CBC Sports’ daily newsletter sets the scene for all four matchups in the second round of the NFL playoffs.
Top seeds draw in after a fun Wild Card roundJesse Campigotto · CBC Sports
· Posted: Jan 18, 2024 6:28 PM EST | Last Updated: January 18
Patrick Mahomes is ready for a frosty reception in Buffalo, where the two-time Super Bowl MVP will play his first true road playoff game in the NFL. (David Eulitt/Getty Images)This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.
Last week’s Super Wild Card round was indeed pretty super. And wild. In a stunning upset, Green Bay blew out No. 2 seed Dallas. Defending NFC champion Philadelphia got cooked by Tampa Bay. Houston, one of the worst teams in the league last year, annihilated favoured Cleveland.
Even the more predictable results came with a spicy twist. Detroit scored its first playoff win in 32 years — over former Lions star Matthew Stafford and the Rams. Reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City’s convincing win over Miami was one of the coldest games in NFL history. And Buffalo fans had to literally dig their way to their seats to watch their team beat Pittsburgh after a blizzard dumped two feet of snow on the Bills’ stadium.
So, that was fun. But now things get more serious as top seeds Baltimore and San Francisco draw in from their first-round byes. With trips to the conference finals on the line, here’s a quick scene-setter for all four of this weekend’s matchups:
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (Saturday 4:30 p.m. ET)
The Texans are a great story. They finished second-last in the NFL last season with a record of 3-13-1, then were called reckless for trading up to add the third selection in the draft. But, man, did they nail their picks. Second-overall choice C.J. Stroud is likely to win Offensive Rookie of the Year after leading Houston to a stunning AFC South title, No. 3 pick Will Anderson had seven sacks, and third-round selection Tank Dell looked like an emerging star before suffering a season-ending injury in December.
Stroud was once again sensational in last week’s stunning 45-14 blowout of favoured Cleveland, while Anderson had a sack and helped the defence induce rattled Browns QB Joe Flacco into a pair of pick-sixes. But the Texans will face a much tougher challenge on both sides of the ball against Baltimore, which won 10 of its last 11 meaningful games to finish an NFL-best 13-4. Dual-threat QB Lamar Jackson is likely to win his second MVP award after throwing 24 touchdown passes and running for more than 800 yards, and the Ravens D is probably the best in the league right now.
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers (Saturday 8:15 p.m. ET)
The young Packers eked into the NFC playoffs on the final day of the regular season, then blew the doors off second-seeded Dallas for the biggest — and most emphatic — upset of the opening round. Green Bay led 27-0 before gliding to a 48-32 win.
While Houston’s C.J. Stroud was everyone’s favourite rookie QB for most of the season, Packers quasi-rookie Jordan Love has turned heads with his stellar play over the last two months in his first year as a starter. After throwing for three touchdowns last week, Love now has 21 TD passes and just one interception in his last nine games.
San Francisco, though, is a different animal than Dallas. With one of football’s fiercest defences and its most powerful offence, the 49ers won’t fold like the soft Cowboys. Assuming second-year QB Brock Purdy holds up, the San Fran attack is nearly unstoppable with inventive coach Kyle Shanahan designing exquisite plays for does-everything running back Christian McCaffrey and star pass catchers Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions (Sunday 3 p.m. ET)
You’ve gotta love any sports result that brings grown men to tears. That was the scene Sunday night in Detroit as long-suffering Lions fans celebrated their first playoff win in 32 years. A couple from bordering Windsor, Ont., even brought their late fathers’ ashes to the game. The 24-23 victory over the Rams was also cathartic for Lions quarterback Jared Goff, who had watched his counterpart Stafford promptly win the Super Bowl with L.A. in 2022 after they were traded for each other.
The Lions now have a very good chance of reaching their first NFC title game since Barry Sanders’ heyday as they host probably the worst team left in the playoffs. Tampa Bay won the comical NFC South with a 10-8 record before putting the decaying Philadelphia Eagles out of their misery with a 32-9 thrashing on Monday night.
Kansas City at Buffalo Bills (Sunday 6:30 p.m. ET)
Patrick Mahomes has won two Super Bowl trophies, two Super Bowl MVP awards and a pair of regular-season MVPs. But, somehow, he’s never played a true road playoff game in the NFL. All 12 of his AFC playoff contests have happened at Arrowhead Stadium, where he’s 10-2, and his three Super Bowls were played at neutral sites.
Now, football’s biggest star must travel to the most hostile environment imaginable as the NFL’s wildest fans “welcome” him to their rickety old stadium in frosty Orchard Park, N.Y. Mahomes has never faced the Bills Mafia — his only previous game in Western New York, in October 2020, was played in an empty stadium during the COVID pandemic.
Since winning that matchup, Mahomes is 0-3 in the regular season against the Bills and their own MVP-calibre QB, Josh Allen — including a 20-17 loss in December that turned on an offside call on K.C. receiver Kadarius Toney. But he’s 2-0 in the playoffs, blowing out the Bills in the AFC title game three years ago before rallying for an incredible 42-36 overtime victory in the famous “13 seconds” thriller in January 2022. Another classic could be in store on Sunday night.