card battle in Kansas City on Jan. 16. The Chiefs have beat the Steelers once in the regular season and look to do it again as they look like the team that will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl 

No. 3 seed: Buffalo Bills (11-6) clinched the AFC East, beating the New York Jets 27-10. 

How they got here: Led by quarterback Josh Allen, the Bills started the season 5-2 with their defense pitching two shutouts. Since, they’ve gone 6-4 proving to be inconsistent in the process. They march into the playoffs with four straight wins peaking at the right time. What’s next? Buffalo will host New England on Jan.15. This will be the third game between both teams as they split the season series. Both teams are trending in opposite directions with the Bills peaking and the Patriots sliding. 

No. 4 seed: Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) Clinched the AFC North in Week 18, they fell to the Cleveland Browns 16-21.

How they got here: Well, they got here with Joe Burrow being Joe Burrow. In his second year, Burrow threw 34 touchdowns along with 14 interceptions. More importantly, Burrow threw for over 400 yards twice and once for 525 yards. In his last two starts he’s thrown eight touchdowns with no interceptions. They started the season 8-3 and 3-3 in the final six games. What’s next? Cincinnati will host Las Vegas to open Wild Card weekend on Jan.15. The Bengals have a stout pass game with a balanced ground attack. Their star quarterback Joe Burrow is turning into one of best signal callers in the NFL, this game can get out of hand quickly if Las Vegas doesn’t get to Burrow early. They already beat the Raiders in Week 11, 32-13. However, the Bengals rank 28th in pass yards allowed and have to be cautious against the red hot Raiders.

No. 5 seed: Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) secured a wildcard berth in a wild shootout against the Los Angeles Chargers in the final two seconds of overtime, 35-32. This will be the second time the Raiders make the playoffs since the 2002 season. 

How they got here: Las Vegas lost their head coach Jon Gruden mid way through the season, star second year receiver Henry Ruggs III to a fatal car accident where he is suspected to have been drunk driving where a young woman tragically lost her life. Damon Arnette was cut from the team due to posting a video where he is seen with guns making threats. Tight end Darren Waller, the Raiders best player, missed five games due to a knee injury. And somehow, the Raiders managed to overcome adversity and sneak into the playoffs in the most unprecedented way possible. Star quarterback Derek Carr played a vital role in their success, along with wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones and running back Josh Jacobs. However, the defense was the main catalyst as to why the Raiders found success late in games. Las Vegas started 5-2 then proceeded to lose five of six games to ultimately win their last four remaining games. What’s next? The surging Raiders will travel to Cincinnati to face the Bengals. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr will be playing in his first postseason game of his career. Look for Las Vegas to lean more on their run game as it has picked up the last couple games.Their defense needs to continue their play at a high level to have any kind of chance against these Bengals. 

No. 6 seed: New England Patriots (10-7) secured their playoff berth in week 17, however they lost in Week 18, 33-24 to the Miami Dolphins that pushed them down the pecking order into the sixth slot.

How they got here: The Patriots started the season 9-4 led by rookie quarterback Mac Jones who seemed to take steps into being a franchise quarterback as the season waned. New England ended their season losing three of four. Jones passed for 3,801 yards along with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. What’s next? The Patriots will go into Buffalo with the league’s top scoring defense, a rookie quarterback and ground game that can carry the team if needed. They’re going to need their defense to stop Josh Allen and company. 

No. 7 seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) snuck into the playoffs as a wild card by beating the Ravens in overtime 16-13. Their win alone did not get them into the postseason, they needed the Colts to lose and either the Raiders or the Chargers to win, a tie would have kept the Steelers out. 

How they got here: T.J. Watt, a fundamental pass rusher who tied the single season record for most sacks in a season with 22.5. Ben Roethlisberger seems to be on his way out and perhaps into retirement, has been the franchise quarterback for Pittsburgh for 18 seasons. The Steelers started the season 5-3 and 4-4-1 in their last nine outings. Running back Najee Harris was fundamental in the run game rushing for 1,200 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. What’s next? The Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Kansas City to face the Chiefs on Jan.16. The Steelers squeaked into the wildcard game with a win against the Ravens. They do have some talent with outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who had a monster year in terms of sacks and rookie running back Najee Harris. However, if the Steelers are looking to pull off an upset they need T.J. to terrorize Mahomes, Harris needs over 100 yards rushing and Roethlisberger needs to summon his prime years to keep this one close.


NFC Playoff picture


No. 1 seed: Green Bay Packers (13-4) clinched the NFC North and finished atop of the NFC earning them a first round bye. However, the Packers fell to the three-win Lions 37-30 in the season finale. 

How they got here: Led by the heavy favorite to win the MVP, Aaron Rodgers in his 17th year in the league threw for 4,115 yards along with 37 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. In addition, wide receiver Davante Adams caught 123 passes, 1,553 yards with 11 touchdowns. They started the season 7-1 and went 6-3 the rest of the way. Perhaps the most consistent team in the league, the Packers look to rest and wait for the second round of the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers looks to reach his second Super Bowl with the Packers as this might be his last season wearing the green and yellow. 

No. 2 seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) clinched the NFC South earning the second seed of the conference. They closed out the season with a win 41-17 against the Carolina Panthers. 

