NFL

By Tuesday morning, the field of 14 NFL teams vying to become Super Bowl champions will be narrowed to eight as the NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend begins Saturday.

This is the second year for each NFL conference to have seven teams in the playoffs as the NFL expanded it wild card slots from two to three. The two division leaders — NFC’s Green Bay Packers (13-3) and the AFC’s Tennessee Titans (12-5) — earned byes this weekend, while six win-or-go-home games will be played between Saturday and the first-ever Monday night playoff game in NFL history.

Saturday’s games include:

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET #5 Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) at #4 Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)After shaking off some rust, Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase emerged as a record-breaking candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year while helping Cincinnati get to the postseason for the first time since 2015.

The Bengals used the last two drafts to add some critical parts and proven winners who drove this worst-to-first AFC North champion team. Taking Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in the 2020 draft was a no-brainer. He won the Heisman Trophy and a national championship with LSU in 2019. His teammates — half joking, half not — nicknamed him “Joey Franchise.”

The Raiders, on the other hand, could have punched their ticket to the postseason by taking a knee on the final play against the San Diego Chargers. It looked like they might have been willing to settle for the tie when they ran the ball on second down from the Chargers 46 as the clock ticked under a minute in overtime Sunday night.

With 39 seconds remaining and four seconds left on the play clock, Chargers first-year head coach Brandon Staley called a timeout, stunning the broadcast crew of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.

Staley said afterward that he wanted to get the proper personnel on the field to defend the run and keep the Raiders either out of field goal range or make it a lot longer of an attempt for Daniel Carlson, who kicked a career-long 56-yarder earlier in the regular season.

Staley’s strategy backfired, however, when running back Josh Jacobs darted for 10 yards on third-and-4 to the Chargers 29, putting Carlson and the Raiders in solid field goal range.

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET: #6 New England Patriots (10-7) at #3 Buffalo Bills (11-6)Retired Buffalo Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay will never forget the words of caution he received shortly after the Bills opened the 2003 season with a stunning 31-0 victory over the New England Patriots.

“I remember guys were saying, ‘Don’t get used to this,’ ” Kelsay said with a laugh this week as Buffalo prepares to host the Patriots.

Perhaps, no truer words had ever been spoken.

Not only did the Patriots respond by beating the Bills 31-0 in the season finale en route to winning their second of an eventual six Super Bowl titles, the Patriots proceeded to win their next 15 straight meetings over Buffalo.

Difficult as it was then, Kelsay is encouraged to see signs of the tables finally being turned. The Bills have loosened the Patriots’ lengthy grip on the AFC East by winning division titles in each of the past two seasons.

On Saturday, the teams will meet for only the second time in the playoffs, after the then-Boston Patriots beat Buffalo 26-8 in the former American Football League’s divisional playoff in 1963.

Throughout his first NFL season, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has been a walking billboard for “The Patriot Way” — keeping his head down, working hard and trying only to do what’s asked of him to avoid self-inflicted mistakes.

It has brought successes, such as him leading all rookie quarterbacks this season in wins (10), yards passing (3,801) and touchdown passes (22).

Jones endured a 2-4 start, yet he also helped lead the Patriots back into the postseason for the first time since Tom Brady’s departure following the 2019 season.

While Jones acknowledges the stakes will be higher Saturday when the Patriots travel to Buffalo for their wild-card matchup with the Bills, for him it’s a reminder to cling to the blueprint that has gotten him to this point.

See Saturday’s edition of The Griffin Daily News for previews of the rest of the weekend’s playoff games.

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