The NFC Wild Card round is set, and it seems that the two match ups will not disappoint.
The Atlanta Falcons hope to come back from their much-maligned “choke job” in last year’s Super Bowl, where they lost the game to the Patriots in spite of a 28-3 lead in the third quarter. Their third place finish in the NFC South is deceiving, seeing as they finished with a 10-6 record behind the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints, who won the division crown but are still forced to play in the opening round of the playoffs.
Jared Goff and the revitalized Los Angeles Rams face off against Atlanta on Saturday at 8:15 Eastern Standard Time. Los Angeles combined their stable of young talent with the modern, high powered offense of new head coach Sean McVay to take the NFL by storm, winning the NFC West along the way. This match pits two great passing quarterbacks against each other, though Atlanta’s top ten defense may give them an extra boost.
Meanwhile, the other Wild Card match is an all-NFC South affair, as the aforementioned champion Saints welcome their bitter Carolina rivals to New Orleans. The Saints finally took the offensive burden off of Drew Brees with the emergence of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara as a dominant two-man rushing attack. This overwhelming offense led the Saints to the NFC South title. Carolina finished second in the division, one win behind New Orleans. The addition of rookie running back/wide receiver Christian McCaffrey has provided a versatile threat for the versatile QB Cam Newton to target. The Panthers ended the season with the third best-rushing defense in the NFL, so they may be able to contain and/or neutralize the Saints’ new rushing attack.
First Round Byes
The Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings received first round byes in return for their dominant 13-3 records.
Philadelphia seems to be working just fine despite losing franchise quarterback and a would’ve-been shoe-in MVP in Carson Wentz. Backup Nick Foles, the former starter in Philly, has re-adjusted to his starting role and the Eagles seem to have taken the loss of their best player on the chin. Whoever faces them will face a dynamic challenge indeed.
Minnesota took firm control of the NFC North following the season-ending collarbone injury to Green Bay Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers and never looked back. Starting QB Sam Bradford was placed on injured reserve in November following a knee scope, having only played in two games all season. However, backup QB Case Keenum settled into the starting role quickly, and threw for 22 touchdowns and just over 3,500 yards. Former first round pick Teddy Bridgewater returned from his near career-ending injury late in the season, and could see some action either in a different package or to give Keenum a brief break. Either way, Minnesota goes into 2018 with an embarrassment of riches at the quarterback position.