AFC Wild Card Preview – A Cat-Tastrophy

Eric Urbanowicz
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After an NFL season that saw the return of a controversial quarterback after nearly two years off, some of the scariest health moments in recent memory and some breakout moments for future stars, it’s hard to imagine this season getting any wilder. Well that could change as we enter wildcard weekend.

This years game’s will feature a mixed bag of usual suspects and new challengers. With the opportunity to play in the big game on the line, who in the AFC will step up?

Enough talk, let’s look at the AFC Wild Card matchups:

 

Los Angeles Chargers (10-7) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8) – Saturday, 8:15 PM

A year after former first overall pick Joe Burrow unexpectedly lead the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs in his second season, Trevor Lawrence looks to do the same with Jacksonville. After starting the season 2-6, Jacksonville went on a 7-2 tear, surpassing the Tennessee Titans and winning the AFC South.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Chargers finally punched their ticket to the playoffs after having Justin Herbert at the helm for three years. After being just another team overlooked in the AFC West with the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and even Las Vegas Raiders, the Chargers joined Kansas City as the only teams from the division in the playoffs.

X-Factor:

Los Angeles: Gerald Everett – Tight End

So much is made about Los Angeles’ air attack with wide receivers Mike Williams, Keenan Allen and Joshua Palmer, as well as running back Austin Ekeler. One name that doesn’t get enough love is tight end Gerald Everett. Contributing 555 yards and four touchdowns this year, he’s been extremely solid when they’ve gotten to the red zone.

Jacksonville: Rayshawn Jenkins – Safety

It seems like this year, whenever Jacksonville has needed a big play, Rayshawn Jenkins has made it. Key breakups, game changing sacks and even a walk off interception have defined his season. Even crazier, he gets to face the team that drafted him and let him walk in free agency..

Prediction: Jacksonville Jaguars win, 24-17. Los Angeles has a very high powered offense, but their defense leaves something to be desired. Los Angeles should be a team ready to make a run, just not this year.

 

Miami Dolphins (9-8) vs. Buffalo Bills (13-3) – Sunday, 1:00 PM

When we first did our season predictions, I said that the Miami Dolphins success hinged on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. While what was said seemed more damning, it ultimately turned out to be accurate, just in the opposite way. Thanks to weapons like wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, as well as head coach Mike McDaniel, Tagovailoa not only turned a corner but really took a massive stride. It even got to the point that he put the team in a good enough position that they were able to clinch a spot while he was out with an injury.

Then there’s Buffalo, the team everyone knew was going to make a postseason run, and sure enough, here we are. Once again, Josh Allen and company did their job, despite falling short of the top seed.

X-Factor:

Miami: Jevon Holland – Safety

Back in September, Holland strip sacked Josh Allen on the way to a 21-19 win for Miami. It may be one play and there may have been a lot of other plays since, but there’s at least a small piece of the subconscious in Allen that remembers it. If that small piece breaks loose, that could give Miami a unique advantage.

Buffalo: Damar Hamlin – Safety

At this point, it’s pretty much a known factor he won’t step on the field for the rest of this year, however following Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on the gridiron, you can expect him to have some sort of impact on the game. Moments like this often power teams enough to go on massive runs. Teams like the 2009 New Orleans Saints (Hurricane Katrina aftermath), 2013 Boston Red Sox (Boston Bombing) and 2017 Houston Astros (Hurricane Harvey) have proven it. This may be the rally point for Buffalo in the postseason.

Prediction: Buffalo Bills win, 24-21. This score reflects if Tagovailoa is cleared to play. If he is, then we could expect a good old shootout. The weapons match up too well and whoever makes that one mistake will lose. If it’s one of the back ups, this goes from a shootout to a rout.

 

Baltimore Ravens (10-7) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) – Sunday, 8:15 PM

The AFC portion of Wild Card weekends wraps up with a battle out of the AFC North. Looking to find their way back to the Super Bowl, Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals look for the celebration they didn’t get last year.

On the other side, the Baltimore Ravens look to build momentum in keeping their star player, Lamar Jackson, beyond this season. Jackson meanwhile will be looking to bolster his value as he prepares to hit free agency. It’s a win-win situation?

X-Factor:

Baltimore: Patrick Queen – Linebacker

The Cincinnati Bengals offense is very pass heavy, however to set it up, they will use the run. In addition to going after the quarterback and limiting the middle of the field, Patrick Queen is going to have stuff the run. Stopping the pass will be hard enough but if they can take Joe Mixon out of the equation, then Cincinnati will have to pass and that could get them in trouble if things get too predictable.

Cincinnati: Vonn Bell – Safety

Vonn Bell has been a thorn in the side of the Baltimore Ravens this year. An interception, a fumble recovery and 11 tackles in two games has displayed he’s been a force against the Ravens. If he can add to that, it could be a long day for Baltimore, no matter who the quarterback is.

Prediction: Cincinnati Bengals win, 30-17. No matter who the quarterback is for Baltimore, this game is going to be an uphill battle for them. Cincinnati has the momentum and are a better built team. This game shouldn’t be close but with it being a division rivalry, it could very well end up being a close encounter.

Eric Urbanowicz

Connecticut

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