“You could not write a script like this!” is a tirelessly used cliche phrase by sports announcers when something so dramatic, so box office, that it feels as if Hollywood has put it together in the event just for theatrics’ sake.
Well, as the regular season is now finally over after 18 weeks and we’ve reached Super Wild Card Weekend, the matchups are set, and it certainly feels like the NFL has crafted its own script with some of the most entertaining storylines in quite some time. Sure, we went through a lot this season with some absolutely moribund matchups due to injury or games that just simply did not matter now with the lengthier season, but it’s led us to this glorious weekend filled with Shakespearean revenge.
Of the six different matchups this weekend, here’s the definitive ranking of the best storyline in each game.
- The Bills vs Steelers Grit Bowl
The Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers will face off in the 2 vs 7 matchup in the AFC featuring two teams that were on the brink of not making it to the postseason at all heading into the weekend. The Bills were a potential Super Bowl favorite heading into the season that got off to a brutal start filled with injuries, Josh Allen throwing interceptions, a fired offensive coordinator, a weird Sean McDermott story where he referenced 9/11 hijackers, and starting off 6-6 with an overtime loss to the Eagles. However, they turned the season around by winning 5 games in a row to end the year, taking the AFC East from the Dolphins, and being one of the most chaotic favorites in the conference that we expected them to be despite their flaws.
Pittsburgh at certain points in the year played some of the most unwatchable brands of football possible through a rotating cast of Kenny Pickett (who is now just no longer the starter), Mitchell Trubisky, and now Mason Rudolph. Before Christmas, they were 7-7 with a 30-13 loss to the Colts with George Pickens wiping everything Steelers-related from his social media, Mike Tomlin was possibly in need of a change of scenery after never finishing below .500, and were bottom-10 in essentially every offensive statistic possible. But low and behold, Mason Rudolph stepped in, went 3-0 to end the year against the Bengals, Seahawks, and Ravens, and the “Mike Tomlin is a coach that just wins” narrative moves on!
There’s not much history here- just teams that gritted their way out to the end of the season similarly, and the Bills are a double-digit favorite at home against the now TJ Watt-less Steelers.
- The Eagles vs Bucs Bad Vibes Bowl
Two years ago, Jalen Hurts and the 9-8 Philadelphia Eagles were humiliated by the Tom Brady-led and eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-15, where Hurts threw two picks and was down 31-0 heading into the fourth quarter. Since then, Hurts became an MVP candidate that reached the Super Bowl last year, Brady retired, and the Bucs now have Baker Mayfield at the helm as the birds head back to Tampa. Philly revenge game, right?
This may be the most cumulatively-depressed combination of vibes heading into a playoff game in history. The Eagles were once 10-1 winning miraculous one-score games week after week and barking “WINNING IS A SKILL!” as the collective rest of the league were calling them fraudulent. Now, they went 1-5 in their last 6, they have a defense run by Matt Patricia allowing Tyrod Taylor to light them up as Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis are now gassed on the line, and in Week 18, both Jalen Hurts and AJ Brown both acquired injuries (Hurts did return to the game, you know, before they pulled their starters in the blowout). In a collapse that allowed the Cowboys to take the 2 seed and the NFC East, the Eagles’ vibes are as grim as it gets.
The Bucs also aren’t exactly glimmering with optimism heading into the game- they had to pull off a 9-0 win against the minor league Carolina Panthers to win the NFC South where Baker Mayfield also limped off. At 9-8 where almost half of their wins just came by winning games against rivals in the weakest division in football, this team has worn the unfortunate proxy patch of “well, somebody has to win the NFC South to make it in” all year. On Monday night, who’s signing up to be led to the slaughterhouse in the second round?
- The Deshaun Watson Trade Bowl
The Houston Texans were a team in absolute dysfunctional hell years ago. Deshaun Watson was playing like a top-5 quarterback, but they still had 4-win seasons, a team led by a team chaplin in Jack Easterby for some reason, and have had 4 different head coaches since 2020 with three one-and-done’s as they won 11 games in 3 years from 2020-2023. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a gradual increase to 22 different sexual misconduct allegations were brought forth against Watson, the man who was thought to be their quarterback of the future.
Naturally, the Cleveland Browns, the cursed franchise in quarterback purgatory, gave the Texans a godfather offer of three first-round picks, a third-round pick, and a fourth-round pick before giving Watson a fully-guaranteed 5-year, $230 million extension, the most in NFL history that “broke the code.” Since that deal, Watson was suspended for 11 games and has played a total of 12 games out of a possible 34 due to injuries, and has 14 touchdowns with 9 interceptions in games that were not pretty!
