I don’t think all the wild last second finishes that highlighted the final weeks of the 2022 NFL season could have prepared us for the scoring barrages and upsets of Super Wildcard weekend. Geno Smith kicked off the weekend of big surprise plays with a beautiful 50-yard touchdown pass to D.K. Metcalf before halftime to take the lead, and even though that basically all that Seattle had to defend themselves from the inevitable Brock Purdy scoring spree, big plays infected practically every other game of the weekend.
Josh Allen, who threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in a close victory to the frisky Miami Dolphins, stated that, “...it’s one weeks seasons from here on out.” Turnovers, poor decisions, and broken plays dotted practically every playoff game, making these victories feel more like a battle for survival rather than fantastic performances. However, despite Houston’s rivalry with Jacksonville, their comeback victory after being down 27-0 is nothing short of remarkable, and will go down in history as one of the most impactful victories in Jaguars history. And, with Tom Brady going out with a dud in potentially his last NFL game, that leaves only one Florida team in the top eight of the league.
Here’s where I’m rankings all of the playoff participants after Super Wildcard Weekend:
- San Francisco 49ers (14-4) - San Francisco, despite Geno Smith’s best attempts at keeping it interesting, used the second half to squish the hopes out of all Seattle Seahawks fans with Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey. The 49ers’ defense was fantastic for all but the 2nd quarter, where Seattle was able to score 17 of their total 23 points. This eventually turned into the easy victory for the 49ers as many expected, but that one quarter will be a source of inspiration for all future opponents in the playoffs.
- Kansas City Chiefs (14-3) - We didn’t get to see Kansas City this weekend, but with reports emerging that quarterback Patrick Mahomes had earned 49 of the possible 50 first place votes for the All-Pro team, nearly guaranteeing another MVP award for him. Mahomes and the Chiefs finished with the 1st overall offense in the NFL, a remarkable achievement for all the turnover their receiving corps has undertaken in the past year. Now preparing to host Jacksonville in the divisional round, Mahomes and their line will get an interesting test as the take on the Jaguars defense.
- Buffalo Bills (14-3) - It was a much sloppier game than any Buffalo Bills fan could have ever bargained for, but it was still a victory for the Bills at the end of the day. Josh Allen came out of the gate hot, turned the ball over like crazy in the middle of the game to give Miami’s sputtering offense plenty of chances to narrow the lead, and then got hot again to regain the 10-point lead before the third quarter was over. However, being held to nothing in the 4th quarter, and giving up a fumble-return touchdown to kick off the second half will linger in the minds of worrisome Bills fans, now preparing for a rematch versus Cincinnati. Their regular season game was cancelled due to Damar Hamlin’s injury midgame, and now Buffalo will get a chance to beat the Bengals on their own turf. the Bengals have lost three of their starting five offensive lineman to injury in just the past couple of weeks, so it could be Buffalo’s defense coming to save the day again the 4th quarter. This team is still great, but these hot and cold spells on offense will only serve to hurt them as the competition grows significantly fiercer.
- Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) - Thanks to Jalen Hurts returning (albeit in limited fashion) in their season finale against the Giants, Philadelphia got to take wildcard weekend off, but in a sort of divine twist, will have to face the Giants again in the divisional round. In their first meeting, a fully-loaded Philadelphia offense laid waste to the Giants in a 48-22 romping in the Meadowlands. Their season finale was another victory against the Giants, but this game can hardly be recognized as anything substantial since the Giants rested plenty of their starters as their playoff fate had been sealed. However, the Eagles only won that game by six points, a worrying differential when the opposing quarterback was Davis Webb. Next week, against a red-hot Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, the Philadelphia defense will have a lot more on their plate, and if Jalen Hurts is still...hurt...this game could get hairy fast.
- Cincinnati Bengals (13-4) - Thanks to Sam Hubbard’s fantastic, game-flipping, 98-yard fumble return touchdown, Cincinnati was able to shut the doors on a surprisingly potent Baltimore offense before it was too late. Before that play, Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley had just scrambled up the field for 35 yards to the Cincinnati two-yard line. That fumble couldn’t have been more perfectly timed, and sucked the life out of a Baltimore team rapidly gaining momentum in a very close match up until that point. In fact, that was the last score of the game, and the last time either team gained more than 20 yards in a possession. Cincinnati’s offense, now decimated by injuries on the offensive line, was only able to put up 17 points, which likely won’t be nearly enough to beat Buffalo. Fortunately for them, their defense still appears up for the task.
- Dallas Cowboys (13-5) - What a perfect game for Dallas after that disastrous season finale in Washington. Have you ever seen a team look so different from one week to the next? Dak Prescott was 25-33 for 305 passing yards and 4 touchdown passes, along with a rushing touchdown of his own. This kind of production against what was supposed to be a Tampa Bay defense regaining it’s championship-era stride is nothing short of remarkable, especially after last week’s terrible showing. Additionally, making Tom Brady look like a bottom-10 passer in what could be his final game as an NFL player, holding him to zero points until the final seconds of the third quarter is fantastic. This Dallas team sure does seem to have a sense for the moment, but will their special teams revive themselves before it’s too late? The margin for error vanishes entirely once you’re on the field with San Francisco, so Dallas will be counting on Brett Maher (or someone else) to regain his form before the weekend is here.
- New York Giants (10-7-1) - After bottoming out against the Eagles about a month ago, the Giants suddenly started playing their best football in a fantastic playoff push that has now netted them their first playoff win since they beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl 11 years ago. After giving the Vikings all they could handle in one of their last losses of the regular season, the Giants doubled down on the scrambling ability of Daniel Jones, and he repaid them in spectacular fashion. 78 yards on 17 (!!!) carries to accompany 301 passing yards and 2 passing touchdowns will have Giants fans calling Jones the second coming of Cam Newton, but Saquon’s 106 yards from scrimmage shouldn’t be forgotten.
