The quest for Super Bowl LVII: Wild Card Round defies expectations

The quest to earn the coveted Lombardi Trophy of Super Bowl LVII kicked off with six intriguing Wild Card matchups from Jan. 14 to Jan. 16, breaking several notable league records in the process.


Seahawks @ 49ers

To begin the set of matchups, the Seattle Seahawks traveled to face the San Francisco 49ers to set up a third game of a divisional series that the 49ers had swept 2-0 earlier in the season. The first half score was relatively close, as Pete Carroll’s squad was able to take a narrow 17-16 lead going into halftime. However, upon entering the second half, the magnitude of the talent gap between the two teams began to manifest, as San Francisco, led by rookie quarterback Brock Purdy’s 332 passing yards and three touchdowns, managed to secure a 41-23 victory over their divisional rivals. Overall, San Francisco obtained 505 yards of offense while averaging 7.9 yards per play, setting a season record.

“It’s unbelievable to have a teammate [Brock Purdy] that’s young like that and can come in when all the odds are stacked against him, Mr. Irrelevant and everything,” 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk said. “To come out and still be who you are and play football the way that he plays, it’s just a testament to him and how he was raised and how he’s been brought up.”


Chargers @ Jaguars 

The second matchup of the weekend broke another significant record, as the Jacksonville Jaguars took on the Los Angeles Chargers to establish a thrilling matchup between Trevor Lawrence and Justin Herbert, two of the hottest young quarterbacks in the league. The first half was relatively one sided, as the Chargers dominated the first two quarters to build a confident 27-7 lead, aided by intercepting Lawrence four times. However, the second half presented an unprecedented turnaround and what became the third largest comeback in NFL playoff history, as Lawrence threw touchdowns on four straight possessions. After the fourth of those touchdowns, Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after slamming his helmet to the turf while arguing for a penalty on Jaguars tackle Jawaan Taylor, allowing the Jaguars to go for two and win the game with a field goal, securing a miraculous 31-30 victory. 


“Just to have the resiliency and the fight and the desire and the ability to continue to play, because it could have easily gone the other way, and that’s what I’m so proud of these guys for,” Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson said. “Everything is on the line, and they go out and get the job done.”


Dolphins @ Bills

In one of the most widely projected victories in NFL Wild Card playoff history, the 9-8 Miami Dolphins, led by their third string quarterback Skylar Thompson, entered a matchup in which they were 14 point underdogs against the offensively dynamic Buffalo Bills. However, despite the significant odds stacked against them, the Dolphins remained competitive throughout most of the matchup, taking optimal advantage of the Bills’ sloppy ball control to intercept Allen twice. However, the Bills’ firepower ultimately proved too much for the Dolphins to handle, and after Miami’s offense failed to convert a crucial fourth down with two minutes remaining, Buffalo managed to win in a narrow 34-31 victory. 


Giants @ Vikings

For much of the season, defense had been the Minnesota Vikings’ primary weakness, as the squad finished the year ranked 31st in defense, although the issue had been mostly swept under the rug due to a stellar 11-0 record in one-score games. However, the often seen fourth quarter comeback did not surface to benefit Kevin O’Connell’s squad. Instead, Giants QB Daniel Jones threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 78 yards to allow the G-Men to secure a 31-24 victory and advance to the Divisional Round for the first time since 2011.


Ravens @ Bengals

Ever since Ravens QB Lamar Jackson suffered a PCL sprain in the team’s Week 13 win over the Broncos, the team’s run game had suffered considerably, but it did not hinder them from remaining competitive against their divisional rival in this Wild Card matchup. Ravens backup QB Tyler Huntley performed well in his first postseason start, completing 17-of-29 passes for 226 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. However, Cincinnati took a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter when defensive end Sam Hubbard recovered quarterback Tyler Huntley‘s fumble on the goal line and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown, winning the Bengals the game.


Cowboys @ Buccaneers

As Tom Brady suited up to play the 47th playoff game of his career, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys were seeking to win their first playoff game since 2018. However, the matchup did not go as planned for the veteran QB and ended up going one-and-done in the postseason for only the second time in 12 years. Aside from kicker Brett Maher missing a league record four PATs, Dak Prescott threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Cowboys to a 31-14 in the final Wild Card matchup of the weekend and beat Tom Brady for the first time in franchise history. 


Looking ahead to the upcoming divisional round on Jan. 21 and Jan. 22, it is evident that there is still much potential to be uncovered in this year’s playoffs. Meanwhile, the eight remaining teams in postseason contention will battle for just four spots in the conference championship games and hopefully, an upcoming trip to Super Bowl LVII.