The NFL’s first-ever 17-game regular season schedule is now behind us and football fans’ attention shifts to wild-card weekend. The opening round of the playoffs begin this Saturday and ends on Monday, the day the nation will be celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day and honoring the legacy of the civil and human rights leader.
The American Football Conference’s (AFC) No. 1 seed, the 12-5 Tennessee Titans, have a bye and an additional week for one of the league’s best players, running back Derrick Henry, out since Nov. 1 recovering from a fractured foot, to prepare for his return.
The featured AFC game of the weekend is the No. 3 seed Buffalo Bills hosting the No. 6 New England Patriots on Saturday in primetime (8:15 p.m.). The East division rivals split two games this season. The Bills will rely on quarterback Josh
Allen to power their offense while the Patriots will have rookie QB Mac Jones under center, the first time since 2001 the franchise will play a postseason game without Tom Brady, who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win last February.
Game 1 on Saturday’s schedule features the No. 5 seed Las Vegas Raiders versus the No. 4 seed Cincinnati Bengals on the road (4:30 p.m.). It took a dramatic 35-32 overtime victory by the Raiders over the Los Angeles Chargers this past Sunday, the NFL’s final 2021-’22 regular season game, for them to clinch a playoff spot. By winning, the Raiders knocked the Chargers out of a postseason berth and enabled the Pittsburgh Steelers to gain a trip to the playoffs.
Beginning their first season in Las Vegas after playing most of their 61 years of existence in Oakland—Los Angeles was home from 1982-’94—the Raiders led the league in headlines this season. Last summer, defensive end Carl Nassib became the first-ever openly gay active NFL player. Then Raiders head coach Jon Gruden stepped down in mid season after e-mails surfaced of him making homophobic and misogynistic remarks after it was reported he had made racist statements in comparing NFL Players’ Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith’s lips to Michelin tires.
Gruden was replaced by Rich Bisaccia in early October. He was previously the Raiders special teams coordinator and was met with tragedy soon after taking the job. In November, Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III was cut by the team after allegedly exceeding 150 miles per hour while driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol content more than twice the Nevada legal limit, crashing into another car and killing its driver, a 23-year-old woman. Bisaccia managed to keep his team centered and is 7-5 as interim head coach.
Game 3 of the AFC’s Wild Card schedule concludes Sunday night with the No. 7 seed Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City to take on the two-time defending AFC champion Chiefs (No. 2) at 8:15 p.m. It could be Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s last postseason with the team. He was drafted by the Steelers in 2004 and has won two Super Bowl titles.