An NFC Postseason Primer Headed Into Wild Card Weekend

Super Wild Card weekend kicks off tomorrow with the Seattle Seahawks visiting the San Francisco 49ers. The Minnesota Vikings host the New York Giants on Sunday in a regular season rematch, and the first round concludes on Monday night with the Dallas Cowboys at the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Here’s a look at the seven NFC seeds:

(1) Philadelphia Eagles: The top seed in the conference, the Eagles have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs coming off their first NFC East crown since 2019.

Player to Watch: In case there was any doubt, Jalen Hurts has proven he’s the straw that stirs the drink. With 3,701 passing yards, 22 touchdown passes, and 13 rushing touchdowns, Hurts is the third player with 3,500-20-10 in a single season.

(2) San Francisco 49ers: Like Philly, the Niners won the NFC West for the first time since 2019, as they made the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, their best run since the Jim Harbaugh era.

Player to Watch: I’m tempted to go with Nick Bosa, but I’m beyond curious by Brock Purdy, what he’s done and what he may do. The start to his career is in the same breath as Justin Herbert, Ben Roethlisberger, and Dan Marino, historically great rookies, albeit over a small sample (six games, five starts).

(3) Minnesota Vikings: After two seasons of being on the outside looking in, the Vikings are back in the tournament with their first NFC North crown since 2017. They’re the only division winner in the NFC that wasn’t a playoff team in 2021.

Player to Watch: Wideout Justin Jefferson is the presumptive Offensive Player of the Year. JJ led the NFL with 128 receptions (seventh most in NFL history) for 1,809 yards, just the sixth player to break the 1,800-yard plateau in a season, joining an elite group that includes Randy Moss.

(4) Tampa Bay Bucs: The 8-9 Bucs have won the NFC South in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history, and they are the only repeat division winner in the conference.

Player to Watch: Can he do it again? No one will argue that Tom Brady is at the peak of his game, but the man did connect on 25 touchdown passes for an NFL record 17th season. His 490 completions also broke the NFL’s single-season record. The Bucs are going down throwing. 

(5) Dallas Cowboys: Their 12 wins are the most among any Wild Card team in either conference, as they make the playoffs for the second-straight season for the first time since 2006-07.

Player to Watch: My favorite defender to watch, linebacker Micah Parsons leads a pass rush that averages a sack on 9.82% of dropbacks, second in the NFL. He’s just the third player since the sack became an official stat in 1982, with 13-plus sacks in each of his first two seasons.

(6) New York Giants: Maybe the most unlikely playoff team, the G-Men end a five-year drought with just their second postseason appearance since winning the Super Bowl (2011 season). 

Player to Watch: A Comeback Player of the Year candidate, Saquon Barkley, is one of the few stars on an overachieving squad as he put up 1,312 rushing yards (most among playoff RBs), 1,650 scrimmage yards, and ten touchdowns. At his best, his make-you-miss ability is fun to watch.

(7) Seattle Seahawks: Head coach Pete Carroll has his ‘Hawks back in the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons and ninth in the past 11. His tenure began in 2010, and Seattle has never missed the tournament in consecutive seasons. Kudos, Pete. 

Player to Watch: If not for Purdy, Geno Smith would be the most improbable story in the postseason. Smith threw 30 TD passes and a franchise-record 4,282 passing yards (100.9 rating). Can he become the first QB since Rich Gannon to win his first playoff start ten-plus seasons into his career?