1. The New England Patriots obviously aren’t the team they once were and they probably blew a chance to get to the Super Bowl when they cost themselves the bye while losing to Miami last Sunday. That means they will likely have to win two road games – probably against the Chiefs and Ravens – to make the Super Bowl. The Patriots have never won the Super Bowl when they haven’t had a bye. But they’re home this weekend against the 9-7 Titans and they’re favored so it won’t be a surprise if this isn’t Tom Brady’s last game in a New England uniform. If the Titans pull off an upset, it may be his last game as a Patriot because for the first time in his career, he is heading into the offseason without a contract.
2. Both road quarterbacks Saturday – Josh Allen of the Bills and Ryan Tannehill of the Titans – will be starting their first playoff game. It is not surprising that Allen be making his first playoff start in his second season. But somewhat surprising that a veteran like Tannehill never made the playoffs in Miami before jump starting his career with the Titans. Since replacing Marcus Mariota, he’s 7-3 as a starter. But the odds are against Allen and Tannehill this weekend. According to walterfootball.com, the last 37 quarterbacks to make their first start won only 15 times. Carson Wentz will be in the same situation Sunday when the Eagles host Seattle.
3. How does Seattle bounce back from the loss to San Francisco at home Sunday night as they face a cross country trip to play at Philadelphia? The Seahawks were inside the one in the last half-minute against the 49ers and inexplicably got a delay of game penalty that helped cost them the division title and relegated them to a Wild Card status. It was a devastating setback for the Seahawks and a case of déjà vu since they were within a yard of beating the a Patriots in the Super Bowl a few years back. Now they have to try to rebound against the Eagles, who are slight underdogs in playoffs for sixth time since 2016. They are 4-1 in those games including a Super Bowl victory. So they can’t be overlooked despite 9-7 record.
4. The Texans declined to put J.J. Watt on the injured reserve list and kept him on the active roster after he went down on Oct. 27 with a torn pec muscle. The move paid dividends because he will return against the Bills. But the big question is how long can he play and how effective will be?
5. Despite Watt’s return, the Texans have a shaky defense so the task for Allen will be to outscore Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, who figure to put points on the board even though Buffalo has a solid Buffalo defense.
6. The Vikings may have the toughest assignment of the weekend, going to New Orleans to face Drew Brees. And the Saints have a lot of motivation after being bounced from the playoffs two years in a row in games they probably should have won. And then there’s the Kirk Cousins factor. He is not noted for coming up big games. A Viking victory would be a major upset.