NFL Divisional Round Winners and Losers: Ravens Dominate, Bills Fall to Chiefs Again

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We’re down to four teams after a suspenseful weekend of divisional round games in the NFL.

The two No. 1 seeds advanced, including the San Francisco 49ers, who had a tough time putting away the seventh-seeded Green Bay Packers. The top-seeded Baltimore Ravens dominated the second half against the Houston Texans.

Now the football public is getting Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson in the AFC title game. But many can thank the Buffalo Bills for that quarterback matchup because they blew several opportunities in their heartbreaking loss against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Detroit Lions received a fight from the Baker Mayfield-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But Detroit’s defense stepped up to punch their ticket to northern California to face the 49ers in the NFC title game.

Here are our winners and losers from the divisional round.

Winners

Ravens

After a slow start, it appeared the Ravens were going to lose another playoff game because of rust. But Jackson and the Ravens eventually settled in and took control in the second half before putting the Texans away, 34–10.

Jackson accounted for 252 yards and four touchdowns to lead Baltimore to the AFC championship for the first time in his career.

Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY Sports

Ravens offensive coordinator Todd Monken called a sensational game, as he confused DeMeco Ryans’s defense with run-pass options for Jackson. Two of those scenarios occurred on the Ravens’ 12-play, 93-yard touchdown drive to take a 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter. First, Jackson ran to his left for a 14-yard gain on fourth-and-1. A few plays later, Jackson fooled the Texans into thinking he was going to run a QB sweep to his right, but he calmly stopped and threw a 15-yard touchdown to tight end Isaiah Likely.

Jackson rushed for 100 yards, threw for 152 yards and added four total touchdowns. Overall, the Ravens rushed for 229 yards behind a committee that included Gus Edwards, Justice Hill and Dalvin Cook.

With a comfortable lead, Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald increased the pressure with his star-studded unit to stifle C.J. Stroud in the second half. The Ravens’ defense didn’t allow the Texans to score a touchdown on offense and held Stroud to 175 passing yards.

Baltimore shook off the rust from a 20-day layoff for many of its starters and returned to dominant form behind the brilliance of Jackson, a stout defense and a cast of standout coaches.

49ers

The offseason stories of the 49ers needing to chase pending free agent Kirk Cousins were put on hold after Brock Purdy guided his team to a game-winning drive to defeat the Packers, 24–21, and advance to the NFC title game.

It was overall still a shaky performance from Purdy, who missed several throws during the rain-filled game. But Purdy made up for it by executing a 12-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown run from Christian McCaffrey to take a three-point lead with 1:07 left in regulation. It also quieted the narrative that coach Kyle Shanahan can’t win games without playing with the lead. But the 49ers got plenty of breaks, including Jordan Love’s panic interception in the final seconds.

Now San Francisco might have to play the NFC championship game without Deebo Samuel, who sustained a shoulder injury early vs. the Packers. Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, tight end George Kittle and McCaffrey stepped up to lift the offense without Samuel during an off day for Purdy.

San Francisco’s defense also shook off a poor third quarter and held the Packers to a punt, missed field goal and an interception during their three drives in the fourth quarter.

Lions

Some might have been wondering why Aaron Glenn is in the mix for head coaching jobs despite three uneven seasons as the Lions’ defensive coordinator. He showed why as the Lions’ defense stepped up during Detroit’s 31–23 victory against the Buccaneers.

It was fitting that Glenn sent extra defenders to pressure Mayfield into throwing an interception to Derrick Barnes to seal the win for the Lions. Mayfield had his hot streaks, but he had to work for 349 yards as he faced constant pressure from the Lions’ defensive backs, including slot cornerback Brian Branch and safety Ifeatu Melifonwu. Edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson had another sensational game and defensive tackle Alim McNeill didn’t allow the Buccaneers to gain easy yards on the ground.

Lions coach Dan Campbell has been patient with Glenn the past three seasons, and the unit has taken big strides this season and held it down during a sluggish first half for the offense.

Quarterback Jared Goff made it work against Todd Bowles’s defense by throwing to the middle of the field to Amon-Ra St. Brown and Sam LaPorta. The explosive plays arrived in the second half, primarily from versatile rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs.

There will be plenty of offensive weapons on display for the Lions-49ers NFC title game, but the football public needs to start acknowledging what the Lions are doing on the defensive side.

Chiefs wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling recorded 62 receiving yards against the Bills, his second-highest total of the season.

Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports

Chiefs

It’s tough to remember because of all the chaos that occurred in the final quarter vs. the Bills, but Mahomes and his offense had their best performance of the season during the 27–24 victory.

