NFL divisional round watchability: Ranking the 4 games by which we're looking forward to most

In terms of excitement, wild-card weekend could have been better.

At least we identified Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions as the game to watch in this space last week. That was the one thriller in the first round, as the Lions moved on with a 24-23 win. The other five were decided by an average of 20.6 points. The second-closest game was a 14-point win by the Buffalo Bills. There was certainly intrigue, especially with the NFC East teams taking miserable losses, but not great games.

Maybe that sets up a great divisional round. There are certainly some fun matchups. Here are the four games for the divisional round, ranked by the watchability of each:

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions (3 p.m. ET | NBC, Peacock)

The beauty of the divisional round is we get the best teams in the league all on the same weekend. If there's an outlier in this elite eight, it's a Buccaneers team that went 9-8 and won a weak NFC South. Still, the Buccaneers had some good performances late in the season, their defense is capable and Baker Mayfield looked good on Monday night against the Eagles. And the Lions have the best story going in these playoffs. Their home crowd should be even louder on Sunday afternoon. If this is our fourth-best game, we're in good shape.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JANUARY 14: Jared Goff #16 of the Detroit Lions claps during a time out during the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Ford Field on January 14, 2024 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions beat the Rams 24-23. (Photo by Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images)
The Lions hadn't won a playoff game in 32 years until their 24-23 victory over the Rams on Sunday. Now they host the Buccaneers with a spot in the NFC championship on the line. (Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images) (Lauren Leigh Bacho via Getty Images)

3. Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (4:30 p.m. ET | ESPN/ABC)

It was a tough call between No. 2 and No. 3. Texans vs. Ravens could be very entertaining. On one side there's the soon-to-be NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, trying to build a playoff résumé to match his fantastic regular-season one, with a Ravens team that looked dominant for much of the season. He'll face arguably the best rookie quarterback in NFL history. C.J. Stroud reset the bar for what is possible from a rookie quarterback in the NFL. He has raised his game even higher the past two weeks, a winner-take-all Week 18 game against the Colts that got the Texans in the playoffs, then a fantastic performance in a playoff win over the Browns. The Texans have come a long way since the Ravens beat them 25-9 in the opener. It'll be a great showdown between two of the NFL's top quarterbacks. Maybe this game should have been higher.

2. Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (8 p.m. ET | Fox)

These two teams have had some playoff brawls before. This matchup is a lot more intriguing after what happened Sunday. The Packers destroyed a Dallas Cowboys team that looked like the 49ers' only true competition in the NFC. Jordan Love continued his incredible hot streak, putting up a 157.2 passer rating. That overshadowed Aaron Jones' big game, which continued his own hot streak. The Packers barely made the playoffs but they're hot now and based on how they looked at Dallas, maybe they can challenge the 49ers too. The 49ers are a dominant, fun team with plenty of stars. They spent most of the season looking like the Super Bowl favorite before the Ravens smacked them in a Christmas night showdown. They're still capable of winning a Super Bowl. But they need to get past the Packers first.

1. Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills (6:30 p.m. ET | CBS)

Start here: There is almost an unquestioned big three among quarterbacks in the NFL, and two of them face off Sunday night. Patrick Mahomes has never played a true road game in the playoffs, and this will be a test. Josh Allen looked great in a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday, playing through some rough weather. And there might be more snow this week in Buffalo. The Chiefs and Bills played one of the greatest games in NFL history two years ago, a wild Chiefs comeback that is a big reason Buffalo still hasn't made a Super Bowl since the 1993 season. The Chiefs are trying to build another floor on their growing dynasty, while the Bills are trying to win the first Super Bowl in franchise history for a fan base that is desperate for one. Bills fans understand what it means to finally get the Chiefs in Buffalo, and they will be as raucous as ever.

Maybe the Chiefs and Bills can give us another classic. We're due for one after that lackluster wild-card weekend.