Upon the day after Christmas, when all remains starry and bright, the NFL is leaving three presents still to be opened up with an NFL Saturday brimming with Pro Bowl talent and playoff implications.
Then the day takes us to the desert, where the Fred Warner-led San Francisco 49ers (5-9) face the host Arizona Cardinals (8-6) and Kyler Murray at 4:30 p.m. ET from State Farm Stadium in a game on Amazon Prime Video.
Exciting stars look to shine on Saturday, which promises to at the very least put the 2020 playoff picture into clearer focus by day's end.
Here's what to watch for:
Brady, Bucs aim to clinch playoff berth
Tom Brady's first season in Tampa Bay could be the Buccaneers' first in the playoffs since 2007. That's been the plan all along and it could come to fruition Saturday if Brady's bunch defeats the Lions. With the Buccaneers aiming to end the second-longest playoff drought in the NFL, Brady's gunning for his 12th straight trip to the playoffs – something his former team, the Patriots, fell short of doing. A win (or tie) against the Lions on Saturday clinches a Buccaneers playoff berth. Coming off a lofty showing in a win over the Falcons in Week 15 in which he had a season-high 390 yards and two touchdowns, Brady and the Bucs' mercurial offense find themselves up against the Lions' last-ranked scoring defense. Despite the inconsistent nature of Tampa's season, Brady's totals are some of his best in years with 3,886 yards and 32 touchdowns so far. Setting the stage in Brady's favor even more, he's 7-0 this year against sub-.500 teams, which obviously includes Detroit. Saturday's poised to start with some Brady history.
Stafford still 'tough as nails'
There's been hubbub aplenty regarding the relationship of Brady and Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians (most of it likely much ado about nothing), but Arians had no issues this week gushing about Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. "He's one of my all-time favorite guys. He's tough as nails," Arians told reporters on Tuesday. "Like I said the other day, he's one of the few quarterbacks I like going out and watching warm up." Arians believes Stafford is one of the best quarterbacks in the game, absent of the notoriety because his team is absent victories on a yearly basis. With Detroit heading toward a major overhaul, only speculation serves in regard to Stafford's future beyond this season with the Lions. As usual, Stafford, who's dealing with rib and thumb injuries, is playing through pain. As usual, his numbers are good: 23 touchdowns, 269.9 yards per game, nine interceptions. In his career, Stafford's played the Bucs four times and emerged with a 3-1 mark, 10 touchdowns and 323.5 yards per game. If the Lions pull off the upset, it's likely Stafford will lead the way. It's doubtful, though, that that's something Arians is going to want to watch, no matter how big a fan he is of Stafford's.
Kyler, Cards closing in on playoffs
While Bruce Arians is aiming for a playoff spot with the Buccaneers, the Cardinals are vying for a playoff spot for the first time since back when Arians was their coach. Kliff Kingsbury, Kyler Murray and the Cards need a win on Saturday and a Chicago Bears loss on Sunday to clinch the club's first postseason appearance since 2015. A victory against the Niners will clinch the Cardinals' first winning season since that same 2015 campaign. It would be another huge step forward in what's already been a terrific turnaround -- in this season and for the organization. When Kingsbury came aboard the Cardinals and subsequently drafted Murray No. 1 in the 2019 NFL Draft, excitement and intrigue was infused into Arizona. Still, the team went 5-10-1. This year's been a vast improvement, but it's been a roller coaster. It began on a high with the Cardinals coming out of the gate with a win over their Saturday opponents, the 49ers. But back-to-back losses to struggling Lions and Panthers teams put them at 2-2 before they ran off three wins in a row. Later there was a three-game skid and now there've won two in a row after a thrilling 33-26 Week 15 win over the Eagles in which Murray threw for a career-high 406 yards. Last season's AP Offensive Rookie of the Year would be a frontrunner for second-season POTY if such an accolade existed. Having posted 26 touchdown throws and 11 touchdown runs so far, Murray's become just the second player in NFL history with 25-plus passing TDs and double-digit rushing scores in a season after Cam Newton in 2015. Per NFL Research, Murray is also just the third NFL quarterback with 35-plus offensive TDs and 300-plus offensive yards per game in his second season Dan Marino, 1984; Patrick Mahomes, 2018). Marino, Newton and Mahomes each won MVPs in those aforementioned seasons. Though that accolade might not be in the cards for Murray, a playoff berth certainly is.
Warner a constant for depleted Niners
Despite falling short of returning to the playoffs after a Super Bowl march last season, the injury-plagued 49ers roster is still talent-laden. That's evidenced by a trio of Pro Bowl picks -- Trent Williams, Kyle Juszczyk and Fred Warner. While Williams and Juszczyk are multi-time all-stars, Warner's finally getting his due. As big names have been hobbled around him, Warner's stood out in his third season as a tackling machine and one of the best cover linebackers in the game. Despite its 5-9 record, San Francisco still boasts the No. 5 overall defense and the fourth-ranked passing defense. Warner, who's started 46 consecutive games to begin his career, is a huge reason why. With a team-high 101 tackles heading into Saturday, Warner's tallied triple-digit tackles in each season so far and his two interceptions are also tied for a team-high. It's been a tumultuous season for the 49ers and it began with a Week 1 loss to the Cardinals. Though the 49ers' playoff hopes are dashed, the Warner-led club would likely be plenty happy spoiling the Cardinals' postseason aspirations -- or at least delaying them.
Is Tua time playoff time?
Tua Tagovailoa's got a winning pedigree to say the least and his rookie season might well end with the Dolphins back in the postseason for the first time since 2016. Heading into Saturday, the Fins are the No. 7 seed in the AFC -- also known as the last postseason spot. Tagovailoa's certainly still finding his way amid his first campaign, but he's 5-2 as a starter and his progress can be viewed week by week and often times from one quarter to the next. During his days at Alabama, Tagovailoa had a knack for playing big in big games and Saturday's tilt against the Raiders is essentially a playoff game. It also bodes well for Tagovailoa, considering he's going up against the 29th-ranked scoring defense. An important game against a vulnerable defense sounds like Tua time.
Jacobs rushing to back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns
Las Vegas' odds at making the playoffs are slim. The Raiders must win their two remaining games and get a whole lot of help elsewhere. Josh Jacobs' chances are reaching 1,000 yards on the ground are much better. Jacobs enters Saturday's action with 907 yards rushing as he closes in on a second-straight 1,000-yard season. He'd become the first Raiders rusher to begin his career with back-to-back four-digit campaigns and would also become just the second Raiders player to have 1,000 yards rushing and 10 or more touchdowns in a season after Marcus Allen. Jacobs might not be turning in the season many had envisioned, but he's still putting up a stellar showing with his 907 yards sixth in the league, his 245 carries third and his 10 touchdowns tied for sixth. The Raiders are most often at their best when Jacobs is. In the four games in which Jacobs has eclipsed 80 yards this season, Las Vegas is 4-0. Thus, if Jacobs makes individual history on Saturday, the Raiders' slim playoff hopes might well carry into Week 17.