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NFL Playoffs - Divisional Roundup

The NFL Playoffs roll on into the Divisional Round for back-to-back games on both Saturday and Sunday. 


In the AFC, we have star-studded quarterbacks, starting with presumably the Offensive Rookie of the Year in CJ Stroud and the Houston Texans going up against the soon-to-be league MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. 


On Sunday, we have a rematch of one of the best NFL games of all time as Patrick Mahomes plays in his first ever road playoff game against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills.


In the NFC, it’s the high-flying 49ers, who have dominated opponents all season, hosting the Green Bay Packers, who shocked the league last weekend in a blowout victory over the Cowboys. 


On Sunday, the Detroit Lions, who went 31 years in-between home playoff games, only have to wait 7 days for their next one, as Jared Goff and Detroit host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have quietly won six of the last seven games they’ve played. 


In this article, we’ll take a look at each of these matchups and breakdown the teams that have advanced to the ‘Final 8’ and what is the greatest weekend of football of the year, the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs. 

 

AFC


(4) Houston Texans @ (1) Baltimore Ravens


Nuts & Bolts 

  • Date: January 20, 2024

  • Time: 4:30 p.m. ET 

  • Venue: M&T Bank Stadium - Baltimore, MD

  • Weather Forecast: 27 degrees, partly cloudy, winds 17 mph NW

  • How to Watch: ESPN

  • Matchup History: Baltimore leads all-time series 11-2

  • Last Meeting: Baltimore def. Houston 25-9 on 9/10/23

  • Betting Lines: Via DraftKings

  • Spread: Baltimore -9.5

  • Over/Under: 45.5

  • Prediction: Baltimore 37, Houston 20

  • Follow Along on Twitter 

  • Zach Penrice - DMV Sports: https://twitter.com/Zach_DMVSports

 

  • Head Coach: DeMeco Ryans (1st season, 11-7 record in Houston) 

  • Record: 10-7 (4-2, 1st in AFC South)

  • Last Time Out: Won vs. Cleveland 45-14 on 1/13/24

  • Highlights HERE

  • Player to Watch: C.J. Stroud


In one year, the Texans have gone from the worst team in the league, to the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. 


Last week, Houston became the first team in history to win a playoff game with a rookie head coach and quarterback. Head Coach DeMeco Ryans may have vaulted himself to the front-runner as the league Coach of the Year while C.J. Stroud added to his already solidified case to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year in a dominant 45-14 win over the Cleveland Browns. 


In the win, Stroud completed 76% of his passes for 274 yards and 3 touchdowns. 


Since he returned from a concussion four games ago, he’s averaging nearly 10 yards per attempt. Basically, every time he’s thrown a pass over the past month, it’s been a first down. 


The Texans’ reward for the win is a trip back to Baltimore where Stroud made his NFL debut in Week 1 this year to take on the top-seeded Ravens. 


In his debut, Stroud threw for 242 yards and zero touchdowns or turnovers in a 25-9 loss. 


Obviously, that was over four months ago, so it’s hard to take much stock in the prior meeting between the two teams. 


As good as the Texans have been down the stretch this year, we haven’t yet seen this team perform in colder weather. 


The closest thing to a ‘cold weather game’ was a December 10 30-6 loss to the Jets when Stroud had perhaps his worst game of the season and left late with a concussion. 


He completed just 10/23 passes for 91 yards in that game. 


Baltimore’s defense is legit and most of its best players have had the last two weeks off while the Texans have played back-to-back must win games. 


Having the top seed is a huge advantage, but the youth of the Texans could spell trouble for Baltimore, having to shake off the rust in a hurry if they want to avoid what happened the last time they had the #1 seed in the AFC…

 

  • Head Coach: John Harbaugh (16th season, 160-99 record in Baltimore) 

  • Record: 13-4 (3-3, 1st in AFC North)

  • Last Time Out: Lost vs. Steelers 17-10 on 1/6/24

  • Highlights HERE

  • Player to Watch: Lamar Jackson


Speaking of what happened last time, this is a different Ravens team than the one that got bounced on Divisional Round weekend against Derrick Henry and the Titans in the 2019 postseason. 


That team might have been better. 


The 2019 Ravens went 14-2 and finished with the top seed in the AFC while Lamar Jackson earned the NFL MVP award. Sound familiar? 


Baltimore made a shocking exit that year in its first playoff game. That will be front of mind for Jackson, John Harbaugh, and this Ravens group, as the high-flying Texans roll into M&T Bank Stadium just like they did back in Week 1. 


