Playoff first: Every wild-card game is a rematch

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Sports

Until the NFL expands the playoffs again, there will be a record set this weekend that won’t be topped.

There are six playoff games on wild-card weekend and all six of them are rematches from the regular season. Over the course of a season, teams change and the result of one game isn’t always a perfect predictor for how a rematch will go. It can still be illuminating to look at how the regular-season meetings went before we watch the playoff rematches.

These NFC West rivals met twice in the regular season, and the 49ers dominated both meetings.

In Week 2, the 49ers’ season changed. Trey Lance suffered an ankle injury early against the Seahawks and would miss the rest of the season. Jimmy Garoppolo came in and threw for 154 yards and a touchdown in a 27-7 win. The 49ers are different now with Brock Purdy at quarterback, but the defense is mostly the same and the 49ers held Seattle to 216 yards and no points (Seattle’s score came on a blocked field goal).

In Week 15, the 49ers won 21-13 at Seattle with Purdy playing well. George Kittle scored two long touchdowns, and Seattle had problems against tight ends all season. The 49ers led 21-3 in the third quarter, and Seattle’s only offensive touchdown in two games vs. San Francisco came in the final four minutes with the 49ers leading 21-6. Six of Seattle’s 11 possessions gained less than 10 yards. The Seahawks have real problems with San Francisco’s fantastic defense. Most teams do.

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle had a huge game against the Seattle Seahawks late in the season. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle had a huge game against the Seattle Seahawks late in the season. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The first meeting was a shocker. The Jaguars won 38-10 in Week 3. Justin Herbert was dealing with a rib injury suffered in Week 2, and that didn’t help the Chargers that day. The Jaguars put up 413 yards and Trevor Lawrence had 262 yards and three touchdowns. This game was a long time ago (James Robinson had 100 yards for the Jaguars, and he has long since been traded to the New York Jets), and Herbert was injured, but it’s worth noting how the Jaguars dominated the Chargers in Los Angeles.

Another meeting between divisional foes. The Dolphins beat the Bills 21-19 in Week 3, though the Bills outgained Miami 497-212. In Week 15 the Dolphins were actually better but lost 32-29 on a last-second field goal. Buffalo outgained Miami again 446-405. The difference for the third meeting is the Dolphins won’t have Tua Tagovailoa (concussion) this weekend.

What we can take from the first two meetings is that the Dolphins’ defense had a hard time slowing down Josh Allen. He had 400 yards passing and 47 yards rushing in the first meeting, and 304 yards and 77 yards rushing in the second matchup.

This might be the best first meeting to look at because it was recent, there weren’t many big injuries or lineup changes and it was in the same location as the rematch. In Week 16, the Vikings beat the Giants 27-24. It was a close game throughout. The Vikings took a 24-16 lead with about three minutes left after blocking a punt, Saquon Barkley scored a minute later and the Giants got the 2-point conversion to tie it, and the Vikings won on a 61-yard field goal as time expired. The Giants outgained the Vikings 445-353. The difference was a blocked punt and two Giants turnovers. The Vikings won, but it’s fair to say the Giants outplayed them other than a few big mistakes.

Our third wild-card matchup between divisional rivals. The first meeting, in Week 5, was a close, hard-fought 19-17 Ravens win. The Bengals scored inside the two-minute warning for a 17-16 lead, and the Ravens went downfield for a field goal as time expired. That game was with Lamar Jackson at quarterback for the Ravens. The second meeting, in Week 18, was with Anthony Brown at QB. The Bengals won 27-16, but it wasn’t that easy for Cincinnati. The Ravens outgained the Bengals 386-257 and had 20 first downs to 15 for Cincinnati. The Ravens’ defense gave Cincinnati problems in both meetings. The Bengals gained fewer than 300 yards times five times this season, and two of those games came against Baltimore. Of course, the Ravens’ QB situation is the big story for the third meeting.

What do you take from a game that happened all the way back in Week 1? It was an absolute domination for the Buccaneers in a 19-3 win. Dak Prescott broke his thumb late in the game, but he struggled before that. Dallas had just 244 yards and 12 first downs. Tampa Bay’s offense wasn’t great, scoring just one touchdown on a Tom Brady-to-Mike Evans connection, but the defense was fantastic. Since then, the Cowboys were a far better team than the Buccaneers. Are the Bucs a bad matchup for the Cowboys, or was it just a horrendous night in the season opener? We’ll find out Monday night.

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