Given America's woeful response to the covid pandemic, few among us would have predicted that the NFL season would have been completed when training camp started back in August. But here we are - as promised - in the second weekend of January and facing into a brave new world: the first ever 'Super Wild Card Weekend'. Last year, the NFL tinkered with their playoff system needlessly. However, fans will benefit with a playoff weekend unlike any other. Six games over two days.
Starting from 6pm tonight, NFL fans will be treated a smorgasbord of pigskin. We've got grudge matches, divisional derbies, fascinating narratives and Tom Brady in rare form. All things considered, we're blessed to have it. Here are the storylines we're looking most forward to.
The Buffalo Bills might win the Super Bowl
The best story in this surreal NFL season has been the rapid transformation of the Buffalo Bills from also-rans into a runaway steamroller. They arrive in the playoffs having averaged 47 points in their last three games. Ominously, the vaunted Bills Mafia will make their season debut tomorrow after being forbidden from the terraces due to covid. Given Buffalo's abject history of failure, a Super Bowl run this month from Josh Allen and co. would not only be one of the all-time great NFL stories, it could provide 2021 with the positive momentum it needs.
The Ravens are playing the Titans
Familiarity breeds contempt. In the past twelve months, the Ravens and Titans have forged a truly edgy rivalry. The Ravens arrive in the playoffs having won five consecutive games, beating up on cupcakes after Lamar Jackson's Poo Break game. One problem, however: the Titans might own their souls. Last January, Derrick Henry battered the Ravens and ruined their historic season. And they overturned a 10 point lead this season to beat the Ravens in Baltimore. Lamar needs a win over an elite team and while Tennessee's defence is poor, they've always had a plan for Jackson. This is the game of the weekend.
The Browns are in the playoffs
Historically-speaking, the Cleveland Browns might be the sorriest of the NFL's 32 franchises. Their fortunes have changed this year under coach Kevin Stefanski and they reached the playoffs for the first time in 19 years. This week, they'll play an old enemy: Pittsburgh. Last week, the Browns barely beat Pittsburgh's second team to reach the playoffs. This weekend, the venue has switched to Pittsburgh and Big Ben and TJ Watt will be playing. And though Cleveland are down at least 9 players because of covid, there's still a sense that this game will be weird and close, even if it ends in a Cleveland defeat.
Brady and Brees will be gunslinging
It's pretty wild that two of the six quarterbacks behind center this weekend were born in the 1970s. NFL fans have been spoiled by extended greatness of Tom Brady and Drew Brees, but with this likely to be the final hurrah for the Saints qb, let's take a moment to appreciate how spoiled we are that these men are still in employment. Brady, in particular, has been cooking these past few weeks. Considering Mitch Trubisky is playing as well this weekend, maybe we don't know how good we've had it.