Wild Card Weekend sure lived up to its name, huh? There was slime, there were upsets, and history was made. Surviving and advancing from the first round of the playoffs are the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC, and the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns – that’s right, the Browns – in the AFC.
The stage is now set for Division Championship Weekend, and it’s time for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers to get into the action. First, let’s look back on last weekend one more time.
Three Things I Learned on Wild Card Weekend
1) Slime Makes Everything Better
The NFL has done things with Nickelodeon before, but never have they aired an actual game on the ViacomCBS owned platform until this weekend with the contest between the Bears and the Saints. A more kid-friendly experience, they went all out in true “Nick” fashion, incorporating Spongebob and slime in a broadcast that received positive reviews.
I prefer a more traditional broadcast myself, but from what I saw of the hosts, the NFL and CBS knocked it out of the park in selecting the ever-charismatic Nate Burelson to host, though I did miss him on the halftime coverage.
that’s how ya do it BIG TIME pic.twitter.com/4KjF0md1FE
— Nickelodeon (@Nickelodeon) January 11, 2021
2) Defense Is Still Relevant – And Dominant
Offense has taken over the NFL in recent years due more so to the excitement that fast, long plays and explosive runs provide as the league shifts away from highlighting the bone-crushing hits that they used to. With player safety at an all-time high as a focus, the rules have shifted a bit too to favor offenses, but that doesn’t mean that defenses have let up any, and they made their presence felt this weekend.
The Baltimore Ravens limited the rushing champion, Derrick Henry, to just 40 yards on 18 carries and no touchdowns. The Cleveland Browns picked off Ben Roethlisberger four times on Sunday, and scored a defensive touchdown on the first offensive snap of the game, though that was an error on the Steelers. The Los Angeles Rams defense stepped up too, limiting a potent aerial force in the Seahawks to 20 points on just two touchdowns, and scored a touchdown themselves on a pick six to help the offense.
Let’s see if defense still wins championships.
3) The 2018 QB Class Is Living Up To the Hype
There were five quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, four within the top ten picks. Three quarterbacks from that class played on Wild Card Weekend, and all three advanced including the lower-seeded Ravens and Browns.
For Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, it’s their second and third playoff appearances respectively, and it’s the first time making it out of the first round for both of them. Baker Mayfield is in his first postseason, and a big upset against the Steelers last weekend allows the former No. 1 pick to join his classmates. Together, they make up three-fourths of the AFC teams in the Division Championship round, which as a whole, has an average quarterback age of under 26 years-old. Patrick Mahomes is the other AFC quarterback.
Three Things That I’m Looking For on Division Championship Weekend
1) The Young & The Restless
There’s two different trends among the quarterbacks still in the playoffs, and that’s the age of those in the NFC, as well as the average age of those in the AFC. Where the latter of those looks is starting to be ruled by youth, the former is dominated still by experience. Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers counter what we’re seeing in the AFC, and these three future Hall of Fame-ers look to show the others that they’re still at the top of their game. When all is said and done, and we have our two teams for the Super Bowl, it could be a battle of the new era versus the old guard in the league. That is, of course, if Jared Goff doesn’t put the “elders” to rest himself first.
Baker’s the oldest starting QB left in the AFC playoffs and he’s not even 26 ?
Mayfield — 25 years, 272 days
Mahomes — 25 years, 116 days
Allen — 24 years, 235 days
Jackson — 24 years, 4 days pic.twitter.com/6kG5jZrd5A
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 11, 2021
2) Great Expectations
All of the veteran quarterbacks are trying to show that they can still do it. Entering their mid-forties, Brees and Brady don’t have a lot of games left in them, and who knows if they’ll reach the postseason again. Aaron Rodgers is trying to fight off the impending switch to Jordan Love, his heir-apparent that the Packers spent a first-round pick on last year in the draft. Both Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield are trying to show their franchises that they’re worthy of remaining the starter with their franchises that took them first overall in their respective drafts. Mahomes has the pressure of repeating with what could be a dynasty in the making in Kansas City, while Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson try to show they can do more than make the playoffs consistently.
3) Only two home teams won last week, and both had fans in attendance. Will Lambeau and Arrowhead have fans? – YES
Fans are an essential part of the game, even in limited quantities, and that was shown on Wild Card Weekend. Of the six teams to host the round, only two advanced to the divisional round, and both of those venues had limited fans in attendance. The other locations? Only Pittsburgh allowed fans, just friends and family of the Steelers organization, and still lost. What that shows, at least at face value, is that home-field advantage isn’t just about the familiarity of the venue, but that the fans actually make a difference in the final result of the game.
All stadiums that will be hosting games in the remaining rounds will have fans in attendance, including Arrowhead and Lambeau, so home-teams should be able to have that element in their back pocket. Now the fans just have to do their part to make the difference they appear to have. With championship hopes on the line, that shouldn’t be an issue.
It hasn’t been pretty the whole time, but the NFL has made it another week in a season that initially appeared impossible to complete. Is there something that you noticed last weekend that didn’t get mentioned above? Are you paying attention to another detail this coming weekend that maybe flew under my radar? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @ JarkClonas. Be sure to tag @110Sports too.
‘Photo by: All Pro Reels / Flickr