This year’s NFL playoffs kick off with six wild-card round games this weekend, and one of the top Utah storylines to follow is a matchup that involves players from BYU, Utah and Weber State, as well as another game where a former Ute is coming back from retirement.
Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals
- Kickoff: 2:35 p.m. MST
- Venue: Paul Brown Stadium
- TV: NBC, Peacock, Universo
What to watch for: Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow is making his playoff debut after going No. 1 overall to the Bengals in the 2020 NFL draft. The Raiders’ Derek Carr is also making his postseason debut, though it’s coming in his eighth pro season. Both teams are searching to break long playoff droughts — the Raiders last won in the 2002 playoffs, when they advanced to the Super Bowl (and lost), while the Bengals haven’t won a postseason game since 1990.
Utah impact: There aren’t likely to be Utah ties making a noticeably major impact in this game. Former Herriman High standout Andre James has started every game at center for Las Vegas this season, and his rise from undrafted free agent to starter in his third season is impressive. Former Utah and Brighton High tackle Jackson Barton won a Super Bowl ring with Kansas City two years ago but has been inactive on game day all but two games for the Raiders.
Utah ties on Raiders roster
- Jackson Barton, OT, Utah and Brighton High
- Andre James, C, Herriman High
- Dallin Leavitt, S, Utah State and BYU
- Jeremiah Poutasi, OT, Utah (practice squad)
Utah ties on Bengals roster
- Jalen Davis, CB, Utah State
- Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, Timpview High (reserve, designated to return)
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
- Kickoff: 6:15 p.m.
- Venue: Highmark Stadium
- TV: CBS, Paramount+
What to watch for: The AFC East rivals split their games this season — New England went on the road and beat Buffalo 14-10 on Dec. 6, while the Bills exacted some revenge with a 33-21 victory in Massachusetts three weeks later. The game could come down to if Buffalo can get to Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones. Jones had nine games with a 70% completion percentage or higher, tied with Dak Prescott with the most in NFL history among rookies. The Bills’ defense, meanwhile, leads the league in total defense (272.8 yards per game), pass defense (163 ypg) and scoring defense (17 points per game).
Utah impact: Former BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy returned to New England this year after one season in Miami and has been a steady contributor for the Patriots. The trio of active roster players with Utah ties on Buffalo’s team could also be in line to make big plays. Former Weber State cornerback Taron Johnson had a pick six during the postseason last year, and two former Utes — running back Zack Moss and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei — are likely to see a steady amount of snaps.
Utah ties on Patriots roster
- Harvey Langi, LB, BYU, Utah and Bingham High (injured reserve)
- Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
Utah ties on Bills roster
- Taron Johnson, CB, Weber State
- Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah, Snow College and Bingham High
- Zack Moss, RB, Utah
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Kickoff: 11:05 a.m.
- Venue: Raymond James Stadium
- TV: Fox, Fox Deportes
What to watch for: The Eagles draw the short straw of the wild-card weekend by playing the defending Super Bowl champs. Philadelphia, though, has won six of its past eight games and comes in looking competitive after some early season troubles. The Buccaneers beat the Eagles 28-22 in their Week 6 regular-season matchup, though it was played in Philadelphia. Tom Brady — the NFL’s all-time playoff leader in wins (34) — is trying to win his eighth Super Bowl title, while Philadelphia will counter with the NFL’s top rushing attack (159.7 yards per game).
Utah impact: Former Weber State and Stansbury High guard Sua Opeta is the only Utah tie on an active roster here, and he’s typically been limited in his number of snaps each game.
Utah ties on Eagles roster
- Sua Opeta, OG, Weber State and Stansbury High
- Noah Togiai, TE, Hunter High (practice squad)
Utah ties on Buccaneers roster
- Troy Warner, S, BYU (practice squad)
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
- Kickoff: 2:40 p.m.
