There were a lot of playoff questions to be answered in Week 17 of the NFL season, and there were some unexpected shakeups.
The field is set now. The Philadelphia Eagles and Tennessee Titans clinched the final two open slots with wins Sunday. Seeds shifted in both conferences, right up until the final seconds of “Sunday Night Football.”
The wild-card weekend should be an entertaining one, with some great matchups on both sides of a crowded bracket:
No. 5 Buffalo Bills at No. 4 Houston Texans
Saturday, January 4, 4:35 p.m. ET on ESPN/ABC
The Bills/Texans game was officially set when the Chiefs won on Sunday. The Bills and Texans rested many key starters in Week 17.
The Bills are making just their second playoff appearance since the 1999 season — they lost on the famous “Music City Miracle” that year — and are seeking their first playoff win since Dec. 30, 1995. The Bills have a solid foundation with a strong defense and an improved offense led by second-year quarterback Josh Allen, and could have a shot to end the drought since their last postseason win. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson will have a say in that, and he should benefit from a week off. And Houston is expected to have defensive end J.J. Watt back from an injury, which is a tremendous boost to the defense.
No. 6 Tennessee Titans at No. 3 New England Patriots
Saturday, January 4, 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS
For the first time in 10 years, the Patriots have to play in wild-card weekend.
A shocking home loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 knocked the Patriots out of the No. 2 seed. Instead of a week to rest and get healthy, they’re stuck facing a Tennessee Titans team that went 7-3 after Ryan Tannehill took over as the team’s starting quarterback.
Tannehill played well again in the Titans’ playoff-clinching win over the Texans in Week 17. Derrick Henry scored three touchdowns and continued his career season. The Titans, coached by former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, are capable of giving the Patriots a tough game.
The last time the Patriots played on wild-card weekend, it was the end of the 2009 season and they lost to the Baltimore Ravens. It might not be easy this season either.
No. 6 Minnesota Vikings at No. 3 New Orleans Saints
Sunday, January 5, 1:05 p.m. ET on FOX
Imagine going 13-3 and not even getting a first-round bye. That’s the plight of the Saints, who can’t seem to catch a break on their road back to the Super Bowl. New Orleans blasted the Panthers in Week 17 and got none of the help it needed for a first-round bye.
It’s not just the lack of a bye. The Saints get a very tough matchup for a No. 3 vs. No. 6 game. The Vikings are one of the stronger No. 6 seeds in recent memory. Kirk Cousins has had a solid season, though his inability to come through in big games is a constant topic of conversation. If Dalvin Cook can return from injury, the Vikings offense can be dangerous.
Drew Brees and the Saints are capable of making the Super Bowl without a bye, but the road is really tough for a 13-win team.
No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 4 Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, January 5, 4:40 p.m. ET on NBC
The Eagles didn’t play well for a majority of the season, but got the two wins they needed to host a playoff game. They beat the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16 and pulled away from the New York Giants late in Week 17 to clinch the NFC East. It has been a tough season for the Eagles, but they’re one of eight teams that gets to have a home playoff game.
They’ll face a Seahawks team that came unbelievably close to an NFC West title, but tight end Jacob Hollister was held barely out of the end zone on a fourth-down play at the end of a 26-21 loss to the 49ers. The Seahawks are going to have to recover fast for their playoff opener.
Divisional round times set
Saturday, January 11
NFC worst seed remaining at No. 1 San Francisco 49ers, 4:35 p.m. ET on NBC
AFC worst seed remaining at No. 1 Baltimore Ravens, 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS
Sunday, January 12
AFC best seed remaining at No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs, 3:05 p.m. ET on CBS
NFC best seed remaining at No. 2 Green Bay Packers, 6:40 p.m. ET on FOX
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