Super Wild Card Weekend is in the books after the Cowboys' dominant win over the Buccaneers on Monday night. That means we're officially down to eight teams in the 2023 NFL playoffs. Each and every one of them has shown championship-level poise at some point this year -- and some clubs are getting especially hot right now, at the right time. But that doesn't mean there aren't also pressing questions facing the remaining contenders. With the divisional round on tap, here's a look at some of the biggest:
Can Josh Allen protect the football?
Buffalo would not be where it is today without Allen's gunslinging. But more than Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City and Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, Allen's physical gifts and play style invite risk. Whereas Mahomes' fluidity makes off-script plays look designed and Burrow's vision makes for reliable crunch-time production, No. 17 in Buffalo is more liable to put his body -- and the ball -- on the line by trusting his imposing arm and frame over what the defense is giving. Since his 2020 breakout, he's totaled 40 turnovers (31 interceptions, nine fumbles lost) in 36 games, including playoffs.
Can the offensive line survive another loss?
Joe Burrow advanced to the Super Bowl last season despite a shoddy front, and now he might have to do it again. Cincinnati has coped OK without a string of injured starters, including right tackle La'el Collins and right guard Alex Cappa. But now left tackle Jonah Williams is "week-to-week" with a dislocated kneecap, and Burrow could be without three of his regular blockers. Deep in the playoffs, against penetrating fronts, that spells potential trouble for a QB who thrives not by eluding pressure but beating it to the punch with quick decisions. The Ravens got after him on Super Wild Card Weekend, and more heat could be coming.
Will the defense provide enough support?
No one should be betting against Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes at this stage: In the four seasons No. 15 has been Reid's starting quarterback, K.C. has never failed to at least reach the AFC Championship. But when Chris Jones isn't dominating up front to set up long downs, the back end of their "D" has proven vulnerable, notably faltering in close games with lesser opponents like the Broncos and Texans. Tackling has been an issue there, as has inexperience, with rookies Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams all seeing significant snaps at corner. We know they can score in a shootout, but can they cover?
Can they stay hot as the spotlight gets brighter?
Jerry Jones was exuberant after their shellacking of the aging, fizzling Buccaneers -- so much so that he's already "gone up a notch" in respect for Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy. But that almost speaks to the concern here: For so long, their playoff bar has been set low relative to their actual talent, because Dak Prescott and Co., like the franchise as a whole, are still seeking their first NFC title-game appearance since 1995. In other words, the pressure remains high, and it'll only increase as they extend a stretch of three straight road games and counting, with trips to San Francisco and potentially Philadelphia on the docket.
What exactly is Jalen Hurts' status?
Of course the quarterback will suit up as they look to prove they're still the class of the NFC. But we've not seen the MVP-level breakout at full strength since mid-December, when Hurts hurt his shoulder. The Eagles' strength for much of 2022 has been winning different ways behind a sturdy front and opportunistic "D," but Hurts was the catalyst when healthy, threatening opponents as both a punishing runner and vastly improved downfield passer. The weapons are there in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, as is Nick Sirianni's aggressiveness. But how much can Hurts, the heartbeat of the team, reasonably give, and for how long?
Is Brock Purdy finally due to hit a wall?
No matter how their season ends, the 49ers will be wholly grateful for Purdy's poise in an emergency situation; the rookie has brought a steadying, veteran-level presence in his efficient 6-0 run as Jimmy Garoppolo's fill-in. Kyle Shanahan's setup, which prioritizes quick strikes, a dynamic ground game and DeMeco Ryans' physical "D," may well be enough to offset any of the QB's hiccups. And yet we saw little glimpses of Purdy getting antsy on downfield targets to open the playoffs against an iffy Seahawks team. If push comes to shove against superior foes capable of playing shootout, his newness may finally show itself.
Can Wink Martindale match Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka?
In other words, as New York's offense rolls full steam ahead, with Daniel Jones under Daboll and Kafka's creative direction, can Big Blue's defense find a way to make its own schematic leap? Martindale took a decidedly more conservative approach against Minnesota, and it paid off late as the G-Men stopped Kirk Cousins and Co. to seal a road upset, but only after the Vikings spent much of the day moving the ball up and down the field. Azeez Ojulari's latest injury off the edge adds another potentially concerning wrinkle, even with Dexter Lawrence still owning the interior.
Did they already hit their emotional peak?
It'd be hard not to, right, after coming back from down 27 to upset the Chargers in Super Wild Card Weekend's wildest finish? Doug Pederson loves himself a good underdog playoff run, so obviously Jacksonville won't take its next tasks lightly. But the reality is, at 9-8, with an improbable division crown and the franchise's first postseason win in five years, Pederson's Jags have already registered as a success story. Trevor Lawrence is already rerouted to a better trajectory, and he may never have a more memorable finish than his four-touchdown rebound against Los Angeles. Never say never, but if one playoff team is ahead of schedule, teasing its 2023 potential more than its immediate title chances, it's probably Jacksonville.