As Week 17 drew to a close, we saw the NFC South come out as the most dominant division in the NFC with 3 out of their respective 4 teams earning a playoff berth. Unfortunately, though, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not one of those three playoff teams, even after an impressive win over the New Orleans Saints in Week 17.
In the AFC, Jacksonville (10-6) was able to clinch the AFC East prior to their Week 17 matchup with division foe Tennessee, who subsequently defeated the Jaguars 15-10. However, with the win Tennessee (9-7) does clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2008 and with Baltimore’s loss to Cincinnati, the Titans are the 5th seed in the AFC.
Now that the match ups are set, here is how next week’s Wild Card games line up:
As mentioned prior, 3 teams from the NFC South made the playoffs and all of them will be in action during wild card weekend. First, the Atlanta Falcons (10-6) will be faced with the tough challenge of slowing down explosive offensive of the Los Angeles Rams (11-5), led by Jared Goff and Todd Gurley. These two teams squared off in Week 14 of last season with Atlanta handily defeating the Rams 42-14. They will meet Saturday night at 8:15pm.
In the other NFC Wild Card matchup, fans will get to watch New Orleans vs. Carolina: Part III. Both teams were able to finish the regular season with an 11-5 record but the Saints won both games against the Panthers during the regular season, thus holding the tiebreaker for the higher seed. With both teams coming off of losses in Week 17, this game is sure to provide some early playoff drama. The two teams will face off at 4:40pm on Sunday afternoon.
In an unusually weak performance from the AFC this year, the AFC West Champion Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) will play host to the Tennessee Titans (9-7) at 4:30pm on Saturday. Tennessee is faced with stopping an electric Chiefs offense led by rookie running back Kareem Hunt who won the rushing title this year. Hunt is the first player since Priest Holmes to win the rushing title for Kansas City. This is also Tennessee’s first appearance back in the playoffs since 2008.
The final matchup for these playoffs came in dramatic fashion as the Buffalo Bills (9-7) were able to sneak into the playoffs after Baltimore lost to Cincinnati. So the other AFC Wild Card matchup will see the Jacksonville Jaguars hosting the Bills at 1pm Sunday afternoon. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was in 1996 when Jacksonville won that Wild Card matchup 30-27.
With New England, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Minnesota all earning the bye week, all eyes will be on these four games over the next week as the playoffs begin to be in full swing.
Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue hinting he’s gone again?
One of the key free-agent questions for the Jaguars continues to be whether or not they’re going to allow their best pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue, to test the free-agent market coming up? And, once again, the player may be giving a clue that he’s going to do just that.
Ngakoue tweeted Wednesday morning the following phrase, which seems to indicate, yet again, that he will be playing somewhere else in 2020:
— Yannick Ngakoue (@YannickNgakoue) February 26, 2020
This goes along with something that we wrote earlier in January. That’s when just a couple of days after the season Ngakoue posted essentially a goodbye message to Jaguar fans. This came on the heels of him having held out for a new contract for the first few days of training camp last August, but not receiving a new deal during the season, etc.
Ngakoue, whose 37.5 career sacks are the most by a Jaguars player after 63 career games, is sure to be a sought-after player from many different teams. GM Dave Caldwell said at the end of the season when asked about re-sgning his star pass rusher, “He is a tremendous player and even a better person. How he handled his business this year was tremendous. But, I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back to Jacksonville. Hopefully, we can get that done. ″
It’s also worth noting that at Tuesday’s NFL Scouting Combine at media availability in Indianapolis, coach Doug Marrone repeated that he wants Ngakoue to remain in Jaguars teal and white:
Doug Marrone: ‘’No doubt where I stand or the coaches.”
—They want Yannick Ngakoue back. pic.twitter.com/vOorH4hH95
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 26, 2020
However, it remains to be seen if Marrone and Caldwell are willing to “pony up” huge money for him or even potentially, put the franchise tag on him before free agency begins next month?
Ngakoue figures to want a contract close to what the top ends are getting paid right now. Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark both signed five-year, over $100 million deals in 2019 and received guaranteed money that exceeded $62 million. That is massive for Jacksonville.
If the Jags opt for the “franchise tag,” then the talented end will be making around $19 million dollars, which is the current average of the top five players at his position. The Jaguars could also put the tag on him and then work on a longer term, salary cap friendly, deal that would replace the tag later in the off season.
Jaguars confirm they are declining option on DT Dareus
At Tuesday’s media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell made official what had been rumored for the last couple of days regarding defensive tackle Marcell Dareus: he will not be brought back for a fourth season in Jacksonville.
Caldwell confirmed the Jaguars are not picking up DT Marcell Dareus' option.
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 25, 2020
Dareus only played briefly in 2019, as he suffered a core muscle injury that sidelined him after only six games and he was placed on injured reserve. The former number one pick of the Buffalo Bills had played for coach Doug Marrone for a couple of seasons in Western New York.
Marrone and Caldwell traded for Dareus during the 2017 season and he helped them with their rise to the AFC South title and two playoff wins. This included Darius registering two sacks and four other tackles-for-loss in the Jaguars three playoff games that year.
Dareus made the Pro Bowl twice in Buffalo in 2013-14.
However, he has not lived up to his hefty contract that was reworked Jacksonville last February. Last season, Dareus made over $8 million dollars and the team would have been on the hook for $20 million this year had they picked up the option. That obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Dareus also has had legal troubles off the field, including a civil suit against him in Tampa for alleged sexual misconduct. As we wrote previously, a woman alleged that Dareus had sexually assaulted her in January of 2018 at a North Tampa Florida home, while Dareus was in town for the Alabama-Clemson College Football Playoff Championship Game.
However, that suit filed in Hillsborough County court was “dismissed with prejudice” last April, which means it cannot be re-filed.
Dareus, if healthy after the core muscle injury rehab, may have some value as a defensive tackle on the free agent market.
As for the Jaguars, they have former #1 pick defensive tackle Taven Bryan to play more in the middle and are trying to decide if free agent-to-be, DE Yannick Ngakoue, can be afforded for their 2020 salary cap?