However, with Watson out with injury, these two teams have since turned the page and are ironically facing off with two entirely different auras about them as possibly some of the biggest feel-good stories of the postseason. The Texans’ first-year coach DeMeco Ryans is possibly a Coach of the Year candidate, taking the team from the depths of ineptitude to an AFC South title, have CJ Stroud looking like the quarterback of the future as the likely rookie of the year, and truly went for it in the draft by going and getting Will Anderson. Meanwhile, the Browns have started 5 total quarterbacks this year, and Joe Flacco, the 38 year-old responsible for much of their demise during his Baltimore tenure, went from slinging the ball to his children at home to carrying the Browns to winning 4 of his 5 games and snatching the 5 seed. What a roller coaster these fans have been on to get to this point!
- Tyreek Hill Returning to Kansas City
Once upon a time, the fastest wide receiver in the game that appropriately has the Twitter handle @cheetah was a Kansas City Chief and was a teammate of rocket-armed Patrick Mahomes as they won the Super Bowl in 2020 together where Hill was a 6-time Pro Bowler. The Chiefs, needing to adjust the allocation of their resources with Hill wanting to get his deserved bag as a game-changing offensive threat, flipped him to Miami for 5-draft picks where he subsequently became the highest-paid receiver in NFL history.
Since then, we’ve seen a roller coaster for both teams- Hill has been credited as one of the MVPs of the run-and-gun, speed-based Miami team filled with weapons that maximizes Tua, who some believe to have some limitations at QB. The Chiefs, while the reigning Super Bowl Champions without Tyreek, are now in a position where their hubris has left them struggling to put any type of offense together with a lack of weapons for Patrick Mahomes.
It’s a little bit different for the Hill trade because the bad blood wasn’t necessarily filled with rage as there seemed to be a mutual understanding that Tyreek was going to require a big contract, but the Chiefs did make that choice to move him, and it’s his first game back in the raucous cold of the midwest since the first matchup this year was in Frankfurt. We’ll see what the Kansas City reception is of the Cheetah on Saturday night.
- Mike McCarthy and Dallas vs. Green Bay
While not in the same division, the Cowboys and Packers NFC rivalry is one that undoubtedly runs deep. We’ve had “Dez caught it” gate, Aaron Rodgers having a 6-3 record and two playoff wins against Dallas including the clutch 3rd and 20 pass to Jared Cook in 2017 to lead a game-winning drive, and now Mike McCarthy, the Packers’ former coach at the helm for Dallas.
The theatrics may be less-intriguing this time with a new Jordan Love era in Green Bay; much of the
McCarthy-Packers breakup had to do with McCarthy giving Aaron Rodgers a stale and dried-up offensive scheme to run in 2018 when he was fired, but it still left McCarthy stunned.
McCarthy is not only looking to exact his revenge on the Packers in the postseason, but he’s playing with something to prove after going 12-5 the past two regular seasons only to fall flat come playoff time with questionable decisions. However, wouldn’t it be the most Green Bay-thing ever to go from Bart Starr to Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers to now Jordan Love, who’s been playing out of his mind the past month and carried a lifeless Packers defense to the 7-seed with laser throws and a comfortable presence in the pocket?
- The Goff vs Stafford Bowl
The Hollywood breakup in 2021 has all been leading up to this moment.
Jared Goff, the #1 overall pick that was a bust under Jeff Fisher, is brought to life by the wonderkid coach in Sean McVay! The Rams then lose the Super Bowl and only put up 3 points on the Patriots, where Goff is seen as the “weak link,” of the explosive McVay scheme! McVay was wining and dining other quarterbacks around the league, trying to maneuver a trade to upgrade the “missing piece,” and landed on Matthew Stafford as they just so happened to be vacationing together in Cabo at the time (weird!). Stafford was a rocket arm veteran, the victim of being apart of a losing franchise for years, and the resigned Detroit fans wished him well and many even rooted for him in the Super Bowl as LA immediately won with him the next season.
Yes, the Rams dealing for Stafford was a move that gave them a Super Bowl victory by adding Stafford. Goff is out to prove that it wasn’t as simple as subtracting him from the equation, and has shocked the world with America’s coach: Dan Campbell. In a coaching cycle world where now everyone that looks around the same age ballpark as McVay, has had a coffee with McVay, or maybe went to an Ivy League school with someone that looks like McVay, Dan Campbell immediately came in as a former player discussing biting knee caps, and the nerds laughed at this failed experiment for a loser franchise hiring this meathead and taking on Jared Goff and his salary. Since then, Goff and Campbell have taken a rebuilding Detroit from 3-8-1 to 9-8 to now 12-5, taking over the NFC North and leading the third-most efficient offense in the NFL.
The Rams, meanwhile, cashed all their chips in for the Super Bowl and have since then missed the postseason and scrambled to rebuild after typically dealing all of their draft picks for short-term high ceiling veterans. Despite McVay previously contemplating a break for retirement, a plethora of Stafford injuries, and a team that was thought to be searching for an identity, they found their way to the 6 seed as a surprise wild card. They seem to be on alternating timelines, but they both have the equal opportunity to advance in this faceoff that will likely send Detroit citizens into cardiac arrest with it being their first home playoff game in 30 years.
The NFL: the billion-dollar reality TV show with a script that writes itself.