RingerNFL writers answer burning questions ahead of this weekend’s wild card draw.
1. What is your favorite game to watch?
Lindsey Jones: Charging at the Jaguars and close are not worth it. I’m sure it will be a popular choice among my colleagues and it should be. Justin Herbert! Trevor Lawrence! The chance that Brandon Staley will make a crazy decision (or decisions). The opportunistic and disorderly defense of the Jaguars. Derwin James Jr. and (hopefully) Joey Boza. This game has a high chance of an elite QB game, but it’s also the Chargers, so we should expect things to get weird. This makes this game my must-see.
Nora Princiotti: Since it looks like Lamar Jackson won’t be playing this weekend, I’ll take the Chargers-Jaguars.
Stephen Ruiz: Give me a game of quarterbacks from generation to generation who have weapons that can do just about anything. I don’t know if their teams are good enough to get past the next round, so I want to enjoy Herbert and Lawrence as much as possible right now. In the first game of the Jags-Chargers, the two made about 10 unrealistic shots together … and this was at a time when Herbert was treating broken ribs and Lawrence was fixing problems at the beginning of the season. If both guys reach their potential, this could be a budget version of the shootout between Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen that we saw last January.
Sheil Kapadia: Bucks-Cowboys. Doubles will fly anyway after that. If the Bucks win, we’ll immediately get rumors of Mike McCarthy and Sean Peyton in Dallas, and it’ll be a feast for Duck Prescott haters. If the Cowboys win, everyone can make a list of the top five places Tom Brady will play next season (okay, ok, it’s already happening).
Danny Kelly: Look, I know that I’m biased as one of the RingerSeattle fans, and I know a lot of people love San Francisco, but who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned playoff game between the Photoniners and the Seahawks? On the Nine side, Brock Purdy is a terrific story, literally Mr. Irrelevant, who took over at the end of the season and played like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. From the Seahawks side, it’s hard not to appreciate Gino Smith and his late-career resurgence. This used to be one of the best matchups in the NFL, and this game could revive that momentum.
Austin Gale: Chargers-Jaguars. Two phenomenal quarterback talents will go head-to-head in their first NFL playoff game. Both Herbert and Lawrence will begin writing what should become an illustrious NFL legacy with their Saturday night performances. And Staley will be looking for revenge after Doug Pederson completely outclassed him in the Jags’ 38-10 victory over the Chargers in Week 3. Get your popcorn ready.
Danny Heifetz: Herbert vs. Lawrence for quarterback, Bills vs. Dolphins for pregame emotions, Brady vs. Cowboys for gloating.
2. Which QB playing this weekend do you trust the most?
Ruiz: The one with seven rings seems like the obvious choice, but the Cowboys’ pass rush is atrocious and Brady does his best to avoid getting hit. I don’t blame him, but for Brady, this game may be more about self-preservation than victory. If so, I would have more confidence in Josh Allen this weekend. It’s playoff time, which means the Billies will be interested in unlocking Allen as a runner, which in turn could unlock an upgraded version of this football-throwing Kaiju. Allen may pull off a farce against Miami, but there’s no way he’s going to let Buffalo lose this weekend.
Jones: Tight call between Allen and Joe Burrow. And yes, Allen’s choice seems a bit odd, because loving Allen, the quarterback, means coming to terms with the fact that he’s going to risk his body and the ball. Could he throw a pickaxe or lose a fumble from the goal line? Of course. But I believe he will do his best to help the Bills win every game.
Kelly: It’s close to a handful of stars, but I’ll go with Allen. He just has too many ways to beat you. Whether he’s throwing 50-yard touchdown bombs at Stephon Diggs or using his legs to score an unbeatable score, Allen is most like an NFL superhero.
Kapadia: There’s a two-horse race between Allen and Barrow, but I’ll ride here with Barrow. He demonstrated a special skill that all great quarterbacks have: problem solving. Last year, he tore apart the defense by throwing the ball across the field. This year, he has shown he can take a “take what the defense gives you” approach. I’m concerned about the Bengals’ offensive line injuries and they have to counter the Ravens’ tough defense. But with Burrow, there is never a panic. I trust him to understand this.
