Sports

NFL playoffs: Saturday night thriller gets action started

APTOPIX Seahawks 49ers Football
Seahawks 49ers Football
APTOPIX Seahawks 49ers Football
Seahawks 49ers Football
Chargers Jaguars Football
Chargers Jaguars Football
Chargers Jaguars Football
Posted at 11:33 AM, Jan 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-15 11:33:37-05

The rest of the NFL playoffs have a lot to live up to after Saturday's display.

San Francisco rookie quarterback Brock Purdy nailed his postseason debut, leading the 49ers to a 41-23 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Then, Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars pulled off a jaw-dropping 27-point comeback in a 31-30 stunner against the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday night.

The games continue with three more Sunday: Miami at Buffalo, Baltimore at Cincinnati and the New York Giants at Minnesota. The opening weekend wraps up Monday night with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys.

But it's going to be tough to top Saturday night's barnburner.

The Chargers built a 27-0 lead late in the second quarter after Lawrence threw four interceptions, including three by Asante Samuel. The second-year pro then responded by throwing four TD passes and Riley Patterson kicked a 36-yard field goal as time expired for the win.

Lawrence's heroics might have overshadowed Purdy's stellar playoff debut for the 49ers.

The rookie completed 18 of 30 passes for 332 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions to win his sixth consecutive start. The 262nd — and final — pick of last spring's draft out of Iowa State, Purdy's unlikely story started when he was pushed into action after an injury in December to starter Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Seahawks led 17-16 and kept things close through most of three quarters, but the 49ers poured it on late.

The No. 1 overall seed in the AFC was claimed by Kansas City with its 31-13 win over Las Vegas in Week 18. The NFC's top spot was taken by Philadelphia, which beat the Giants 22-16. Those teams get the weekend off before playing in the divisional round next weekend.

Seven of the 14 teams in this year's playoffs didn't make the field last season, giving the NFL's wild-card weekend a mix of traditional powerhouses and underdogs.

Here are some other things to know during the postseason:

WHAT'S THE REMAINING WILD-CARD SCHEDULE?

SUNDAY

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. EST, CBS

New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, 4:30 p.m. EST, Fox

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals, 8:15 p.m. EST, NBC

MONDAY

Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8:15 p.m. EST, ESPN/ABC

WHAT'S THE FORMAT FOR PLAYOFFS?

This is the third straight year of the current NFL playoff format, which includes the top seven teams from both the AFC and the NFC.

The four division winners in both conferences automatically get the top four seeds, regardless of record, and then the top three teams with the best record that didn't win their division are the wild-card selections. That's why it's fairly common for a wild-card selection to have a better record — but worse playoff seeding — than a team that finished as a division winner.

The No. 1-seeded team in each conference gets a bye into the second round — that's the Chiefs and Eagles — while No. 2 hosts No. 7, No. 3 hosts No. 6 and No. 4 hosts No. 5 during the wild-card weekend.

The NFL re-seeds teams after each playoff round. That means no matter how the bracket started, the lowest-seeded team will always travel to the highest-seeded team.

There are four rounds to the playoffs: The wild-card round is this weekend, the divisional round is Jan. 21-22, the conference championship games are on Jan. 29 and the Super Bowl is scheduled for Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona.

WHAT CHANGED WITH BILLS-BENGALS CANCELLATION?

Players and fans watched in horror on Jan. 2 as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field at Cincinnati when his heart stopped and he received CPR before leaving the field in an ambulance. Over the next week, those same players and fans reacted with joy at news of Hamlin's recovery.

Even better news came Saturday: Hamlin visited with teammates at the Bills' facility for the first time since being discharged from a Buffalo hospital.

A person with direct knowledge of Hamlin's schedule confirmed to The Associated Press the player's visit. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because Hamlin has kept his schedule and recovery private.

Hamlin's remarkable recovery has made it much easier to focus on the playoffs.

The cancellation of the Bills-Bengals game because of Hamlin's injury could lead to one big change to the AFC playoff format.

The AFC championship game would be played at a neutral site if the Chiefs and Bills reach that point under a rule adjustment approved by NFL owners last Friday. That's because Buffalo (13-3) played one fewer game than Kansas City (14-3) and missed out on a chance to earn the top seed. The Bills beat the Chiefs 24-20 on Oct. 16 and would have held the tiebreaker had the teams finished with the same record. Buffalo lost 42-36 at Kansas City in a divisional-round classic last season.

The Chiefs would host the AFC title game against any other team, including the third-seeded Bengals (12-4).

WHAT ARE THE GOOD GAMES AFTER SATURDAY?

There's not a bad matchup in the bunch, but a couple stand out.

— Cowboys at Bucs: Brady suffered through his first losing season in his 23-year career, but even at 8-9, the Bucs won the NFC South. They'll face the Cowboys, who were 12-5 and always attract a white-hot spotlight. They'll play Monday night.

— Ravens at Bengals: The AFC North rivals will meet for the third time this season Sunday. The Baltimore Ravens will be without quarterback and former MVP Lamar Jackson because of a knee injury. Instead it will be Tyler Huntley under center, who will make his first postseason start. He'll face the Bengals and Joe Burrow, who lost the Super Bowl to the Rams last season.

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AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.

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