NFL Wildcard Weekend playoff guide

Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers, Saturday, 9.30pm

A particularly attractive season for NFL quarterbacks has thrust Brock Purdy into an unlikely starring role for the San Francisco 49ers.

Purdy, who was drafted with the very last pick in the 2022 draft to earn the unwanted moniker of ‘Mr Irrelevant’, was a distance behind Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo on the 49ers depth chart until injury intervened.

The home team are on a 10-game winning streak, with six of those victories coming under Purdy as a signal caller, but the overall strength of the 49ers’ offense has made his task much easier.

The 49ers are arguably the best balanced team on both sides of the ball in the NFC, while the in-season addition of running back Christian McCaffrey has added another potent weapon to coach Kyle Shanahan’s playbook.

After a bright start to the season, the Seattle Seahawks ultimately staggered into the playoffs, requiring an overtime win over the LA Rams and an upset win for the Detroit Lions against the Green Bay Packers on the final weekend of the regular season.

During the regular season, the 49ers accounted for the Seahawks 27-7 in Santa Clara and 21-13 in Seattle.

With influential linebacker Jordyn Brooks ruled out for the remainder of the season with an ACL injury and Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith struggling to replicate his early-season form, victory looks a formality for the 49ers.

Los Angeles Chargers @ Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, 1.15am

The Los Angeles Chargers concluded their regular season with a disappointing loss to the Denver Broncos and lost their leading wide receiver Mike Williams to a back injury in that game for a number of weeks when their playoff berth was already assured.

The Chargers roster has had to contend with injuries this year, with quarterback Justin Herbert curtailed by rib problems for much of the regular season.

Herbert and his Jacksonville Jaguars counterpart Trevor Lawrence have posted similar numbers this year, although it’s the former that continues to look to have the greater upside.

In a game between two limited outfits that’s too close to call, it could be the coaching nous of the Super Bowl-winning Doug Pederson that proves a crucial edge for a Jaguars side that trade as outsiders despite home advantage.

Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills, Sunday, 6pm

The Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins recorded a win each when they met in the AFC East during the regular season, with the Dolphins winning 21-19 in Miami in Week 3 and the Bills prevailing 32-29 in upstate New York in Week 15.

It’s difficult to envisage the Dolphins pulling an upset against the team that were pre-season favorites for Super Bowl success due to the misfortune that has beset them at quarterback.

Tua Tagovailoa remains in the concussion protocol and is ruled out, while back-up Teddy Bridgewater has to contend with a dislocated finger on his throwing hand and will serve as a back-up to rookie Skylar Thompson.

The seventh-round draft pick has thrown for 534 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in the seven matches he’s figured in so far, which suggests a relatively low ceiling on his level of ability.

The Bills will justifiably face their divisional rivals confident of advancing.

New York Giants @ Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, 9.30pm

The Minnesota Vikings boasted a 13-4 record in the regular season, but they look vulnerable favorites as they host the 9-7 New York Giants.

“The Vikings know how to win close games” is a line that’s been trotted out regularly in recent months, but edging such encounters is a result of variance, and we can expect the Vikings to revert to the mean next season.

Despite winning the NFC North, the Vikings finished with a negative differential points, and while much was made of their historic 39-36 overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts – the biggest comeback in NFL history – not enough emphasis was placed on how they found themselves 33-0 down to a team as wretched as the Colts at the half.

The Giants don’t have the roster depth that the Vikings can boast, but they may have the brightest offensive mind in the league in the form of coach Brian Dabol. A resurgent Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones can help the G-Men to an upset.

Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, 1.15am

There are strong parallels between the Miami Dolphins and the Baltimore Ravens, two talented teams that have been rocked by injuries to the quarterback position.

Lamar Jackson remains out with sustained knee injury against the Denver Broncos, while back-up Tyler Huntley has been battling shoulder and wrist injuries that forced him to miss last week’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, where Anthony Brown proved hopelessly out of his depth.

Huntley is set to start the rematch, which is a major boon to the Ravens’ prospects, but their opponents are unbeaten since Halloween and are hitting the form that carried them all the way to last year’s Super Bowl.

Dallas Cowboys @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tuesday, 1.15am

The Fat Lady may not have sung on Tom Brady’s career just yet, but she’s been spotted in the wings clearing her throat loudly during the regular season.

The 45-year-old has struggled for productivity and he’s had little assistance on the ground from a side that have been last in the league in rushing.

The Bucs will cling to a season-opening 19-17 win over the Cowboys as reason for optimism and Dallas quarterback has looked increasingly erratic in recent games, but the Cowboys go to war with the superior roster and have the edge.

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