Gale: Dig in with a significant margin. He put on an absolute show in the second half of the season, leading the Bengals to 10 wins in their last 11 games. The Bengals are doing better in the Super Bowl now than they did a year ago because he and the offense have improved. The championship window is “always open” as long as he’s under center in Cincinnati, he says.
Princes: I would have named Barrow if he hadn’t played in the Ravens’ defense, which has been his rival in his two worst games this season. Since Mike McDonald seems to be thriving against Burrow, I think the answer is Allen.
I’m Lefty Brock Purdy. LOL, I’m kidding. Allen. Even though he has one or two shots in the game that don’t make any sense (in a bad way), he still has four or five shots in the game that don’t make any sense (in a very good way). If the bills finally get through the AFC this year, it will be because of him.
Heifetz: This is the draw between Skylar Thompson and Tom Brady.
3. Which non-QB will have the biggest impact this weekend?
Heifetz: Justin Jefferson can single-handedly burn the giants if the New York raids don’t do enough damage to Kirk Cousins.
Kelly: I’m sure the Giants will try to think of ways to slow him down, but Jefferson has been downright unstoppable at times this season – and he needs to be on Sunday if the Vikings want to get past this dastardly Giants team. After a couple of quiet games to end the season, I expect Jefferson to explode in Minnesota vs. New York.
Gale: Does Brian Daball count? He and coordinators Mike Kafka and Wink Martindale held a master class on bringing out one of football’s worst postseason lineups. After resting as a starter in a pointless game of Week 18, Daboll will be poised to take on a rogue Viking team on Sunday.
Kapadia: Nick Bosa. He finished the regular season as the NFL sack leader with 18.5 and had 13 (!) more quarterback hits than any other player. The Seahawks have had 20 offensive possessions this season against the 49ers in two games. They scored one touchdown. If this game ends in failure, there is a good chance that Boza will play a huge role.
Jones: Hello Nick Bosa. Defensive Player of the Year ballots will be cast before the wildcard games start, but I think this is the weekend when Boza will help solidify his position for this award. He’s had three sacks in two games against the Seahawks in the regular season and will face a Seattle offensive line that hasn’t played well in recent weeks.
Ruiz: Nick Bosa might eat Jeno Smith on Saturday. Actually, I could pick the entire 49ers defense, but I’ll just stay with Boz, who should have a big day against Seattle’s sketchy O-line.
Princes: The 49ers have half a dozen players who fit into this category, but since I don’t think their game against Seattle will be very competitive, I’ll pick Dexter Lawrence. The Giants have a real chance against the Vikings if they can put a lot of pressure on Cousins, and while Lawrence isn’t the one to stack bags, his presence inside keeps the rest of the front running. The Giants’ defensive line is the reason they made the playoffs; this may also be the reason they won the playoff game.
Lefty: Joey Boza. The Chargers star pass rusher left the Week 3 game Los Angeles lost to the Jaguars with a groin injury, and while the two teams have changed a lot since then, Trevor Lawrence will still play craps if he has all day in his pocket. For the Chargers to get an elusive first playoff win, they need Boza, who hasn’t played more than 50% of snaps since his injury, to stay on the field and dominate.
4. Which coaches need to prove the most?
Gale: Brandon Staley and I don’t think it’s close. Staley has been coaching the Chargers for only his second year, but Herbert is making expectations skyrocket. Staley had established himself as one of the top defensive game planners in the NFL, but his play management was questionable, as was his decision to play starters in Week 18. especially if Mike Williams, who hurt his back against Denver in Week 18, isn’t 100 percent healthy.
Ruiz: Good. Seen as a sought-after coaching candidate in this recruiting cycle, Sean Payton now lives in Los Angeles and was spotted at a Chargers game this season, so I’d say there’s a fair amount of pressure on Staley this weekend. If L.A. flies out early after a somewhat disappointing…