NFL play-offs: Brian Baldinger breaks down ones to watch on Wild Card Weekend

By Rich Jones

The NFL play-offs have arrived - and Wildcard Weekend is set to throw-up some huge match-ups.

A mixture of experienced superstars and red-hot rookies will take to the field looking to take a step closer to Super Bowl LVI in California on February 13.

Brian ‘Baldy’ Baldinger is an expert pundit with Sky Sports NFL and will be providing analysis in the studio this weekend for Sky Sports coverage of Super Wildcard Weekend, starting at 9.30pm with Cincinnati Bengals hosting Las Vegas Raiders.

Ahead of six huge match-ups, Baldinger joined Mirror Sport for an exclusive breakdown of nine of the big names players to watch.

Here’s a breakdown of the likes of Joe Burrow, Tom Brady, Josh Allen and Cooper Kupp - including what makes them such special talents.

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NFL expert Brian Baldinger will be part of Sky Sports' coverage of the NFL play-offs (Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Joe Burrow

The Cincinnati Bengals head into their first play-off appearance since 2015 high on confidence and with second-year quarterback Joe Burrow in top form.

“The first game of this Wildcard Weekend is Cincinnati and the Raiders in Cincinnati - we call it the jungle,” Baldinger explains.

“We’re going to watch Joe Burrow first, and in his last two games he’s thrown for eight touchdowns and 971 yards.”

Against the Baltimore Ravens, Burrow showed off his timing and ball placement to find Tyler Boyd for a 68-yard touchdown.

Joe Burrow has been in-form in recent weeks including finding Tyler Boyd for a long TD on this play (NFL)

“This is what we call a three by two set,” Baldinger explains. “The three receivers are at the bottom, the two are at the top, and the third receiver from the outside-in is Tyler Boyd.

“He’s going to run what we call a stick-nod, so he’s going to run out then he’s going to go up.

“Joe Burrow loves to go empty - he loves to get five receivers out there. He did this at LSU, went 16-0, and he just reads progressions very quickly.

“The trick is can he get rid of the ball and make his read before the Raiders’ defensive line - Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue - get there before he releases the ball.

“Joe puts it right on him. You can see there’s nobody else in the middle of the field and Tyler Boyd goes 68 yards for a touchdown.”

Burrow showed how well he can deal with pressure as well as his connection with Ja'Marr Chase on this play vs Kansas City (NFL)

In the final game of the regular season, against the Kansas City Chiefs, Burrow showed how he can deal with pressure against the blitz on a huge 3rd and 27 completion to Ja’Marr Chase.

“This is against Kansas City, the last game of the season, and it’s very interesting,” Baldinger says.

“It’s 3rd and 27. Up at the top is Ja’Marr Chase, maybe the best rookie in the league right now.

Chase made an outstanding catch on a dominant day for the wide receiver (NFL)

“Kansas City, they’re coming after Joe Burrow. If Joe Burrow gets just this much time, he can hurt you- when he releases this ball nobody is even looking for the ball but Ja’Marr Chase knows it’s coming.

“He’s got to get rid of it because there’s a free rusher coming right at Joe Burrow here. He gets rid of this ball, Ja’Marr Chase looks for it and just reacts.

“He threw this to the back shoulder, this ball is perfectly thrown to the back shoulder of Ja’Marr Chase and he makes that catch.”

Tom Brady

If Joe Burrow is the young up-and-comer, Tom Brady is without a doubt the old-timer.

Brady shows no signs of slowing up and will lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into their clash with the Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday, 6pm GMT) as the reigning Super Bowl champions.

“Sunday afternoon we’re going to see the great Tom Brady, the GOAT, at age 44,” Baldinger says.

“There’s an old saying that the problem with experience is by the time you get enough of it, you’re too old to enjoy it - except if you’re Tom Brady.

“You have all that experience that you see so much over 20 years and you can do all those little details and still have the arm strength, the accuracy and all the touch and desire to go and do it.”

