Lawrence: Away We Go!

Wild Card weekend is upon us, and the possibilities, as Amy Lawrence observed, are endless

Amy Lawrence
January 02, 2020 - 10:01 pm
Drew Brees Saints 49ers

USA Today Images


With the hustle and bustle of the holidays behind us, it's full speed ahead into 2020 and the NFL postseason. For diehard and casual football fans alike, January is a GIFT to usher in the new year. And with the reigning Super Bowl champ in an unfamiliar position, several teams harboring unfinished business, and five newcomers to the playoffs, the possibilities are endless.

First up, Wild Card weekend with eight teams leaping into the fray.

THE SIXES: As the low seeds on the totem pole, the Titans and Vikings share a unique characteristic; in fact, their offenses are nearly mirror images of each other. Both are built around a power run game with a talented feature back. Thanks to a late-season surge, Tennessee's Derrick Henry captured the NFL rushing title with 1,540 yards and tied for the league lead with 16 touchdowns. In his last six games, Henry racked up 896 yards to spearhead the Tennessee push to the playoffs. Minnesota's Dalvin Cook declared himself "full strength" for Wild Card weekend, and he's critical to the Vikings' success. Without him, they dropped back-to-back games to end the season. Cook accumulated 1,135 rushing yards and 13 scores. He and Henry took a lot of pressure off their quarterbacks, who each posted career highs in passer rating. Ryan Tannehill (117.5) and Kirk Cousins (107.4) finished first and fourth in the league, thanks to completion rates around 70% and limited turnovers. Each QB threw just six interceptions this season. Tannehill took over the starting job from Marcus Mariota in October, and Tennessee won seven of its last ten.

THE FIVES: The Seahawks and Bills squandered prime opportunities to avoid hitting the road on Wild Card weekend, but they share an affinity for shining in hostile territory. The five seeds posted a combined 13-3 record away from home. Among their franchise-record seven road wins, the Hawks bested division champions San Francisco and this weekend's foe, Philadelphia; while Buffalo survived Tennessee in Nashville. The Bills also escaped Dallas and Pittsburgh with victories when those two franchises still battled for playoff spots themselves. But for all of their success, both stumbled in the final month of the season, each losing three of its last four. The Seahawks tumbled out of first place in the NFC West and travel cross-country as a result, though quarterback Russell Wilson says they don't worry about being on the road. They're certainly comfortable in tight, tense situations with 11 of their games decided by a single score. The Bills haven't advanced in the postseason since December 1995; Sean McDermott's club seeks a signature win to signify they are a serious contender. Buffalo was just 1-4 against other playoff teams this year.

THE FOURS: Inconsistency marred the campaigns of the Eagles and Texans this season. While division titles are nothing to sneeze at, both teams struggled with underwhelming performances against opponents with losing records. Philadelphia bombed against Atlanta, Detroit, and Miami to land on life support entering the final month. Beset by a rash of injuries at receiver and running back, Carson Wentz had no choice but to elevate his game. In sparking the Eagles to four straight wins, he played his best football of the year with 1,200 passing yards, seven TDs, and no interceptions. The leadership and character in Philadelphia is evident in adversity once again. As for the Texans, they haven't suffered back-to-back losses all year; but they also didn't win more than two games in a row at any point. They beat the Chiefs and Titans on the road and toppled the Patriots; yet they lost to the Broncos and Panthers in Houston. What?!? Both four seeds were middle of the road in most major statistical categories, the exception being the Eagles' run defense, which was third best in the league. Oddly enough, Philadelphia and Houston were separated by a mere 20 yards in total offense this season, and the Eagles scored just seven more points than the Texans.

THE THREES: The surprise of Wild Card weekend comes in the form of a pair of postseason heavyweights. Overlook the three seeds at your own peril. The defending champion Patriots won the AFC East a record 11th consecutive time; but in losing to Miami in their finale, they coughed up a first-round bye. It's been a full decade since New England last appeared on opening weekend of the playoffs. While there are cracks in the vaunted Patriot armor, the wealth of wisdom and experience concentrated in one locker room is overwhelming. They've reached the Super Bowl in four of the last five winters, and they prevailed over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC Championship a year ago. The Saints also competed for a conference title last January; and for the second straight year, they were eliminated in heartbreaking fashion. From the missed pass interference call to the "Minneapolis Miracle," no team has felt more playoff pain the last two seasons. At 13-3, New Orleans only slipped to a three seed because of tiebreakers. The Saints remain a prolific scoring team, tied for third overall at 28.6 points per game; and Father Time appears to be a huge Drew Brees fan. Two weeks shy of his 41st birthday, Brees once again paced the NFL in completion percentage (74.3) and trailed only Tannehill in passer rating. On defense, the Saints were stingy against the run, allowing just 91.3 rushing yards per opponent. New England needs to rely heavily on its top-ranked D moving forward. The Pats were unmatched this season in yards (275.9) and points (14.1) surrendered per game.

As we kick off 2020, the NFL grabs the spotlight and takes center stage. Who knows where January will take us? Happy New Year, indeed!

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.