NFL: 10 stories to watch in the first round of the playoffs


The first 17-game regular season in NFL history is over and it’s playoff time, with three days of action starting tomorrow and running through Monday night. Will the indestructible Tom Brady still play his part at the controls of the Buccaneers attack with an eleventh appearance at the Super Bowl? Will a team that no one is expecting come to confuse the issue? The elimination tournament begins with six matches without a future. To whet your appetite, here are 10 first-round stories to watch.

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1) Young wolves


McJones

The first weekend of the playoffs features the young guns at quarterback. Six of the 12 starters in action are under the age of 27 and the oldest of that six-man group is none other than the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes 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). Of these, four youngsters will make their playoff debuts: Burrow, Murray, Hurts and Jones. For those wondering, the pivots who are in their first series 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 30.

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2) Historical Rivalry


Cee Dee Lamb

Photo archives, AFP

Cee Dee Lamb

Younger football fans probably see nothing historic in a playoff matchup between the 49ers and the Cowboys. And yet! These two teams with a rich past fought seven battles in the playoffs, 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 super powers and had faced each other in three conference finals in a row. In total, the Cowboys dominated this tasty series with five wins and two losses.

3) The Bengals black series


Joe Burrow

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, who have since become the Tennessee Titans. The following week, the Bengals lost to the Los Angeles Raiders (that’s a long time too!), in what turned out to be legendary running back Bo Jackson’s last game of career. Since then, the Bengals’ playoff history has been one of sadness and calamity. We had to wait 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 stretch without a playoff triumph is equal to 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?


Ben Roethlisberger

Photo: AFP

Ben Roethlisberger

Few people give the Steelers a chance against the Chiefs, who are favored by 12.5 points by the bookmakers. If the logic is respected, it will be the last career game for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. This will be his 23and start in the playoffs, which will give him the fourth highest total among quarterbacks, ahead of Joe Montana. He boasts 13 wins and if he managed to beat the Chiefs, he would join Terry Bradshaw, John Elway and Peyton Manning for third in history. Big Ben has lost his last three playoff starts, including last year against 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 field advantage


Deebo Samuel

After a 2020 season without supporters, or at least in bare stadiums, the 2021 season was played normally. Home advantage was not monstrous though with an overall record of 140-131-1 for the host clubs. In the first round of the playoffs, the trend has definitely been on the side of visiting teams in recent years. Last year, four of the six visiting teams won. It’s more than just an anecdotal year, as going back to 2017, teams on the road are 12-6. We must believe that this observation does not scare the bookmakers, who have established the six local teams (Bengals, Bills, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Chiefs and Rams) as favorites this year.

6) A return to the Rams


Eric Weddle

Photo archives, AFP

Eric Weddle

The Rams are in trouble heading into their duel against the Cardinals at the safety position. With Jordan Fuller having just seen his season come to an end and Taylor Rapp, who has found himself in protocol for concussions, 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 safety, who is a two-time All-Star and a six-time Pro Bowler. In his final season with the Rams in 2019, Weddle was a captain and he was in charge of defensive signals. For the Cardinals, it is hoped 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) Series reunion


Josh Allen

The Bills and the Patriots will be in a third meeting since December 6, a situation that is not frequent. What is even more unusual is that even though they are division rivals who meet twice a year, they have only experienced one playoff match against each other. And it’s been quite a while! This was when the Patriots were the Boston Patriots, in 1963, in a game they won 28-6. More recently, the Bills have won three of the last four meetings against the Patriots. This is the second straight year the Bills have played in the playoffs in Buffalo, but last year sanitary measures limited the crowd to 6,700 people. The atmosphere should be electric for this first playoff game in Buffalo in front of a full stadium since 1996.

8) Running in the foreground?


Jalen Hurts

For only the second time since 2013, the average passing yards per game dropped below 250 (244.1). Several threatening passing attacks faced coverage with two deep marauders and thus limited explosive plays. So does this mean that these series will feature offenses more focused on the ground game? Certainly, 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 lead the way, followed by the Bills (6), so athletic quarterbacks also play into the equation. The 49ers (7), Patriots (8), Cowboys (9) and Cardinals (10) are the other teams in the top 10 on the floor. The Titans will be added in the second round.

9) Old Friends


Kyle Shanahan

How can we forget the colossal collapse of the Falcons in Super Bowl 51, at the hands of the Patriots? Those same Falcons spurned a 28-3 lead in the third quarter only to lose in overtime. Why return to this episode? Because two of the main architects of this cursed team find themselves against each other on Sunday. Dan Quinn, who was the head coach, now leads the Cowboys defense. Kyle Shanahan, who was offensive coordinator under Quinn, was later promoted to head coach with the 49ers. In 2019, the two faced off when Shanahan led his team with an 11-2 record in San Francisco, while Quinn was struggling 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) Fat Monday Night


Matthew Stafford

Photo: AFP

Matthew Stafford

The NFL has chosen this year to stretch its programming from the first round of the playoffs until Monday evening. The Cardinals and the Rams will bear the brunt of this duel in the spotlight. This 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. For one thing, they were the NFL’s best team this season on the road with an eight-and-one loss record. However, they have lost three times in as many night games this season.

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