- Jacksonville Jaguars (10-8) - I know we’re supposed to hate the glitter kitties, but I couldn’t help but celebrate their miraculous 27-point comeback to win the game. Trevor Lawrence threw up four - yes, actually four - interceptions in just the first half to give the Los Angeles Chargers a massive early lead, demanding that he play absolutely perfect for the rest of the game. He did, and so did Zay Jones, Christian Kirk, Travis Etienne, and the entire Jacksonville defense. For making one of the most impossible comebacks in playoff history, the Jaguars’ prize is playing the Kansas City Chiefs the next week. This is a tall order, but if Trevor Lawrence can continue his perfect streak from the second half of the wildcard game, they might just have a chance. Apparently anything is possible with Jacksonville.
- Los Angeles Chargers (10-8) - Los Angeles Chargers (10-8) - I have no idea where you go from a loss like this. Fire Joe Lombardi, I guess (which they did), and hope that this time next year your team is able to gain a single first down when they need it. Seriously, there were several moments in this game where the Chargers just needed a few yards in order to gain a first down and chew enough clock to seal the game away, and they couldn’t do it. With Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, Gerald Everett, and an offensive line that played adequate enough, the Chargers simply couldn’t gain a few yards in the several moments they could’ve in the 4th quarter to kill the game. This is Charger football, and until they find a coordinator that can take advantage of the king’s bounty they have on offense, it’s going to stay like this.
- Minnesota Vikings (13-5) - After going 11-0 in one-score games during the regular season, the Vikings finally have their comeuppance in their first home playoff game since the Minneapolis Miracle. Justin Jefferson was held under 50 yards, Dalvin Cook was held to just 60 on the ground, and poor rushing defense gave the scrambling Giants all the lead they needed in the first quarter. This season wasn’t expected to be much of anything but mediocre for the Vikings, making a season like this still very remarkable. However, with a defense ranked 28th overall, there’s a very clear weakness that will need to be addressed if they fancy themselves a Super Bowl contender in 2023.
- Baltimore Ravens (10-8) - Where do the Ravens go from here? As with every year, the Ravens defense was fantastic all year long, getting more and more production out of linebackers Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith and rookie safety Kyle Hamilton as the season wore on. However, another promising season over all-too early because of another Lamar Jackson injury that ends up ending his season puts both Jackson and Baltimore in a murky position entering 2023. Tyler Huntley was just a few inches away from potentially winning a road playoff game, but there’s no hiding how quickly this Ravens’ offense shrinks when Jackson is not on the field. Regardless if Jackson signs with Baltimore or goes searching for greater pastures, this will be a pivotal offseason for Baltimore to figure out how to clean up this offense.
- Seattle Seahawks (9-9) - It was the ending we had all sorta expected out of the Seahawks after clawing their way to a wildcard spot, setting up a third meeting with the 49ers. Despite the loss, Seattle was still one of the great success stories of 2022, many believing them to be a bottom-5 team in the league, which couldn’t have been farther from the truth with Geno Smith and Kenneth Walker III in the backfield. Geno more than earned a second year in Seattle, and based on the adulation both Pete Carroll and Smith gave one another after the game, it seems likely that a deal will be struck in the coming weeks. For icing on the cake, Seattle fans can look forward to the 2023 NFL Draft, since Seattle is in possession of the fifth overall pick thanks to the Russell Wilson trade. If Rashaad Penny is re-signed and Seattle’s rookie tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas can continue their great play, this can be one of the deadliest offenses in the NFC come September.
- Miami Dolphins (9-9) - What a game by Miami! Not given a shadow of a chance starting basically their first-team preseason offense against the mighty Bills, the Dolphins forced four turnovers, of which they scored on all except for the first. The most dramatic of which came right after halftime when Josh Allen fumbled the ball on an Eric Rowe sack, which was recovered by Miami defensive tackle Zach Sieler for the go-ahead score. This would be the only time Miami would lead in this game, but thanks to the defense forcing Buffalo to punt twice at the end of the fourth quarter, Miami only needed one field goal drive to tie it up at the end of the game. Unfortunately, due to a major communication error between Dolphins’ head coach Mike McDaniel and his assistants during that drive, a fourth and one with the game on the line suddenly turned into a fourth and six. Skylar Thompson had been poor all season, but would’ve been remembered much more fondly if Jaylen Waddle had caught a few more easy passes this game. Even though Buffalo had nearly doubled Miami’s total yardage on the game, there was plenty of reason to believe this ramshackle Miami squad would pull off the upset with under a minute left in the game. If Tua stays healthy, there’s no reason to believe this team can’t be a Super Bowl contender in 2023.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-10) - What an ugly showing for the Buccaneers in what could be Tom Brady’s last game in the NFL. Not much could’ve been expected from a Bucs team that limped into the playoffs with a losing record, but their recent success in passing to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin gave hope, but it was all for not. Tampa Bay didn’t have a scoring drive until the bitter end of the third quarter, and at that point, the story of the game had become Brett Maher’s mesmerizing four extra-point misses in a row as Dallas ran up the score. Tampa Bay’s only good drive of the first half ended in an end zone interception, which practically ended the game after the Cowboys scored a touchdown with it. With Tom Brady’s future as murky as ever, and with a defensive meltdown like this, Tampa Bay’s future is most in question out of all these playoff teams.