2022 NFL wildcard weekend preview


Ventura College Head Coach Steve Mooshagian holds up the Citrus Cup after defeating Moorpark College on Sept.4, 2021. Photo credit: Hunter Deniaud Photo credit: Hunter Deniaud

By Jack Newman

The moment these teams and NFL fans have been waiting for this year has finally arrived, the playoffs are here.

AFC Matchup: Las Vegas Raiders (5) vs Cincinnati Bengals (4)

To kick off wildcard weekend, we have the Las Vegas Raiders taking on the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati.

The Raiders’ story this year has certainly been an adventurous one with the adversity they have faced, (resignation of head coach, multiple key players being dismissed from the team for off-field troubles) as it is truly a miracle that they were able to make it this far.

Las Vegas’ quarterback this year, Derek Carr, has been the glue for this team. With all of the chaos that has been surrounding the organization, he’s remained consistent with both his play and his character.

As for the Cincinnati Bengals, they came out of nowhere as a team who was expected to be at the bottom of their division this year. The X-factors for their incredible play this year have been second-year quarterback, Joe Burrow and rookie wide receiver, Ja’Marr Chase.

Both of these players, along with many others, have had breakout years this year, making this young Bengals team one of the more exciting ones to watch. Their offense has been nothing short of elite, however, their defense is a bit shaky and could be seen as a weak spot for the Raiders to attack.

AFC Matchup: New England Patriots (6) vs Buffalo Bills (3)

After just one year of missing the playoffs following the departure of long-time franchise quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots have returned to face their AFC East division rivals, the Buffalo Bills.

Just weeks before the season began, New England was still trying to decide who would be their starting quarterback this year between veteran and former MVP Cam Newton, and first-round rookie Mac Jones. When Newton was released from the team during final roster cuts, however, it was assumed that Jones would be taking on the role of bringing this team back to the playoffs.

Jones did what he needed to for the Patriots to make the playoffs this year. While his individual stats weren’t amazing, he was able to minimize mistakes and let his defense and run game shine. We of course couldn’t forget about legendary head coach Bill Belichick’s role in this team though, as he was a huge reason for their success.

The Bills, while not as dominant as they were expected to be, still managed to win the AFC East division behind superstar quarterback, Josh Allen. Allen, while playing a bit inconsistent at times, continued to be a phenomenal young leader for the Bills while winning their division and claiming the third seed.

On top of their elite offense, the defense also played a key role in winning games for Buffalo this year. Even when star cornerback Tre’Davious White suffered a season-ending torn ACL earlier in the season, the defense was still able to wreak havoc on their opponents.

NFC Matchup: Philadelphia Eagles (7) vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2)

Our first NFC contest of the weekend will feature the Philadelphia Eagles taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Eagles made a controversial decision before the year, trading former first round quarterback Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts for a future draft pick. This meant that second year quarterback, Jalen Hurts, would claim the starting job.

Hurts hadn’t played a full season in the league before this year and was still considered very raw as a player, so it was interesting to see how he’d lead this team. While he certainly wasn’t perfect, he was able to do enough with his abilities and elite athleticism to lock the Eagles into a playoff spot. The Eagles run game, featuring Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell, was also a huge reason as to why they made the playoffs.

Moorpark College football player Keyarh Pierson, who is a huge Eagles fan, is pumped for his team to get a chance in the playoffs.

“I’m most excited for the Eagles vs Buccaneers game,” said Pierson. “I think with our rushing attack we are one of the hardest teams to stop in the league.”

The reigning Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will be the team the Eagles face in this wildcard matchup. Tampa Bay was expected to dominate this year with 44-year-old quarterback Tom Brady leading the squad. Brady proved once again that age doesn’t hold him back, as he led the league in both passing yards (5,316) and touchdowns (43).

Brady did have his fair share of help, however, as star receiver Mike Evans and their defense continued to dominate as they usually do. Unfortunately towards the end of the season, the Buccaneers lost some star players including Leonard Fournette, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown for the season due to various reasons.

NFC Matchup: San Francisco 49ers (6) vs Dallas Cowboys (3)

Our next NFC game will include the San Francisco 49ers taking on the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas. These two teams have a rivalry that dates all the way back to the 1970s, as they were two of the most dominant teams during that era.