The Buccaneers were staring at a shock defeat with less than a minute remaining against the New York Jets a couple of weeks ago.

“I pulled this play because it was in week 17 against the Jets, they were losing the game, 28 seconds left, down 24-20 and up at the top is a young receiver, Cyril Grayson,” Baldinger explains.

Brady fooled the Jets defence with a clever jerk of his shoulders late in the fourth quarter (NFL)

“If you watch Brady here, he just jerks his shoulders and that’s enough for the defender to react to it like it’s going to be a little stop route.

“Just that little move by Brady gets the defender to stop his feet and the receiver goes right by him. 33 yards later, the Bucs have the winning touchdown in that game.”

Last week, Brady showed all his pre-snap ability to open things up for a short Mike Evans touchdown pass.

Brady then found the wide-open Grayson for the game-winning score (NFL)

Baldinger continues: “If you go to last week’s game and watch this throw, all the different things that Tom Brady does to throw this touchdown pass to Mike Evans.

“The first thing he’ll do is Cameron Brate is going to go in motion, and you can see No.42 goes with him so there’s a pretty good idea that it’s man coverage.

“He’s got two receivers at the bottom - Breshad Perriman and Mike Evans. Now Brady is looking at the rush, are they all coming at him?

Tom Brady's pre-snap adjustments made for an easy touchdown throw to Mike Evans (bottom) against the Panthers (NFL)

“If they are, I’d better get some extra protection. He sees the blitz, he believes it’s blitz zero so he takes the running back and says, ‘you get over here, and when this blitzed comes through this A- gap, I want you to block him’.

“He puts him in a position to make that block, now he’s going to make this throw to Mike Evans.

“He needs just enough time to put it in a perfect spot to make the touchdown to Mike Evans, and all those little things he’s able to do just before the snap.”

Josh Allen

Tom Brady might be carried by his intelligence, but Josh Allen’s athleticism has him primed to try and beat Brady’s old team this weekend.

The Buffalo Bills quarterback has emerged as a star over the past two seasons and his team will take on the New England Patriots on Saturday night (Sunday 1:15am GMT).

“I believe when they go and play New England this weekend that Josh Allen is the difference in this game,” Baldinger outlines.

Allen's athleticism and strength makes him a tough man for defenders to stop (NFL)

He threw a remarkable 10-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to outline his ability last weekend and clinch the AFC East division title.

“This throw last weekend (vs Jets) was unbelievable,” Baldinger begins.

“The first thing he’s got to do is beat Quinnen Williams when he steps up. He stiff arms him and gets rid of him, then here comes Quinnen’s brother, Quincy Williams.

“Quincy is going to completely wrap him up, and he still makes that throw to Stefon Diggs perfectly for a touchdown.

“When you watch this play, this is Josh Allen. He can create and his strength, athletic ability is second to none.

“Quinnen Williams is 310lbs and he just puts him right down on the ground. Now he’s got his eyes up and he sees his favourite receiver, Diggs, breaking to the corner.

Allen was able to find Diggs for a touchdown despite being tackled by Quincy Williams (NFL)

“But Quincy Williams is coming right at him. He has him completely wrapped up, got his left arm pinned down, but this is how strong Josh is.

“He can still make an accurate throw. The finish of where Josh Allen is - he’s six yards out of bounds, he can’t even see the throw.

“They just extend the field way beyond the boundaries for that touchdown right there, and I think that’s the difference against the Patriots.”

Ja’Marr Chase

Much of Joe Burrow’s success for the Bengals has come down to rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.

Against the Kansas City Chiefs in week 17, he exploded with 266 yards and three touchdowns including a 72-yard touchdown which showcased him at his very best.

“Ja’Marr Chase is going to catch this route against Tyrann Mathieu for a first down on 2nd and 7,” Baldinger explains.

Chase is always looking for ways to beat defenders after catching the ball (NFL)

“But the thing that’s interesting about Ja’Marr Chase is he’s got a plan before the snap, then he has a plan after the catch.

