by Paul West
It’s the biggest Wild Card weekend in NFL history, including the first Monday Night Wild Card game, and there’s a lot to look forward to. There are seven quarterbacks making their first playoff starts: two of whom are rookies, one of which is age-defying Hall of Famer Tom Brady, and one of whom is probable Comeback Player of the Year Geno Smith. There are bound to be surprising outcomes distributed across this weekend’s six games; here are a few to look out for.
Devin Singletary will have a big game
It’s the playoffs, and everyone has a lot to play for; but the Buffalo Bills have a full season’s worth of narrative packed into just the past few weeks. Demar Hamlin was healthy enough to actually visit his teammates in the days leading up to the game, and the Bills will want to finish their journey to the Super Bowl after knocking on the door the past couple of years and being eliminated in last season’s instant classic against Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs are who the Miami defense will focus on stopping, along with emergent secondary targets Dawson Knox and Gabe Davis; but a key to the Bills’ success on offense will be balance, and that will include someone besides Allen racking up rushing yards. It’s easy to forget after his relative quiet in the second half of the season, but Devin Singletary has at times had big performances for the Bills–and he’s due for one here.
The Bills will likely be playing with a one-or-two-score lead for much of the game. The Dolphins will be starting rookie Skylar Thompson, a seventh-round pick who’s barely seen live NFL action, who’ll have the pressure of keeping up with a prolific offense on top of the pressure of making just his third professional start in his playoff debut. This will free up Singletary to pound the ball often, mixing in the occasional reception out of the backfield and likely finding the end zone at least once. James Cook has cut into his playing time and touches of late, and might do the same this weekend; but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Singletary return to being the feature back, helping the Bills build an early lead then hammering the door shut over the course of the second half.
Daniel Jones will have 300 combined yards
It seems like “Danny Dimes” has finally settled the matter of whether he’s the Giants’ quarterback of the future. He’s been great lately, decisive in the pocket and aggressive with his legs, and he’s led the Giants on a strong second-half push to their first playoff berth since 2016. His performance, and the resurgence of their decimated receiving crew, has taken pressure off of Saquon Barkley to carry the offense singlehandedly; and the defense has also been resurgent, pressuring opposing quarterbacks and limiting damage to stay in close games. The Minnesota Vikings gave up 25.1 points a game in the regular season, along with the second-most yards per game, and are here because of a penchant for one-score wins–meaning this one is likely to stay close and and high scoring the entire way. If Jones retains his recent composure and decisiveness, he’ll bleed the Vikings’ vulnerable defense by spreading the ball around; and when the Vikings collapse to stop Barkley, Jones will continue finding running lanes to swipe first downs and the occasional downfield run. Whether it’s 220 in the air and 80 on the ground, 250 in the air and 60 on the ground, or some other comparable split, Danny Jones will rack up 300 total yards in what might be the most thrilling game of the weekend.
Geno Smith will continue his road to redemption
Geno Smith‘s career has famously been a rollercoaster ride, but this year has mostly been a surge. Called upon to replace a legend at age 34, Smith was expected to shepherd the the Seahawks through a transitional period with game management and veteran leadership. Instead, he’s been dynamic: among the league leaders in many passing categories, occasionally doing damage with his wheels, and making big plays in big moments to get the Seahawks to an unexpected playoff spot. He’s almost certainly this year’s Comeback Player of the Year, but he’s aiming even higher; and surrounded with talent like DJ Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Kenneth Walker III, and Noah Fant, he might out-duel promising rookie Brock Purdy and the 49ers. Either way, he’ll put up a performance worthy of his resurgent status.