Baltimore has sliced through the NFL in a way they didn’t do four years ago, leading in the fourth quarter of every game they have played all season, besides the Week 18 game when most of its key starters were resting. 


Eliminating Week 18, Baltimore lost three games by a combined 12 points, losing in OT to the Colts by 3, the Steelers by 7, and the Browns by 2. 


Despite the losses, they own some of the more impressive wins the league has seen this year. The Ravens beat the Lions by 32, the Dolphins by 37, and won on the road against the 49ers. 


In short, they’ve been the most impressive team in the NFL this year. The only argument that could be made by any team might be San Francisco, but Baltimore owns the head-to-head victory. 


At this point, I believe that if the Ravens get to the Super Bowl, they’ll win it. 


However, with the remaining quarterbacks in the AFC being CJ Stroud, Josh Allen, and Patrick Mahomes, there’s a long way to go for Baltimore to get back to potentially hoisting another Lombardi Trophy. 


The Ravens cannot lose this game. 

 

(3) Kansas City Chiefs @ (2) Buffalo Bills


Nuts & Bolts 

  • Date: January 21, 2024

  • Time: 6:30 p.m. ET 

  • Venue: Highmark Stadium - Orchard Park, NY

  • Weather Forecast: 19 degrees, partly cloudy, winds SW 9 mph 

  • How to Watch: CBS

  • Matchup History: Buffalo leads all-time series 29-24-1

  • Last Meeting: Buffalo def. Kansas City 20-17 on 12/10/23

  • Betting Lines: Via DraftKings

  • Spread: Buffalo -2.5

  • Over/Under: 45.5

  • Prediction: Kansas City 27, Buffalo 24

  • Follow Along on Twitter 

  • Zach Penrice - DMV Sports: https://twitter.com/Zach_DMVSports 

 

  • Head Coach: Andy Reid (11th season, 129-51 record in Kansas City) 

  • Record: 11-6 (4-2, 1st in AFC West)

  • Last Time Out: Won vs. Miami 26-7 on 1/13/24

  • Highlights HERE

  • Player to Watch: Patrick Mahomes


The Kansas City Chiefs braved the 4th coldest game in NFL history on Saturday night and shut down the high-powered Miami Dolphins in a 26-7 drubbing at Arrowhead Stadium on Wildcard Weekend. 


In the game, the Chiefs defense shutout the Dolphins in the second half while outgaining Miami in the game 409-264. 


The victory sets up Kansas City to hit the road for Patrick Mahomes’ first career playoff game, having played 15 prior playoff games, including 12 at home and three Super Bowls at neutral sites. 


Who better for Mahomes’ first road playoff game to be against than the Buffalo Bills, a team that the Chiefs have beaten in the postseason in two of the last three years. 


Of course, those games were at Arrowhead and this one will be in Orchard Park. In fact, Mahomes has never played against the Bills on the road in-front of fans. His only trip to play the Bills came in 2020, when Highmark Stadium was empty. The Chiefs won 26-17. 


Interestingly enough, the Bills have not lost to the Chiefs in the regular season since that loss in 2020 (3-0), but have lost back-to-back playoff games against KC coming into Sunday night. 


For KC, the winning recipe Buffalo is the same as it was against Miami: Run the ball and lean on Isiah Pacheco (who missed the regular season meeting on December 10), throw the ball to Rashee Rice and Travis Kelce, and rely on the defense, which is the only defensive unit in the league that has never given up 30 points or more this year. 


As they have the last three meetings, this one between Kansas City and Buffalo is surely going to go down to the final possession. 


Who knows, if things go south for Baltimore, the winner in Orchard Park might end up hosting the AFC Championship Game.

 

  • Head Coach: Sean McDermott (7th season, 74-41 record in Buffalo) 

  • Record: 11-6 (4-2, 1st in AFC East)

  • Last Time Out: Won vs. Pittsburgh 31-17 on 1/15/24

  • Highlights HERE

  • Player to Watch: Josh Allen


Across the league, there is always the question of, ‘who’s under the most pressure?’ 


Generally, this feels like a silly question. Obviously, this time of year, everyone wants to win in order to keep the season alive for at least another week. 



However, this weekend in the NFL, I think the Buffalo Bills stand above the rest as the team under the most pressure to perform well and get a win. 


If it wasn’t the Chiefs coming into town, I wouldn’t be saying this. 