“He catches this for the first down but that’s not enough. The first thing he does is square up to the defence and he always does this.

“When he squares up, his knees are bent and his eyes are up. Now he’s looking - ‘how can I beat this defence’?

“There’s a bunch of Chiefs that close in on him but this is where his speed comes in - he makes one guy miss and he’s off to the races.

“He outruns six Kansas City Chiefs and a bunch of those guys chasing him are really fast guys, but he beats them for a 72-yard touchdown.”

The previous week, he also had well over 100 yards and a long touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens.

Chase has shown he has elite speed and been a revelation as a rookie (NFL)

“On this play, it’s 3rd and 2 in week seven, beating Baltimore 20-17 and he’s up at the top against one of the best corners in the league, Marlon Humphrey.

“He beats him off the line - he takes him outside then can cut inside. A little bit of separation and Joe Burrow puts it right on him.

“There’s four Ravens right there, but this is where Ja’Marr Chase is just different from everyone else.

“He makes everybody miss, gets on what we call the moving sidewalk and goes 82 yards for the touchdown to break the game wide open.

“He’s just gifted - when the ball is in his hands there isn’t anything he can’t do with it.”

Deebo Samuel

The San Francisco 49ers head to Dallas to take on the Cowboys on Sunday (9:30pm GMT) having had to fight for their play-off lives last week.

Versatile wide receiver Deebo Samuel was vital to their comeback against the Los Angeles Rams both catching and running the ball.

“One of my favourite players in the post-season, you’ll see him on Sunday afternoon, is Deebo Samuel,” Baldinger says, before breaking down a 16-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Deebo Samuel has been a huge weapon running the ball for the 49ers this season (NFL)

“Deebo right here is in the backfield, he’s both a runner and a receiver. They motion someone out of the backfield then take him across the formation.

“The free safety follows him, so that takes a guy away from the middle of the field and they’re going to hand off here to Deebo Samuel.

“Watch two guys - 85 George Kittle and 15 Jauan Jennings. They both pin their men inside, and it opens up this alley for Deebo to get through.

Samuel ran in a crucial touchdown as the 49ers launched a comeback (NFL)

“Now he’s got the speed and the strength to outrun three Rams to the end zone. This touchdown closed the score to 17-10 to help them get into the play-offs last week.”

Later in the game, he caught a huge pass to keep their game-tying drive alive against top cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

“The next one, they’re down 24-17 with 40 seconds to go and on him is Jalen Ramsey, arguably the best corner in the league.

Deebo Samuel also made huge plays as a receiver against the Rams (NFL)

“If you watch Jimmy Garropolo’s shoulders, he pumps his shoulders and gets Jalen Ramsey to bite.

“Deebo Samuel goes right by him, makes a guy miss and manages to go 43-yards to set the 49ers up for the game-tying touchdown to get into overtime.”

Cooper Kupp

On the opposite side, Cooper Kupp was once again impressive for the Los Angeles Rams, who had already sealed a play-off place.

They will now host the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football (Tuesday 01:15am GMT) hoping to eventually earn a path to a home Super Bowl.

“For the Rams, their star receiver and the best wide receiver in the league this year is Cooper Kupp,” Baldinger says.

Cooper Kupp's ability to get open has led him to a record-breaking season (NFL)

“Cooper Kupp is down here at the bottom in the slot, and he runs what we call a post-corner route.

“He goes in then comes back out, and when he comes back out, look at the separation he gets.

“But it’s not enough for Cooper Kupp to just catch the ball. He’s not going out of bounds, never. How can I spin, get back in bounds and get more yards? He gets 46 yards on the play.

Kupp's route-running is arguably the best in the league, as he showed on this play (NFL)

“Then you look at this touchdown for Cooper Kupp. You call this a china route, but it’s a reverse china route where he goes out, in, then back out.

“The defender gets beat on the move. Him, Hunter Renfrow and Stefan Diggs have the best route-running ability of anyone in this post-season.