The 49ers, led by veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, have definitely had their ups and downs this year. As handsome and good looking as Garoppolo is, that hasn’t always translated to his play on the field this year as he was off to a rather shaky start. Luckily, with the help of breakout receiver Deebo Samuel and rookie running back Elijah Mitchell, he was able to pick things back up and play consistently to close out the regular season.

The San Francisco defensive unit played a major role in their success as well, as linebacker Fred Warner and edge rusher Nick Bosa were able to dominate opposing offenses and make massive plays for the team.

The Dallas Cowboys welcomed the return of star quarterback Dak Prescott, who missed most of last year due to a gruesome ankle injury. He played at an elite level with the help of wide receivers CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper this year and set the franchise quarterback touchdown record (37) in the process.

The Dallas defense improved drastically from last year. New defensive coordinator Dan Quinn totally turned the defense around. Quinn’s work on the defense has been so impressive that he is being looked at as one of the top head coach candidates during this upcoming off-season. The coaching overall played a big role, as well as breakout players such as rookie linebacker Micah Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs, who led the NFL in interceptions this year with 11.

Moorpark student Zach Angha is ecstatic for his Cowboys to compete in the playoffs this year, as he’s relying on their defense to make big plays.

“I don’t think Garoppolo’s model looks will be enough for the 49ers to win this one,” said Angha. “Trevon Diggs has really improved this year and so has the rest of the defense, and I think we can make some game-winning plays.”

AFC Matchup: Pittsburgh Steelers (7) vs Kansas City Chiefs (2)

The final AFC contest of the week will feature the Pittsburgh Steelers battling the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City.

This game will definitely be an emotional one for long-time Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has hinted multiple times at the fact that this will be his last season in the league, and this could be his last ever game. While Roethlisberger certainly wasn’t playing at the level we have been used to him playing at, rookie running back Najee Harris and wide receiver Dionte Johnson were sensational in keeping the offense afloat.

On the defensive side, All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was a key component to stopping the opposing passing attacks. Edge rusher T.J. Watt, who led the NFL in sacks with 22.5 and could potentially win the Defensive Player of the Year award this year, was also a force that couldn’t be contained.

The Kansas City Chiefs have made the Super Bowl in each of the past two seasons, winning one of them in the process. The star of the show in Kansas City is none other than quarterback Patrick Mahomes, while only 26 years of age plays like a veteran with multiple rings under his belt. Mahomes is truly a generational talent, and with the help of tight end Travis Kelce and speedy receiver Tyreek Hill, that offense is absolutely lethal.

While the defense this season has looked a bit lackluster at times, the star power of the offense has definitely made up for that.

NFC Matchup: Arizona Cardinals (5) vs Los Angeles Rams (4)

Last but not least, the Los Angeles Rams will host the Arizona Cardinals for this NFC West playoff matchup.

The Rams offense this year as opposed to last year looks completely changed and turned around. With their new quarterback Matthew Stafford, they have made wide receiver Cooper Kupp the focal point of the offense. The mid-season addition of veteran receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has also made a huge impact, especially with the injury of fellow receiver Robert Woods.

Moorpark student Ari Falevitch will be cheering for his Rams this weekend, as they look to outplay the Cardinals for the second time this year.

“I am really excited for Monday,” said Falevitch. “It seems like everything has fallen into place for the Rams this year. This is it for us though, no more screw-ups or bad games.”

As for their defense, all-pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey has looked as stellar as usual this year, and with former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller joining Aaron Donald on the defensive line, this defense is more than ready to face any opponent.

The Cardinals are also a team that have some new faces in their offense this year. Although star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has had an injury-riddled season and will not be available for the playoffs, newly acquired players, such as running back James Conner and tight end Zach Ertz, have been sensational during their time with the new team. Quarterback Kyler Murray has put together quite the year for himself as well, as he was considered an MVP candidate before he was injured mid-season.

While their defense isn’t as star-studded as their offense, they are still very capable. The linebacker duo of Chandler Jones and Isaiah Simmons has proved to be very difficult to get past, along with All-Pro safety Budda Baker.

The race to the Lombardi Trophy is just beginning, as after this weekend we could see which teams really have a shot at winning it all, and which teams perhaps didn’t deserve it. Either way, we should have a very entertaining weekend of football ahead of us.