However, it is Patrick Mahomes and it is the Kansas City Chiefs. And based on what has happened in the league this year, there’s never been a better opportunity for Josh Allen and the Bills to exercise the demons of past postseasons and finally beat the Chiefs to end their season. 


In the COVID year, Buffalo lost at home to KC in the regular season and then lost by 18 in the AFC Championship Game three months later to that same Chiefs team. 


Since then, they’ve only lost to the Chiefs once. Unfortunately for Buffalo it was one of the greatest games of all-time, with Kansas City coming out on top 42-36 in overtime of the 2021-22 Divisional Round. 


All to say, when is Buffalo going to get a better chance to beat the Chiefs in the playoffs? They are finally at home for a postseason game and have the opponent they want coming into their stadium with a chance to get back to the AFC Championship game for the second time in four years. 


The pressure is on. Are they up to it? 


 

NFC


(7) Green Bay Packers @ (1) San Francisco 49ers


Nuts & Bolts 

  • Date: January 20, 2024

  • Time: 8:15 p.m. ET 

  • Venue: Levi’s Stadium - Santa Clara, CA

  • Weather Forecast: 59 degrees, rain showers, wind SSE 8 mph

  • How to Watch: FOX

  • Matchup History: Green Bay leads all-time series 38-33-1

  • Last Meeting: San Francisco def. Green Bay 13-10 on 1/22/22

  • Betting Lines: Via DraftKings

  • Spread: San Francisco -10

  • Over/Under: 49.5

  • Prediction: San Francisco 38, Green Bay 23

  • Follow Along on Twitter 

  • Zach Penrice - DMV Sports: https://twitter.com/Zach_DMVSports 

 

  • Head Coach: Matt LaFleur (5th season, 57-27 record in Green Bay) 

  • Record: 9-8 (4-2, 2nd in NFC North)

  • Last Time Out: Won @ Dallas 48-32 on 1/14/24

  • Highlights HERE

  • Player to Watch: Jordan Love


The Green Bay Packers pulled off the biggest surprise of Wildcard Weekend, going into Dallas where the Cowboys had not lost in two years and dismantling the Cowboys 48-32, and it wasn’t that close. 


With the win, the Packers became the first 7-seed to win in the playoffs since the seed was introduced to the postseason four years ago, setting up the first ever 7v1 matchup in NFL postseason history as Green Bay heads to San Francisco to take on the top-seeded 49ers. 


The teams have not met since the 2021 postseason in Green Bay when the 49ers knocked off the Packers 13-10 in snowy Lambeau. Two years earlier, San Francisco ended Green Bay’s season in the NFC Championship Game, winning 37-20. 


Under Jordan Love, who is in his first year as the starting quarterback, Green Bay has made it farther than they did last year under Aaron Rodgers and in prime position to be an NFC contender well beyond this season. 


In the win over Dallas, the Packers jumped out to a 27-0 lead and led 48-16 with under six minutes to go in the game before the Cowboys scored two late touchdowns. 


Green Bay was outgained by Dallas but went 4-4 in the red zone and never turned it over while Love found wide open receivers all day, completing just 16 passes for 272 yards and 3 touchdowns. 


It’ll be a significantly taller task for Love and the Packers this week against the 49ers. San Francisco has the 8th ranked defense, 2nd ranked offense, and is coming off a bye week following a Week 18 game in which several key starters did not play. 


Like Baltimore, San Francisco has essentially had two weeks off to prepare for the Divisional Round while Green Bay has played back-to-back must-win games. 


For the Packers to go into Dallas and win was a shock. If they go to Santa Clara and take out the top seed in the NFC, they’ll have to be considered as a very real Super Bowl contender. 

 

  • Head Coach: Kyle Shanahan (7th season, 64-51 record in San Francisco) 

  • Record: 12-5 (5-1, 1st in NFC West)

  • Last Time Out: Lost vs. LA Rams 21-20 on 1/7/24

  • Highlights HERE

  • Player to Watch: Christian McCaffrey


The 49ers have been the most dominant team in the NFC all season long. 


San Francisco started the season 5-0, winning all but one game by multiple possessions while scoring 30 points or more in each game. 


Then, from Week 6 through Week 8, the 49ers lost three games in a row to Cleveland, Minnesota, and Cincinnati, scoring just 17 points in each of those three losses while QB Brock Purdy threw 3 touchdowns and 5 interceptions across the three games. 


Then, after the Week 9 bye, San Francisco returned to its winning ways, streaking to six consecutive victories, all by multiple possessions. 


