Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen celebrates with fans after an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Bills defeated the Jets 27-10. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Previewing the AFC Wild Card Weekend

After a turbulent Week 18, the NFL Playoffs are here. The final week of the regular season saw a shocking upset and a near-tie that turned the AFC playoff picture upside down.

The craziness started when the Indianapolis Colts, who were entirely expected to lock up one of the two AFC Wild Card spots, lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars. This simultaneously knocked them out of the playoffs and opened up the possibility of the Steelers making it in.

With a Steelers overtime win against the Ravens, they seemed all but set to secure that final Wild Card spot. Only barring a tie in the prime-time Chargers-Steelers game.

And then, the Chargers mounted a 15-point comeback in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. Daniel Carlson nailed a last-minute field goal, though, to win it for the Raiders and send both them and Pittsburgh into the playoffs.

And, thus, the AFC Playoffs were set, laying the groundwork for some intriguing matchups and rivalry rematches.

No. 4 Cincinnati Bengals vs. No. 5 Las Vegas Raiders, Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

With their last-second win against the Chargers, the Raiders locked in a date with Joe Burrow and the Bengals. The Bengals wrapped up their regular season with wins against the Ravens and Chiefs before losing to the Browns in the season finale in a game that had no implications for them.

Cincinnati and Las Vegas met once this season, with the Bengals prevailing 32-13 on Nov. 21. Joe Mixon rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. Nearly eight weeks later, the two AFC teams will face off again.

The Bengals are playing in the playoffs for the first time in five seasons after winning the AFC North. Their last playoff victory? Against the Houston Oilers in 1990. So, they’ll certainly want to bring back some postseason success to Cincinnati this weekend.

Regardless, Burrow has some playoff experience of his own from his National Championship season at LSU. He said he’s confident in his experience in big games.

The Raiders ended their season on a hot streak, winning their last four games. Las Vegas won those four games by a combined 12 points; they’ve been successful in plenty of close games this season, with seven of their ten wins coming by one score.

In the teams’ matchup earlier this season, Raiders QB Derek Carr threw for 215 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He said he’s familiar with the Bengals now but hopes to fare better the second time around.

No. 3 Buffalo Bills vs. No. 6 New England Patriots, Saturday at 8:15 p.m.

Out of the three AFC playoff matchups, this one is the only intraconference game: Pats and Bills. The old and the new. It’s a rivalry that promises to play out for an excellent playoff game, as the two AFC East squads will face off for the third and final time this season.

The Patriots took the first game of the series in Buffalo in a cold, snowy game that matched their play style. Rookie gunslinger Mac Jones only attempted three passes in the whole game, but the Patriots ran for 222 yards as a team, which proved to be enough for a 14-10 win.

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In round two, the Bills came out on top in Foxborough. Buffalo simply overpowered New England’s defense, and Jones and Co. couldn’t keep up with Josh Allen. Allen threw for 314 yards and rushed for 64 more, while Micah Hyde snagged two interceptions, and the Bills came out on top, 33-21.

Buffalo will host round three, so if deciding just based on the game location, the scales would tip in favor of New England. But, the Bills have been playing much better football as of late, winning four straight to end their season after losing to the Pats and Bucs.

The Patriots, on the other hand, are limping into this Wild Card matchup, losing three of their last four regular-season games, including their second loss of the season to the Miami Dolphins. They’re hoping they didn’t peak too early this season, as they’ll try to tap back into the success they saw toward the middle of the season.

The weather seems like it could play a factor this Saturday night, with temperatures likely to dip into the single digits after sunset. Combined with the wind chill, Saturday’s game might make for one of the coldest games ever played at Orchard Park.

No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs vs. No. 7 Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday at 8:15 p.m.

After the Chargers and Raiders narrowly avoided a tie, the Steelers faithful took a collective deep breath. But the worst might still be yet to come. They’ll now face off with the juggernaut Kansas City Chiefs.

The Steelers come in as 13-point underdogs. Ben Roethlisberger, in what could be his final game, didn’t exactly give a vote of confidence but said he wanted to have fun out there.

“We probably aren’t supposed to be here. We’re probably not a very good football team. Out of 14 teams that are in, I think we’re probably at number 14. We’re double-digit underdogs in the playoffs. So, let’s just go play and have fun and see what happens.”

The Chiefs and Steelers faced off once this season, with Kansas City winning 36-10 in a fairly lopsided game. They’ll kick off in the final game of the AFC Wild Card weekend on Sunday night.

About Parker Fluke

I'm a third-year student at the University of Florida passionate about storytelling and sportswriting. My goal is to work in communications for a professional sports team after I graduate.

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