How they got here: They arrive into the playoffs with the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL. At 44 years old, Tom Brady is in his 22nd year putting up MVP numbers. He is a top candidate for the MVP award passing for 5,316 yards, passing for 43 touchdowns along with 12 interceptions. The Bucs have a star studded team on offense and defense; however, as of late, they have been plagued with injuries. They lost the controversial Antonio Brown in Week 17 when he decided to throw his helmet and jersey onto the sideline and his shirt and gloves into the crowd in a bizarre exit. The team has since cut Brown making him a free agent. 

No. 3 seed: Dallas Cowboys (12-5) clinched the NFC East; they closed out their season against the Philadelphia Eagles 56-26. 

How they got here: Dak Prescott led this Cowboy team into the postseason with his 4,449 passing yards with 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In the last game of the season Prescott threw for five touchdowns matching his career high for a game. Running back Ezekiel Elliot broke 1,000 rushing yards for the season adding 10 rushing touchdowns. CeeDee Lamb complimented the pass game with 79 catches for 1,102 and six touchdowns. Additionally, Amari Cooper caught 68 passes for 865 yards along with eight touchdowns. The Cowboys started the season 6-1 looking like a Super Bowl contender with a complete team on both sides of the ball. They finished the season going 6-4, enough to clinch the third seed. What’s next? The Cowboys will host San Francisco on Jan. 16. This particular game is surely to produce some fireworks as the Cowboys lead the league with 26 interceptions. Their defense offers star rookie Micah Parsons and the best cornerback in the league Trevon Diggs. 

No. 4 seed: Los Angeles Rams (12-5) clinched the NFC West while losing their season finale to the San Francisco 49ers 27-24 in an overtime thriller. The game had playoff implications for the 49ers. 

How they got here: Matthew Stafford had a phenomenal season in his first season with the Rams after he was traded from Detroit. A change of scenery was much needed, and it worked out for both parties. Stafford threw for 4,886 yard and passed for 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Cooper Kupp was a fundamental piece for Stafford’s success catching 145 passes, 1,947 receiving yards along with 16 touchdowns. What’s next? The Los Angeles Rams will host the Cardinals on Jan. 16. The Rams have done everything possible in an attempt to make a Super Bowl run by adding Mathew Stafford in the offseason, Von Miller via trade and adding Odell Beckham Jr. Additionally, they have Cooper Kupp who had a record breaking year as a receiver and Aaron Donald who had 12.5 sacks on the year. However, they ended their season in a loss while Stafford looked like he did in Detroit throwing the game away when it mattered most

No. 5 seed: Arizona Cardinals (11-6) clinched a wildcard berth, however lost to Seattle 38-30 to close out their season. 

How they got here: Quarterback Kyler Murray, wide receiver Deandre Hopkins and defensive end Chandler Jones led the Cardinals to the playoffs. The Cardinals started the season 7-0 looking like a serious threat with their star quarterback under center and their defensive unit. However, they slumped towards the finish line and finished 4-6 in their final 10 games. What’s next? The Cardinals travel to Los Angeles to play the Rams in the last game of the wildcard round. Arizona will rely on quarterback Kyler Murray – if anyone can pull off the upset it’s Murray. He can sling the ball in the pocket and has the talent in his legs to be electrifying when the pocket collapses. 

No. 6 seed: The San Francisco 49ers (10-7) the niners secured the final wildcard seed with a dramatic overtime win 27-24 against the Los Angeles Rams.

How they got here: The Super Bowl runner up from two seasons ago, started the season 5-5 in position to compete for a playoff berth. Jimmy Garoppolo is a mid-tier quarterback, but that did not stop him from turning in a clutch performance in the season finale to clinch a Wild Card spot. He led the Niners down the field for 88 yards, five plays, with 1:01 on the clock and found wide receiver Jauan Jennings in the endzone to send the game to overtime to eventually win. The Niners finished 5-2 in their last seven outings. What’s next? The second wild card game on Jan.16 will feature the 49ers against the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas. Jimmy Garoppolo is dealing with a thumb injury but proved against the Rams that he is more than capable of making game winning throws. If Nick Bosa can get to Dak Prescott and disrupt the pass game, the Niners will have a good chance to move on to the next round. 

No. 7 seed: Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) secured a wildcard berth, although they closed the season with a loss 51-26 to the Cowboys.

How they got here: Second year quarterback Jalen Hurts and wide receiver DeVonta Smith helped the Eagles reach the postseason. Hurts’ mobility to leave the pocket when needed helped the Eagles win games, rushing for 781 yards with 10 rushing touchdowns. Smith caught 64 passes with 916 yards and five touchdowns. The Eagles started the season 4-6 and caught fire in the last eight games, going 5-2. Philadelphia seems to be gelling at the right time, other than a 51-26 disastrous loss to the Cowboys. What’s next? On Jan.16, the Eagles travel to Tampa Bay to face Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in the third wildcard game. Philadelphia is in a brutal matchup. The Buccaneers are loaded with talent on both ends of the ball; however, the Eagles rank first in the league in rushing. They’re going to have to play their best game of the season to stop Tom Brady and company. Hurts must make play with his legs and arm to have any kind of shot here.

Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org



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