The NFL playoffs are in full swing.
The first stage of this year’s postseason began with last week’s “Super Wild Card Weekend.” Now, only eight teams remain in the fight for the NFL’s biggest prize. The divisional round is stacked with exciting matchups, including a postseason debut for two No. 1 seeds, a rematch between Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, and the Lions’ first playoff game in Detroit in 30 years.
Here’s everything you need to know.
How to watch
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens – Saturday, January 20, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN/ABC/ESPN+)
Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills – Sunday, January 21, 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Texans @ Ravens
The action kicks off on Saturday afternoon with the CJ Stroud-led Texans and the top-seeded Ravens.
Stroud – the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft – has had a remarkable season, leading the Texans to the playoffs at the first time of asking and making a strong case for rookie of the year in the process. Paired with first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans, this season can be chalked up to a success for Stroud and Houston, regardless of the outcome on Saturday.
While Stroud and the Texans have nothing to lose, the pressure is on for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. The MVP-frontrunner is seeking his first playoff victory, looking to change his reputation as an excellent quarterback who can’t win when it matters most.
As the conference’s No. 1 seed, Jackson and the Ravens earned a week of rest during the wild card round. This could not have come at a better time, considering the plethora of injuries the team is battling. Eight players were listed on Tuesday’s injury report, most notably receiver Zay Flowers and cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Houston has also been hit by injuries, listing 13 players on their injury report including three key members of the defense. Top pass rushers Will Anderson Jr. and Jonathan Greenard were limited this week with ankle injuries, and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins did not practice due to rib and ankle injuries.
While this game could ultimately come down to which team is healthier and has more depth, fans will be treated to an exciting battle between the ROY and MVP frontrunners.
Packers @ 49ers
After a stunning victory over the Cowboys in the Wild Card round, the Packers will face another NFC heavyweight in the 49ers.
Quarterback Jordan Love has shined in his role as starter since taking over for a traded Aaron Rodgers. Against the Cowboys, he led the NFL’s youngest roster to victory by completing 16-of-21 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns, shredding through the fifth-ranked defense and scoring 48 points on the night.
Aside from his obvious talent on the field, the 25-year-old’s most impressive quality is his confidence. He showed his ability to perform under pressure and displayed no signs of nerves despite it being his first postseason game ever.
The underdog win in Dallas proved that the Packers are capable of competing with some of the league’s elite talent. However, the 49ers are a unique challenge. San Francisco is undoubtedly the better team on paper, boasting a top-tier defense and creative offense led by former Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy and star running back Christian McCaffrey. Not to mention they haven’t lost a playoff game at Levi’s Stadium since 2012.
Like the Ravens, the 49ers benefited from an extra week to rest and prepare during the Wild Card round. Purdy, McCaffrey, and several others also sat out the final game of the regular season since the No. 1 seed was already secured. Now entering their inaugural game of the postseason, that extra rest is simply invaluable.
Green Bay does not have the benefit of extra rest, but they do have momentum on their side. In order to beat a well-rested Niners team, the Packers offense will need to continue firing on all cylinders while the defense will need to overperform if they expect to stop Purdy, McCaffrey and company.
Buccaneers @ Lions
Arguably no team is happier to be in the postseason than the Lions. After multiple years of losing seasons and missing the postseason entirely, Detroit won their first playoff game in 32 years when they defeated the Rams last weekend. Now, they’ll look to keep the dream alive against Baker Mayfield and the Buccaneers.
Mayfield stepped into his role as starter following the retirement of future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. He adopted a winning pedigree, though Brady’s success didn’t immediately rub off on Mayfield and the new-look Bucs.
Fast-forward to now, Tampa Bay earned their way into the postseason as the winners of the NFC South. They’ve seemed to hit their stride at the right time, but facing this Lions team in front of the Ford Field faithful is a tall task.
Detroit’s loyal fan base will be out in full force on Sunday, and home field advantage for a team like the Lions cannot be underestimated.
Will Detroit keep the Cinderella story alive? Or will Tampa Bay spoil their happy ending?
Chiefs @ Bills
The weekend’s finale features yet another installment of the ever-evolving rivalry between the Bills and the Chiefs.
The familiar foes have met six times since 2020, the most contentious of those coming during the divisional round of the 2021 season as quarterback Patrick Mahomes led Kansas City to a thrilling 42-36 overtime victory over Josh Allen’s Bills at Arrowhead Stadium. The epic clash featured two of the league’s top teams, led by two of the league’s top young quarterbacks. This time around, that is still true. However, the teams and their circumstances look quite different.
After a rocky start to the season, Buffalo is riding a six-game winning streak. That run began with a victory over Kansas City back in December, and carried into Wild Card weekend with a wintry win over the Steelers. Now facing the Chiefs for the second time in six weeks, the odds are in Buffalo’s favor as the “Bills Mafia” welcomes Mahomes and co. to Highmark Stadium for the two-time MVP’s first road playoff game ever.
While the Chiefs managed to take care of business against the Dolphins last week, there’s no denying that they’ve struggled as of late. Kansas City’s defense has been their saving grace, holding opponents to under 20 points in three straight games. Against the Dolphins, the Chiefs defense did an excellent job of controlling the ground game which will be a major priority again on Sunday.
As for outside factors that could impact the game, winter weather remains a concern. A lake-effect snow warning was put in place through Thursday evening in Western New York, meaning Buffalo could receive up to four inches of snow through Saturday. Just like last week, the Bills have already reached out for volunteers to help clear the stadium of snow, though snowfall is not expected to be an issue during gametime.
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