(WNCN) — Though it didn’t happen without a few rescheduled games and multiple players having to sit out due to COVID-19, we have reached the NFL Playoffs.
Due to the pandemic, the NFL expanded its playoff format to 14 teams, with the top team in the American Football Conference and National Football Conference receiving the coveted bye week.
Central North Carolina has produced plenty of NFL talent, whether the player was born in the area or played college football at nearby schools, the region is responsible for some of the success of the teams you’ll see on CBS 17 during Super Wild Card Weekend beginning on Jan. 9.
Indianapolis @ Buffalo – Jan. 9, 1:05 p.m. on CBS 17
When the Indianapolis Colts (11-5) travel to Buffalo to take on the Bills (13-3) on Saturday, a few former ACC standouts will be on the field for both teams.
Colts starting quarterback Phillip Rivers is one of the greatest to ever put on Wolfpack red and white at N.C. State.
The 2003 ACC Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year, as you can imagine, finished his career in Raleigh as one of the most prolific passers in NCAA history.
When Rivers left for the NFL, he was ranked second all-time in NCAA history with 13,484 career passing yards. Rivers’ passing yards are still good for 14th all-time. No other ACC quarterback is ranked inside of the top 25.
Rivers’ 95 career passing touchdowns at N.C. State are good for second all-time in ACC history.
After the infamous draft day debacle between him and draft classmate Eli Manning, Rivers would go on to play 16 seasons for the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers before signing a two-year deal with the Colts ahead of the 2020 season.
Rivers threw for 4,169 yards, his eighth straight season throwing for more than 4,000 passing yards and 24 touchdown passes.
Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, another former Wolfpack signal-caller has seen his share of action for the Colts this season.
The Colts mainly utilized Brissett in the 11 games he played this year on trick plays and short-yardage situations where his legs were needed to keep the chains moving or score touchdowns. Brissett scored three rushing touchdowns this season on 17 rushing attempts but only threw eight passes for a total of 17 yards.
Brissett’s best season came in the 2019-20 campaign where he started all 15 of the games he played in. He would go on to throw for 2,942 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Brissett’s college teammate, Nyheim Hines, who he played with for one season in Raleigh is also his NFL teammate.
Hines, a Garner High School graduate, has served as a starting running back for the Colts as well as a change-of-pace back who excels at catching passes out of the backfield.
Hines, who started two of the 16 games he played this season took 89 carries for a total of 380 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught 63 passes, which was good for third among all NFL running backs.
Colts defensive end Tyquan Lewis knows a lot about central North Carolina as a Tarboro native.
Lewis, who played his college ball at Ohio State, was a standout at Tarboro High School where he was a part of multiple state championship teams.
The four-star recruit went on to have a solid career with the Buckeyes, racking up 23.5 sacks in four seasons and was named first-team All-Big Ten and the conference’s defensive lineman of the year in 2016.
Lewis played in all 16 games for the Colts this season, starting four. He racked up 24 combined tackles and four sacks and will be counted on to help slow down the high-octane offensive attack for the Bills.
On the other side of the ball, Bills linebacker Andre Smith will play a rotational role in helping Buffalo come out victorious.
Smith, a graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the 7th round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The Bills acquired Smith in a trade with the Panthers before the 2020 season for a draft pick. The pick the Panthers used to draft Smith was acquired from the Bills.
Smith recorded nine combined tackles this season in the 12 games he saw action in.
Chicago @ New Orleans – Jan. 10, 4:40 p.m. on CBS 17
When the Chicago Bears take on the New Orleans Saints on Sunday on CBS 17, we’ll see a few more ACC standouts and central NC natives.
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky played his college football at UNC and had a tremendous junior season (30 touchdowns, 6 interceptions) which was good enough for him to be selected as the second overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Though his career has been marked with a bit of inconsistency, being benched and used as a starter again, Trubisky has the Bears back in the playoffs for the second time in his young career.
In 2018, Trubisky faced off against current teammate Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bears would go on to lose the contest by one point, 16-15.
Trubisky started nine of the 10 games he played in this season and led the Bears to a 6-3 record in his starts. He threw for 2,055 yards, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
When Trubisky drops back to pass, he’ll be looking for tight end Jimmy Graham to catch a few of them.
Graham, a Goldsboro native, excelled as a basketball star in his younger years which has helped the 6-foot-7 behemoth sky over defenders for 699 receptions, 8,339 receiving yards and 82 touchdowns in his career.
The 699 receptions are good for 51st all-time, his 8,339 yards rank 89th all-time, and the 82 touchdowns rank 60th all-time and third all-time among tight ends.
Teammate Daniel McCullers is in his seventh season in the NFL, but his first with the Bears. McCullers, a Raleigh native, played a career-low three games this season and recorded eight combined tackles.
McCullers’ best statistical season came in 2016 with the Pittsburgh Steelers where he played in all 16 games (one start) and recorded 17 combined tackles and a sack.
On the other side of the ball trying to keep McCullers and his defensive teammates from reaching Saints quarterback Drew Brees will be UNC graduate and offensive tackle James Hurst.
Hurst is in his first season with the Saints after spending his first six seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.
Hurst saw action in 12 games this season, making five starts.
At UNC, Hurst was named All-ACC first team in 2012 and 2013 and All-ACC second team in 2011. He made 48 starts after earning the job in the second week of his freshman season.
The Divisional Playoffs schedule will be announced once all Wild Card games have been played.
Good luck to all of the local talent!
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