Playoff primer: Storylines galore as matchups are set

Jan 7, 2024, 6:12 PM | Updated: 9:25 pm

Ty Johnson #26 of the Buffalo Bills is tackled by Eli Apple #33 of the Miami Dolphins during the se...

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - JANUARY 07: Ty Johnson #26 of the Buffalo Bills is tackled by Eli Apple #33 of the Miami Dolphins during the second quarter at Hard Rock Stadium on January 07, 2024 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

(Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

The Baltimore Ravens haven’t been to the Super Bowl since the 2012 season and the San Francisco 49ers have had some close calls in recent years while chasing their first Super Bowl title since the 1994 campaign.

The two clubs are in the favorite’s roles with first-round byes as the NFL’s 14-team playoff field came into focus on Sunday.

The Ravens are the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the 49ers are the top seed in the NFC as the competition for the Lombardi Trophy heats up.

In the NFC, The Dallas Cowboys earned the No. 2 seed and will host the No. 7 seed Green Bay Packers on Sunday. The Cowboys perennially receive a lot of attention but the club hasn’t played in the Super Bowl since the 1995 season when quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and receiver Michael Irvin were all superstars.

The Detroit Lions are the No. 3 seed and will host the red-hot No. 6-seed Los Angeles Rams in what will be the first playoff game held in Detroit in 30 years. The No. 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the No. 5 Philadelphia Eagles, the defending NFC champions who are spiraling with five defeats in six games.

In the AFC, the Buffalo Bills beat the Miami Dolphins 21-14 on Sunday night to win the AFC East for the fourth consecutive season and claim the No. 2 seed. Buffalo is a hot team entering the postseason with five consecutive wins and will host the No. 7 seed Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

Miami fell into the No. 6 seed with the loss to the Bills. The Dolphins will be on the road Saturday night against the No. 3 Kansas City Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champions. Instead of a home game in expected 80-degree South Florida weather, the Dolphins will be heading into expected frigid single-digit conditions and playing in one of the toughest road venues in the NFL.

Also, the No. 4 Houston Texans will host the No. 5 Cleveland Browns. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud leads the Texans into battle against veteran Joe Flacco of the Browns.

Baltimore can rest this week and ponder why it has just two playoff victories since winning the Super Bowl. The 49ers have won six playoff games while qualifying in three of the past four seasons, but have failed to win it all despite three NFC title game appearances, one prior to a Super Bowl loss.

Cleveland Browns (11-6) at Houston Texans (10-7)

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Stroud quickly revived the atmosphere around the Texans with a stellar rookie season that saw Houston almost equal its victory total (11) of the past three seasons. Cleveland is thriving behind Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP who is 4-1 as the starter. Pretty ironic that Houston is hosting the Browns in a playoff game and former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson isn’t on the field because of a season-ending shoulder injury.

Miami Dolphins (11-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-6)

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, Peacock

Kansas City hasn’t been the juggernaut of recent seasons but no team looks forward to visiting the Chiefs, who are 10-2 with two Super Bowl crowns (and three appearances) over the past four seasons. Patrick Mahomes is a proven playoff commodity while Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa will be making his first playoff appearance. He missed the postseason loss in Buffalo last season due to a concussion. The Dolphins have been battered by injuries on the defensive side of the ball and will badly miss Bradley Chubb’s pass-rushing ability.

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-7) at Buffalo Bills (11-6)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

The Bills were sputtering through the season with a .500 mark through 12 games and were looking like a real nowhere team. But Josh Allen and his mates excelled down the stretch and suddenly have at least one home playoff game as they try to break through and make a run at the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance since the 1993 season. Pittsburgh’s season was saved by Rudolph — that’s Mason Rudolph — but its chances of upsetting Buffalo are slim after the knee injury sustained by sackmaster T.J. Watt.

Green Bay Packers (9-8) at Dallas Cowboys (12-5)

Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX

Dak Prescott has yet to lead the Cowboys to more than one win in a single postseason. This time, Dallas has a chance at two home games as it holds the tiebreaker edge over the Lions (oh yeah, the failure-to-report controversy). Jordan Love has quickly shown that the Packers can be viable without the departed Aaron Rodgers, who failed to come through on last season’s win-and-in contest while Love got the job done Sunday.

Los Angeles Rams (10-7) at Detroit Lions (12-5)

Sunday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC

Matthew Stafford went 0-3 in the playoffs in 12 seasons with the Lions and will now be looking to keep his former team winless in the postseason since the Barry Sanders-led club beat the Dallas Cowboys in the 1991 season. While “Restore the Roar” is real in Motown behind former Los Angeles QB Jared Goff, the Rams have won seven of eight games since their Week 10 bye. Los Angeles used a similar hot stretch two seasons ago en route to the Super Bowl crown.

Philadelphia Eagles (11-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-8)

Monday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Baker Mayfield directed a ragged 9-0 victory over the Panthers on Sunday that sent the Buccaneers home to welcome the Eagles in a wild-card matchup. Philadelphia won just once since Thanksgiving, going 1-5 to crumble down the stretch and surrender the NFC East division lead to the Cowboys. The Eagles are facing huge injury questions surrounding the health of QB Jalen Hurts (finger) and WR A.J. Brown (right knee) after both exited Sunday’s loss to the Giants. But can Mayfield pull off a Tom Brady impersonation?

–Field Level Media



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Playoff primer: Storylines galore as matchups are set