NFL play-offs: Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Tom Brady target Super Bowl 57

NFL play-offs: Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Tom Brady target Super Bowl 57

NFL play-offs: Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Tom Brady target Super Bowl 57

Appointment: Saturday 14 – Monday 16 February
Live text coverage: On the BBC Sport website and app on Saturday (21:00-04:00 GMT), Sunday (17:30-04:00) and Tuesday (00:45-04:30)
Radio coverage: New York Giants vs. Minnesota Vikings on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra and the BBC Sounds app on Sundays (21:00-01:30).

Drama, excitement, pure athleticism – the NFL has shown again this season that it has it all.

Yet there was also a stark reminder of the risks involved in a sport as physical as American football.

Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest in the penultimate round of the regular season, sparking an outpouring of support from across the league.

As he continues to recover at home, emotions are still running high, especially in Buffalo as they prepare for the start of the play-offs this weekend.

Last season’s most valuable player Aaron Rodgers will not feature as his The Green Bay Packers missed out on the final weekend of the regular season, while this year’s MVP favorite Patrick Mahomes got a break, with his Kansas City Chiefs the number one seed in the AFC.

But record seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady is back as a host of young quarterbacks are ready for their shot at glory and a spot in Super Bowl 57.

How do the NFL playoffs work?

AFC Conference NFC Conference
1. Kansas City Chiefs 1. Philadelphia Eagles
2. Buffalo Notes 2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Cincinnati Bengals 3. Minnesota Vikings
4. Jacksonville Jaguars 4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5. Los Angeles Chargers 5. Dallas Cowboys
6. Baltimore Ravens 6. New York Giants
7. Miami Dolphins 7. Seattle Seahawks

This is the third season since the NFL increased the number of teams advancing to the playoffs from 12 to 14, seven from each conference.

The number of wildcard weekend games has increased from four to six, so now 12 games are played over three weeks to decide who will reach the Super Bowl.

Now only the top seed from each conference earns a bye to week two of the play-offs, rather than the top two before, and each conference’s teams are separated until the Super Bowl.

Seeds two through seven face off on what some NFL enthusiasts are now calling “super wildcard weekend,” as there are six knockout games played over three days.

The winners of each game then join the top seeds of the divisional round, and the four winners meet there in the conference championships, effectively the Super Bowl semifinals as the two winners earn the right to represent their conference in the big game.

This year it takes place at State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals, on February 12, but there is a slight quirk with this season’s play-offs.

Normally, the highest seed remaining plays at home against the lowest seed throughout the playoffs.

However, if the Bills face the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game, it will be played in a neutral venue – namely Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta – because the game that was canceled due to Hamlin’s injury means Buffalo has one less on its record, which determines the rankings.

Generic matches (away teams first, kick-offs in GMT)

  • Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers (9:30 p.m. Saturday)
  • Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars (1:15 a.m. Sunday)
  • Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills (6:00 p.m. Sunday)
  • New York Giants vs. Minnesota Vikings (9:30 p.m. Sunday)
  • Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals (1:15 a.m. Monday)
  • Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1:15 a.m. Tuesday)

Who are the favorites to win the Super Bowl?

The Chiefs are the slight favorites, with quarterback Mahomes looking to lead them to a third Super Bowl in four years.

them and the Philadelphia Eagles finished the regular season with a 14-3 record to clinch the top seeds – and a bye to the first week of the play-offs, giving Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts a chance to rest from the problem of shoulder that kept him out of action for two games.

After a 6-3 start, the Invoices showed why they started the season as Super Bowl favorites by winning their last seven and are now riding an emotional outpouring of support after the Damar Hamlin incident.

The Cincinnati Bengalslast year’s Super Bowl finalists are also in good shape after winning their last eight while a midseason trade for dual-threat running back Christian McCaffrey helped propel the San Francisco 49ers to a 10-game winning streak, despite being their third-choice quarterback from the last six.

Brock Purdy was this season’s “Mr Irrelevant,” the man last selected in the NFL Draft, but he’s poised to lead the 49ers into the play-offs after losing Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo to injury.

Can Brady win an eighth Super Bowl ring?

Veteran quarterback Brady was retired for just 40 days before returning for a 22nd season as a starter in the NFL.

And although he had his first losing season (8-9), it was enough for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win their division and maintain Brady’s record of reaching the playoffs every year since 2002 (he had injured for 2008).

It’s been a mixed year for the Bucs on both sides of the ball, with their offense not as dangerous as it was in Brady’s first two seasons in Florida.

Still, the 45-year-old still set the NFL single-season pass attempt record (733) and broke his own completion record (490), and just two weeks ago threw for three touchdowns and a season-high 432 yards.

The Dallas Cowboys may have a better record (12-5) but in a knockout scenario, it’s hard to discount a man who already has 47 playoffs under his belt.

“Everything will be determined by what we do from now on,” Brady said. “The team that progresses is the team that plays the best that day, not the team that had the better record or the home court.”

Hamlin now recovering at home but Tagovailoa ruled out

After a mixed start, the Bills had regrouped and were finishing the regular season strong when it looked like disaster had struck in their penultimate game.

Hamlin collapsed after making a tackle against the Bengals on Jan. 2 and suffered cardiac arrest, but his heart rate was restored on the field.

As Hamlin watched from his hospital bed, the Bills produced a moving display to beat the New England Patriots last Sunday, with running back Nyheim Hines scoring in the very first play since Hamlin collapsed with a kickoff return.

Hamlin was was discharged from hospital on Wednesday and Bills coach Sean McDermott said it was up to him when he would return to team facilities, adding that security and his father Mario wanted players and staff to focus on the Sunday’s game with the Miami Dolphins.

“They want us to do our job, and that’s what we have to do,” McDermott said.

Miami should be without Tua Tagovailoa as he remains in the The NFL Concussion Protocol, which has been revised after the quarterback also suffered a concussion in September.

The 24-year-old was cleared to play despite appearing to have suffered a concussion five days earlier in the Dolphins’ loss to the Bills.

Miami has limped into the play-offs, losing five of its last six, and there are now concerns over Tagovailoa’s NFL future after suffering two diagnosed concussions in the same season.

What else to watch out for

Not too long ago, Mahomes was the most exciting young talent in the NFL. Yet, remarkably, at the age of 27, the 2018 MVP will be the oldest AFC quarterback in this year’s play-offs.

Mahomes vs. Allen looked set to be a rivalry for years to come in the AFC after the pair produced an epic shootout in last season’s divisional round.

But Joe Burrow showed he would be in the game by edging Mahomes in the championship game to lead the Bengals to a surprise Super Bowl appearance last year – and they are back in the play-offs this season.

Burrow and Trevor Lawrence were the first draft picks in 2020 and 2021, and the two helped turn the tables on their team as this year Lawrence led the Jacksonville Jaguars to the playoffs for the first time in five years.

This weekend, Lawrence will face the Los Angeles Chargers and Justin Herbert, who will also make his first play-off appearance after the Chargers narrowly missed last year.

Lamar Jackson, the 2019 MVP, is another of the AFC’s exciting quarterbacks, but he is struggling with a knee injury so Tyler Huntley can continue to replace the Baltimore Ravens in Cincinnati.

In the NFC, the New York Giants ended a six-year play-off drought and the Seattle Seahawks made an unexpected appearance.

They were tipped to have one of the NFL’s worst records this season after quarterback Russell Wilson was traded to Denver, but replacement Geno Smith, 32, defied the odds in his first season in as a regular starter since 2014.

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