FOXBORO, MA — Football fans won’t have to wait until Sunday for NFL action this week, as the Wild Card round of the playoffs kicks off midday Saturday.
It will be a battle of the AFC East against the AFC South in both of Saturday’s match-ups, with the Buffalo Bills facing the Houston Texans, and the Tennessee Titans squaring off against the New England Patriots.
Watch to see if the Texans can avenge last year’s Wild Card loss, or if the Patriots can defend last year’s Super Bowl title.
Patriots play their first Wild Card round since 2009
The New England Patriots are known for success, including Super Bowl wins. But a big part of the Patriots’ winning formula involves gathering enough regular-season victories to avoid the opening round of the playoffs.
New England hasn’t been in the Wild Card round of the post-season since 2009, and the team has never won a Super Bowl when missing out on that extra week of rest. It’s the one blemish on the resumes of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, who have amassed six titles during their time together, dating all the way back to 2001.
Still, the Patriots get to play this Wild Card game at Gillette Stadium, their home turf and a venue that other coaches have called the league’s toughest. But New England safety Devin McCourty thinks home-field advantage is overrated: “It comes down to playing your best football. Tennessee is going to come in here Saturday night, everyone’s going to tell them they have no shot, the Patriots don’t lose at home… but they don’t care about that. They’re going to come here prepared to play us tough.”
One thing the Titans do care about is the New England signal-caller. Tom Brady, one of the best quarterbacks in league history, is the key to the game, according to Titans cornerback Logan Ryan, a former Patriot: “Everything that makes a quarterback good, he’s good at it. He’s accurate, he’s poised, he plays his best in the biggest games.”
Pressuring Brady is an important part of Tennessee’s game plan, said Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. “We have to get him frustrated as much as we can,” he said. “Without getting to him, we’re bound to lose this game.” One advantage for Tennessee is head coach Mike Vrabel, who played for Bill Belichick from 2001-2008. As a three-time Super Bowl champion with New England, Vrabel knows a thing or two about how the Patriots operate.
And despite the vaunted success of New England, Tennessee is focused on their own franchise. Ryan added: “I know its Brady. I know its Belichick. I have a lot of respect for those guys… but we’re focused on the Tennessee Titans. We have to get ready to win a playoff game.”
Watch: Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots at 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS
Bills look to advance past Wild Card round
When Sean McDermott led the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs in his inaugural season as head coach, he accomplished something the six coaches prior to him had failed at. Now, McDermott has the Bills back in the playoffs for the second time in three years, but the team wants to do more than be a post-season participant.
When McDermott was asked if this year had a different feel, he downplayed any excitement: “Knowing we made the playoffs a few weeks ahead was the biggest thing,” the coach said with a smile. “But other than that, its preparation as normal.”
That one-game-at-a-time attitude has permeated the locker room. Josh Allen, the second-year quarterback from Wyoming, echoed his head coach: “Everybody knows what we’re playing for. Its win or go home. It’s the playoffs. It’s what we wanted and what we worked for.”
For the Bills and Allen, it’s about recognizing the constants, even with the pressure of the playoffs. “It’s still a game of football,” said Allen. “The dimensions are the same, we have the same plays we’ve had all year. You dance with who brought you.”
On the other side of the ball, the Houston Texans are trying to avenge last year’s loss to Andrew Luck and the Colts on the opening weekend of the playoffs. Like his Buffalo opponents, Houston head coach Bill O’Brien is trying to keep a one-track mind: “This isn’t about last year, two years ago, 1993, any of that. This is about Saturday at 3:25 for three hours… or however long it takes. Who can be the team to execute at the highest level?”
The Texans are hoping it’ll be their squad, and they have the leadership to come away with a win. Running back Carlos Hyde highlighted quarterback Deshaun Watson as one example: “Deshaun sent a mass text out to the offense… just telling guys, ‘Let’s be great.’ I just love competing with a guy like that.” Watson, with his 26 touchdown passes, and Hyde, with 1,000 yards rushing on the year, will be instrumental in generating offense against a Bills defense ranked third in the NFL.
Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus told reporters what the game means to him and the team: “We understand the urgency, especially for this franchise. Guys really want to go after that ring. We’re here now, and each week is a sudden-death match. You lose — you go home. You win — you keep going. Four games (to win the Super Bowl). That’s what it’s going to take.”
Watch: Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans at 4:25 p.m. ET on ABC