By DAVID BRANDT
AP Sports Writer
Four teams get the NFL’s postseason started on Saturday, featuring four quarterbacks making their postseason starting debuts.
Seattle veteran Geno Smith spent years trying to find a starting job before settling with the Seahawks this season. They will travel to face rookie Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers in Saturday’s first game. Purdy was the last player taken in this year’s draft but has produced immediately — winning five straight starts since he took over for the injured Jimmy Garappolo.
The nightcap features two of the league’s up-and-coming young quarterbacks: Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers head to Jacksonville, where they’ll face 2021 No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars.
Seven of the 14 teams in this year’s playoffs didn’t make the field last season, giving the NFL’s upcoming wild-card weekend a mix of traditional powerhouses and underdogs.
There will be three games on Sunday: Miami at Buffalo, Baltimore at Cincinnati and the New York Giants at Minnesota. The opening weekend wraps up on Monday night with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucs hosting the Dallas Cowboys.
The Seahawks were the last team to make the field after Detroit beat Green Bay 20-16 on Sunday night. The Lions were eliminated from playoff contention earlier Sunday when the Seahawks beat the Rams, but Detroit pushed past the disappointment to deny Aaron Rodgers and the division rival Packers a spot in the postseason.
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.
Here’s a look at some other developments as the postseason approaches:
WHAT’S THE WILD-CARD SCHEDULE?
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers, 4:30 p.m. EST, Fox
Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars, 8:15 p.m. EST, NBC
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
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8:15 p.m. EST, ESPN/ABC
WHAT’S THE FORMAT FOR THE 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 THE 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 had to be given CPR before leaving the field in an ambulance. Over the next 10 days, those same players and fans have reacted with joy at news of Hamlin’s recovery.
That’s 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 on 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 on Sunday. It looks like the Baltimore Ravens will be without quarterback and former MVP Lamar Jackson. Instead it could be Tyler Huntley under center, who would be making his first postseason start. He’ll face the Bengals and Joe Burrow, who lost the Super Bowl to the Rams last season.
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed to this report.
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