- Venue: AT&T Stadium
- TV: CBS, Paramount+, Nickelodeon, Amazon Prime Video
What to watch for: This one feels like a playoff matchup from the 1980s or 1990s, when these two teams staged some classic postseason matchups. San Francisco rallied their way into the playoffs — going 7-2 in the back half of the season — while 12-5 Dallas has been one of the more steady teams in the league. While the QB matchup of the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo and the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott will grab plenty of attention, there are star defensive players on both sides as well, like San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa and Dallas linebacker Micah Parsons, two of the league’s best defenders in tackles for loss with 21 and 20, respectively.
Utah impact: This could be the game to watch this weekend in terms of players with Utah ties playing a major role in the contest. Former BYU linebacker Fred Warner is a team captain and leader on the defensive side of the ball for San Francisco, and he has the experience of helping the 49ers reach the Super Bowl two years ago. Former Bingham High tight end Dalton Schultz is having his best pro season and is one of Dak Prescott’s favorite targets in the passing game.
Utah ties on 49ers roster
- Fred Warner, LB, BYU
- Mitch Wishnowsky, P, Utah
Utah ties on Cowboys roster
- Bradlee Anae, DE, Utah (practice squad)
- Francis Bernard, LB, Utah, BYU and Herriman High
- Simi Fehoko, WR, Brighton High
- Dalton Schultz, TE, Bingham High
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
- Kickoff: 6:15 p.m.
- Venue: Arrowhead Stadium
- TV: NBC, Peacock, Telemundo
What to watch for: The Steelers needed some help in Week 18 to make the postseason and will be huge underdogs against Kansas City, the AFC’s representative in the past two Super Bowls. This allows the 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion, one last chance at a playoff run before he’s expected to retire. It will be a significant challenge: Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs blitzed the Steelers 36-10 during their regular-season matchup the day after Christmas, and while Kansas City had some early struggles, the Chiefs have looked the part of a Super Bowl contender as the season’s wore on.
Utah impact: Former BYU safety Daniel Sorensen has had some struggles this season in his eighth year with the Chiefs, but he has also created a bit of a reputation for making big plays, particularly in the postseason in recent years. Outside of Sorensen, though, the Utah ties on active rosters here aren’t likely to make a big impact.
Utah ties on Steelers roster
- Miles Killebrew, S, Southern Utah
Utah ties on Chiefs roster
- Zayne Anderson, S, BYU and Stansbury High
- Matt Bushman, TE, BYU (practice squad)
- Marcus Kemp, WR, Layton High
- Daniel Sorensen, S, BYU
- Darwin Thompson, RB, Utah State (practice squad)
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams
- Kickoff: 6:15 p.m.
- Venue: SoFi Stadium
- TV: ESPN/ABC, ESPN2, ESPN+, ESPN Deportes
What to watch for: The Cardinals are making their first playoff appearance since 2015, though Arizona has lost four of its past five games. That started with a 30-23 loss to the Rams in Week 14. Arizona, which is 8-1 on the road this season, beat its NFC West rival 37-20 in Los Angeles in Week 4, snapping an eight-game losing streak to the Rams. Both starting quarterbacks will be seeking their first playoff win — the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray, the top overall selection in the 2019 draft, is making his playoff debut, while the Rams’ Matthew Stafford is 0-3 as a starter in the playoffs, all with Detroit.
Utah impact: While the 49ers-Cowboys game could be most impacted by Utah ties, this one may be the most intriguing. Former Utah safety Eric Weddle came out of retirement this past week after two years not playing the game, and he will be back trying to help a Rams secondary depleted by injuries. Pro Bowl kicker Matt Gay may also be the deciding factor, if it comes down to a field goal in crunch time — he’s made 94.1% of his field-goal kicks this season.
Utah ties on Cardinals roster
- Kylie Fitts, OLB, Utah (injured reserve)
- Leki Fotu, DT, Utah and Herriman High
Utah ties on Rams roster
- Terrell Burgess, S, Utah
- Matt Gay, K, Utah and Orem High
- Eric Weddle, S, Utah (practice squad)
- Jonah Williams, DE, Weber State (practice squad)