After what has been a long and winding NFL regular season, where we saw games played on each and every day of the week, we’ve finally reached the point where fans can enjoy a little bit of normalcy compared to past NFL campaigns.
Oh wait—actually we can’t. This year, the NFL has introduced what they have billed as “Super Wild Card Weekend”, featuring three games on each day of the opening weekend of the playoffs.
Regardless of the format, this is the time of the NFL season where legacies are made, or diminished. The tried and tested pattern of debating whether or not an NFL team has found their long term answer on the field or on the sidelines won’t much change here in 2021, so without further ado, let’s take a look at the two NFL teams that have the most to lose on (Super) Wild Card Weekend.
On the surface, it might not seem like the Ravens are in a pressure packed situation. They have a young, immensely talented former NFL MVP at quarterback in Lamar Jackson, an emerging backfield anchored by 2020 second round pick J.K. Dobbins, and a young talented WR in Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. By that logic, it would seem like Baltimore should not be viewed with “win now or else” target on their backs like other older NFL teams might have.
But Baltimore has a few reasons to feel like the desperation meter is cranked up a few notches. Despite his youth at 23 years old, Jackson is already starting to encroach upon the point in his NFL career where teams have to start thinking about whether to fork over big money to star signal-callers. Patrick Mahomes signed his new lucrative deal at age 24, heading into his age 25 season, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of money Ravens management is willing to earmark for Jackson given his exciting but hit-prone style of play.
Past this season, can the Ravens afford to pay key 2020 contributors like CB Jimmy Smith, DE Yannick Ngakoue or LB Matt Judon what they’re looking for in the open market with Jackson’s impending contract situation? It puts more of a onus on the Ravens to rally the troops in this postseason because the surrounding talent around the QB position in all three phases may never get better than it is right now.
The heightened sense of pressure also comes from the fact that the Ravens play the team that ousted them in upset fashion in last year’s playoffs, the Tennessee Titans. With the deck seemingly stacked in their favor last year, with the number 1 seed in the AFC and homefield throughout the NFL playoffs, Baltimore could not keep up with the Titans as they ran all over the Ravens defense en route to a 28-12 victory. They also lost to Tennessee in the regular season this year, so there will be a lot of focus on how Baltimore DC Don “Wink” Martendale decides to deploy his defenders to stop Titans RB Derrick Henry.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints fit more of a traditional profile of a team that would have a lot invested in making a deep NFL playoff run right now. QB Drew Brees is set to turn 42 years old on January 15th, and he’s taken a physical beating this year, having injured his ribs and punctured a lung against the San Francisco 49ers. He also reportedly has an NFL analyst job ready and waiting for him at NBC once he retires, which probably sounds more appealing with each hit the future Hall of Famer absorbs in the pocket.
Brees and head coach Sean Payton already captured a Super Bowl title back in 2009, and won’t be viewed as anything less than the stellar quarterback and coach combination legacy they’ve already cemented. But with the future of the quarterback position in New Orleans a little uncertain, it would behoove the duo to make one final push together before Payton transitions to Taysom Hill, Jameis Winston, or perhaps another alternative.
This postseason run, however long it lasts, might also be telling for the future of WR Michael Thomas. There have been sporadic rumblings that the former Ohio State Buckeyes standout has not been happy with the situation in New Orleans, and those rumors, coupled with his lingering ankle injury, has made this campaign a frustrating one. A playoff exit on Wild Card Weekend at the hands of the Chicago Bears might be enough to add fuel to the speculative fire, so it will be interesting to see if Thomas comes back healthy, and if Brees and the former All-Pro WR have the immediate chemistry they sparked up last season.