“They’re all phenomenal route runners - they just know how to get open.”

Mike Evans

Cooper Kupp is known for his route running, whereas Mike Evans has become a star because of his sheer physical attributes.

The big Buccaneers wide receiver made history last week, becoming the first ever to start their NFL career with eight straight 1000 yard seasons.

He will be a huge target for Tom Brady, as showcased by a 20-yard touchdown pass against the Carolina Panthers in week 18.

“One other guy from the receiving corp who is just different to everyone else because he’s so big and so fast is Mike Evans,” Baldinger says.

“He’s just so big and strong. The defender has his hands on him, but he just gets the hands off, swims him, gets his hands off him.

“Tom Brady puts it on him, and he makes this 28-yard touchdown catch look easy. But he had to beat the man coverage at the line of scrimmage first, and he does that with his size and his strength.

“6ft5, 230lbs and he runs as fast as any receiver in here. Eight straight seasons with 1000 yards, only receiver in the history of the NFL to do it.”

Micah Parsons

Ja’Marr Chase is not the only rookie who has lit up the NFL this season, with Micah Parsons emerging as a star for the Dallas Cowboys on the defensive side of the ball.

“My favourite player in this year’s league, Micah Parsons, the rookie No.11 for the Cowboys,” says Baldinger ahead of their clash with the 49ers on Sunday (9:30pm GMT).

“His burst, his closing speed is as fast as anyone in the league. If you combine it with being 6f4in, 245lbs and then a hunger to be great.”

Parsons has been chasing down quarterbacks, including Patrick Mahomes, throughout his rookie season (NFL)

“He chases Patrick Mahomes here,” he says, showcasing a forced fumble in week 11.

“He’s had 13 sacks, three forced fumbles including this one and he just changes the game.

“He takes the ball away and he saves touchdowns, a lot of touchdowns this season.”

Parsons was barely in the picture with Toney looking set for a certain touchdown (NFL)

He then shows a play in week 15 in which he stopped a sure-fire touchdown in the Cowboys’ win over the New York Giants.

“This play against the New York Giants, they have Kadarius Toney at quarterback in the wildcat.

“Micah reacts to 28 getting the ball, his eyes are up, but then Toney keeps it.

Parsons closed the gap to save a certain touchdown as he has done on numerous occasions (NFL)

“Toney’s really fast and he thinks he has a touchdown. He has a clear lane into the end zone until Micah Parsons shows up.

“He comes out of nowhere, stops him from getting into the end zone, and the Giants never scored on that drive. Micah started it right there with his closing speed.”

Jordan Mailata

The Philadelphia Eagles’ hopes of upsetting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rest largely on their running game.

Crucial to that is Australian rugby league convert Jordan Mailata, who has enjoyed a breakthrough season at left-tackle and has manhandled some huge defensive linemen.

“One of my favourite players in the league is Jordan Mailata, No.68 and left tackle for the Eagles,” Baldinger says.

“He’s 6ft8in, 380lbs and did get up to 402lbs this year. His power is second to none. With the guy next to him, Landon Dickerson, that’s the best run blocking left side of any team in the post-season.

Australian star Jordan Mailata has been a dominant force in the run game for the Eagles (NFL)

“They just move bodies out of the way. Physically, they can run the ball better than anyone else in the league and they are the best running football team in the league right now.

“If you look at this play, Jordan Mailata against Marcus Davenport of the New Orleans Saints. Davenport is 6ft8, 300lbs.

“Watch what he does to Marcus Davenport just one-on-one. He’s got him on one leg, he lifts him and drives him all the way to the other side of the field.

“There’s just nobody in this league who can move bodies quite like Jordan Mailata. He’s the best at it of anybody in the league.”

  • Watch Brian ‘Baldy’ Baldinger live on Sky Sports NFL for Super Wildcard Weekend starting at 9.30pm this Saturday 15 January, with Cincinnati Bengals hosting Las Vegas Raiders. Find the full Sky Sports playoff schedule here.


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