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It’s do-or-die time in the NFL.
The regular season wrapped up dramatically Sunday night when the San Francisco 49ers held the Seattle Seahawks at the goal line to preserve a 26-21 lead and clinch the NFC West:
The @49ers stop the Seahawks at the goal line to win the NFC West! #GoNiners https://t.co/nyHKB9Tioc
As a result, the Niners also clinched the top seed in the NFC:
The @49ers are the No. 1 seed!
The NFC goes through San Francisco. #GoNiners https://t.co/Hn1615aalX
The Seahawks, meanwhile, dropped to the Wild Card Round as a No. 5 seed.
The most surprising Week 17 shake-up came during the early-afternoon slate, however.
The Kansas City Chiefs needed to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers and for the Miami Dolphins to upset the New England Patriots to clinch a first-round bye. The Chiefs took care of L.A. 31-21 as expected, improving to 12-4 overall and 6-0 within the AFC West. Simultaneously, the Dolphins scored a game-winning touchdown with 24 seconds remaining to defeat the Patriots 27-24.
It marked the first time Miami has beaten the Patriots in Foxborough since 2008, but there were much larger implications than that for New England:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
The Dolphins defeat the Patriots 27-24.
New England will play in the Wild Card round for the first time since 2009.
Miami entered the game as 17-point underdogs, tied for the largest upset in the last 20 seasons. https://t.co/e1dBeuwMWA
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
With the Patriots’ loss and the Chiefs’ win, Kansas City clinches the No. 2 seed in the AFC and get a first-round bye.
Patrick Mahomes became the fifth player in NFL history to have multiple 4,000-yd passing seasons in his first three years in the league. https://t.co/Ex23mQyPMm
In the NFC, the 9-7 Philadelphia Eagles clinched the NFC East by topping the New York Giants 34-17. The Eagles defeated the 8-8 Dallas Cowboys in Week 16 to prevent the Cowboys from clinching the division. Dallas handled Washington 47-16 but needed Philly to lose to make the postseason.
Below is a glance at the AFC and NFC wild-card matchups and a deeper look into three teams looking to make a surprising Super Bowl run.
2019 NFL Wild-Card Matchups
No. 4 Houston Texans vs. No. 5 Buffalo Bills: Saturday, Jan. 4, at 4:35 p.m. ET
No. 3 New England Patriots vs. No. 6 Tennessee Titans: Saturday, Jan. 4, at 8:15 p.m. ET
No. 3 New Orleans Saints vs. No. 6 Minnesota Vikings: Sunday, Jan. 5, at 1:05 p.m. ET
No. 4 Philadelphia Eagles vs. No. 5 Seattle Seahawks: Sunday, Jan. 5, at 4:40 p.m. ET
The #NFLPlayoffs are set! https://t.co/JUPNOiDKSA
Buffalo Seeking 1st Playoff Win Since 1995
This 10-6 Buffalo squad has already proved to be different than Bills of the past seeing as the franchise hadn’t won double-digit games since 1999. New England narrowly beat Buffalo 24-17 in Week 16 to secure the AFC East, but the division could have been the Bills’ for the first time since 1995.
The defense has been the backbone, ranking second in scoring defense (16.2 points per game), as well as third in total defense (300.1 yards per game) and passing defense (195.2 yards per game).
Second-year quarterback Josh Allen has done his part, too, leading the offense with 3,089 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a passer to go along with a team-high nine rushing touchdowns. The Bills backfield has been split between veteran Frank Gore (599 yards, two touchdowns) and rookie third-rounder Devin Singletary (775 yards, two touchdowns).
Buffalo’s most impressive win came on Thanksgiving. The Bills soundly beat the Dallas Cowboys 26-15. Overall, though, only three wins have come against teams finishing .500 or better (9-7 Tennessee, 8-8 Dallas and 8-8 Pittsburgh). Their performance at New England was the best gauge as to how this team may fare in the playoffs.
The Bills last won in the postseason on Dec. 30, 1995, when they defeated the Miami Dolphins 37-22 in the wild-card round. Since then, Buffalo has appeared in the playoffs four times, losing on Wild Card Weekend each time.
The most recent trip came in the 2017 campaign and ended with a 10-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Texans Carrying 2 Statement Wins into Postseason
The Chiefs and Patriots clashed in last year’s AFC Championship Game, and the Texans beat them both this season.
The Texans’ Week 13 victory over the Patriots grew more intriguing when New England became bound for the wild-card round for the first time since 2009. The Pats went 2-3 in their last five games, including back-to-back losses to Houston and Kansas City, and look as vulnerable as ever in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, have won six straight and have a much-improved defense from when the Texans beat them 31-24 at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 6.
Overall, the Houston finished 3-3 against teams that ended at .500 or better.
The Texans finished 10-6 on the season with a 35-14 win over 9-7 Tennessee. Houston sat starters for the regular-season finale after clinching the AFC South with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 16.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson had a stellar regular-season campaign with 3,852 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 picks. Watson has been complemented by All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ team-high 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns on 104 catches. Hopkins’ production was to be expected, but running back Carlos Hyde surprised with his first career 1,000-yard rushing season.
The Texans are also set to receive a major reinforcement. All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt was seemingly lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle in Week 8, but he returned from injured reserve on Christmas Eve. Receiver Will Fuller V (groin), however, has an uncertain status headed into Houston’s matchup with Buffalo.
Houston lost 21-7 to the Indianapolis Colts in last season’s wild-card round.
Vikings Need More in Prime Time from Kirk Cousins
The Green Bay Packers clinched the NFC North with a 23-10 win over the Vikings on Monday Night Football in Week 16, which dropped Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins’ career Monday night record to 0-9.
All eyes will be on Cousins in the postseason, and he must deliver.
Minnesota’s 2019 campaign got off to a questionable 2-2 start with receiver Adam Thielen criticizing the team’s offensive strategy and receiver Stefon Diggs fueling trade rumors.
However, that was followed by a four-game winning streak that saw the offense play its best ball of the season, led by Cousins, per Vikings.com’s Chris Corso: “Cousins has led the charge throughout the winning streak, completing 91 of 116 passes (78.4 percent) for 1,261 yards with 10 touchdowns and an interception since Week 5. He has a passer rating of 137.1 during that span.”
The Vikings are entering the postseason a little cooler, having lost to fellow playoff teams Kansas City, Seattle and Green Bay in the second half of the season. However, the team’s largest concern could be running back Dalvin Cook’s lingering shoulder injury.
Chad Graff @ChadGraff
Good sign for the Vikings: Dalvin Cook was warming up before today’s game. Despite sitting the final two games of the regular season due to chest and shoulder injuries, he’s planning to play in the team’s playoff game, per a source.
Cook has led Minnesota’s offense with 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns on 250 rushing attempts.
If Cook isn’t able to go, or even if he’s not at full health on the field, the Vikings will need Cousins’ best even more. Minnesota’s offense looks drastically different without Cook, which was on full display against the Packers in Week 16 as the unit managed just seven first downs and 139 total yards.
The Vikings missed the playoffs last season but are still licking wounds from their 38-7 loss to eventual champion Philadelphia in the 2017 NFC Championship Game.
The Saints will now have a chance to avenge their last-second 29-24 loss to the Vikings in the 2017 divisional round.