In Week 16, on Christmas night, Baltimore came to town and ripped the 49ers to shreds, winning 33-19 in a game where Purdy threw 4 interceptions.


The next week, SF clinched the top seed in the NFC and rested most of its key starters in the Week 18 loss to the Rams. 


They should be fresh and ready for a playoff push. However, this 49ers team has struggled against its stiffest competition. 


11 of San Francisco’s 12 wins was by multiple possessions. Their record in one-score games this year was 1-3 and record against playoff teams was 5-3. 


When the game gets close and the competition stiffens, the 49ers have been, at times, a different team. 


I’m not sure I fully trust Kyle Shanahan’s team to come through in the clutch in a close game in the playoffs. However, because of just how good this team is, I’m not sure they’ll have to in order to raise a Lombardi Trophy. 

 

(4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ (3) Detroit Lions


Nuts & Bolts 

  • Date: January 21, 2024

  • Time: 3:00 p.m. ET 

  • Venue: Ford Field - Detroit, MI

  • Weather Forecast: Indoors

  • How to Watch: NBC

  • Matchup History: Detroit leads all-time series 32-29

  • Last Meeting: Detroit def. Tampa Bay 20-6 on 10/15/23

  • Betting Lines: Via DraftKings

  • Spread: Detroit -6

  • Over/Under: 48.5

  • Prediction: Detroit 30, Tampa Bay 17

  • Follow Along on Twitter 

  • Zach Penrice - DMV Sports: https://twitter.com/Zach_DMVSports

 

  • Head Coach: Todd Bowles (2nd season, 18-17 record in Tampa Bay) 

  • Record: 9-8 (4-2, 1st in NFC South)

  • Last Time Out: Won vs. Philadelphia 32-9 on 1/15/24

  • Highlights HERE

  • Player to Watch: Mike Evans


Two months ago, nobody would have thought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be in the Divisional Round of the NFL postseason. 


In Week 12, The Buc’s lost a road game against Indianapolis 27-20 to fall to 4-7, needing to turn things around in a hurry if they wanted to win the NFC South. 


Well, Baker Mayfield and company responded, winning five of the last six games to win the division and advance to the playoffs. 


Last week, in the Wildcard Round, Tampa Bay hosted the struggling Philadelphia Eagles and completely dominated. 


The defense came after Jalen Hurts relentlessly while the offense put up 426 yards of offense compared to Philly’s 276. 


It was a nice revenge for the Week 3 loss against the Eagles, with another chance at revenge on the horizon this Sunday in Detroit. 


Back in Week 5, Tampa Bay hosted Detroit and lost 20-6 in a game that was tightly contested wire-to-wire. Ultimately, the Lions hit on a few big pass plays, including a 45 yard touchdown from Goff to Jameson Williams late in the third quarter to put Detroit in control. 


The matchup in Detroit is one of the more forgotten games of the weekend. It does not feature a top seed and is not Josh Allen vs. Patrick Mahomes. 


And yet, don’t be surprised if this turns out to be the best game of the bunch. These two teams match up very well and neither was supposed to be in this position. 


For the Buccaneers, a team that was 4-7 not too long ago, I expect to see a group playing with nothing to lose. 

 

  • Head Coach: Dan Campbell (3rd season, 30-33-1 record in Detroit) 

  • Record: 12-5 (4-2, 1st in NFC North)

  • Last Time Out: Won vs. LA Rams 24-23 on 1/14/24

  • Highlights HERE

  • Player to Watch: Amon-Ra St. Brown


For the first time since 1991, the Detroit Lions not only hosted a playoff game, but won, beating the Los Angeles Rams on Matthew Stafford’s return to Detroit 24-23. 


The victory, paired with a Cowboys loss to Green Bay, set up the Lions to host on Divisional Weekend against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team Detroit has already beaten this year back in Week 5. 


In the win over the Rams, QB Jared Goff was spectacular, completing 81% of his passes for 277 yards and a touchdown, and most importantly no turnovers. 


The Lions were out-gained on the day by the Rams but were able to capitalize more often in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on all three trips inside the 20 yard line while LA went 0/3 on red zone trips. 


The game was evenly matched across the board, but all came down to red zone execution, as playoff games often do. 


I suspect we’ll see a similar story on Sunday in Detroit. 


The first meeting between Tampa Bay and Detroit finished 20-6 but was much closer than that.


Whichever team takes care of the football and scores touchdowns instead of field goals will be the one advancing to the NFC Championship Game next Sunday, either in San Francisco or back at their home stadium.

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