Before Mecole Hardman Jr. fumbled out of the end zone, the Chiefs’ offense repeatedly claimed the lead while their dominant defense struggled to contain Josh Allen and his rushing attack. The Chiefs’ defense caught a break with the Bills going away from the running game in the final minutes and with Allen making questionable decisions downfield, but they kept them out of the end zone and put the pressure on kicker Tyler Bass, who missed wide right on the potential game-tying field goal.

Turns out, Mahomes can win road playoff games and Travis Kelce still has plenty left in the tank—the star tight end recorded five catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Kansas City also surprisingly received major contributions from wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who had two 30-plus yard catches. Isiah Pacheco provided a balanced attack with 97 rushing yards.

It’s hard to imagine the Chiefs’ defense playing that poorly again—they had zero sacks and two QB hits on Allen—but at least the offense has woken up.

Losers

Texans

The Texans’ memorable 2023 season ended with a rough second half in Baltimore. Not much went right for Houston after Steven Sims’s 67-yard punt return touchdown tied the game at 10 late in the opening half.

Texans offensive play caller Bobby Slowik had early success against Macdonald in a battle between two coordinators with plenty of interest from teams with head coaching vacancies. But Houston’s lack of a running game hindered Stroud, who made a few plays throwing to Nico Collins and Dalton Schultz, most coming in the first two quarters. Houston produced 68 yards and zero points in the second half. The Texans only rushed for 38 total yards.

Stroud had one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history, but now the Texans will need to improve his surroundings by adding productive running backs and perhaps another standout wideout to go with Collins and Tank Dell, who suffered a season-ending injury in December.

Ryans’s defense also had a standout season, but it could use more help, specifically at linebacker after the unit got torched by Baltimore’s run-pass option plays. Houston’s one-two punch at edge rusher had a quiet outing in Baltimore, with Jonathan Greenard and Will Anderson Jr. combining for zero sacks and one quarterback hit. Greenard and Schultz are two of many notable pending free agents for the Texans.

Packers

Love’s stellar first season as a starting quarterback ended on a sour note after he forced a throw across the field that was picked off to seal the victory for the 49ers.

Those types of panic throws hurt Love during a rocky first half of the season. But Love drastically cut down his interceptions and will likely learn from his late-game struggles vs. the 49ers. At times, Love has too much confidence in his arm strength and ends up forgetting about game management.

The Packers pushed the 49ers and now they know they can hang with the best teams in the NFL, especially after crushing the Dallas Cowboys in the wild-card round. Coach Matt LaFleur had the offense in the right spots with plays that frustrated opposing defenses in the latter half of the season, including Saturday night against San Francisco.

Even embattled Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry had a strong showing, as his unit applied pressure on Purdy. But Green Bay could opt to fire Barry after another inconsistent season.

Mayfield was sacked four times and threw two interceptions against the Lions.

Eric Seals/USA TODAY Network

Buccaneers

Mayfield caught plenty of heat for his costly interception in Detroit, but he kept the Buccaneers in the game despite a poor performance from Tampa Bay’s offensive line, which struggled with pass protection and run blocking.

Mayfield kept plays alive away from the pocket and made downfield throws to wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Cade Otton. Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dave Canales also called a perfect screen play to counter one of the Lions’ blitzes, leading to a 12-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield to running back Rachaad White to tie the game at 17 late in the game.

But Bowles’s defense was torched by Goff and Gibbs in the second half as the Lions pulled away for a 14-point advantage in the fourth quarter. Bowles might not be a lock to return to Tampa Bay next season after a tough season for the defense, especially in the secondary. It’s strange seeing a secondary that features All-Pro safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and cornerbacks Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean struggle as much as it did in 2023 and Sunday in Detroit.

But Bowles’s defense had plenty of positives, too. For example, rookies Calijah Kancey and Yaya Diaby emerged as reliable playmakers. Plenty of changes could occur with Mayfield and Evans scheduled to become free agents and Canales in the running for head coaching jobs.

Bills

The Bills will be thinking about all their missed opportunities in the final quarter, starting with Damar Hamlin’s failed fake-punt attempt.

They even caught a break after the Bills recovered Allen’s fumble on their final drive. Buffalo converted on fourth-and-3, but it went downhill after the new set of downs. Allen had two misfires near the end zone to set up Bass’s failed 44-yard field-goal attempt.

If Allen and the Bills played it safely with the running game or utilized their tight ends more with short passes, perhaps that gives Bass better odds of tying the game. But, then again, nerves probably played a factor for the kicker. Also, Allen’s incompletions left plenty of time for Mahomes to set up a game-winning drive had Bass made the kick.

The Bills failed to execute offensively and the defense couldn’t overcome all its injuries to key players. With another brief postseason run, changes may be on the horizon. Sean McDermott’s job could be in question, and Stefon Diggs’s future may be in limbo after a mediocre season (by his standards) and a costly dropped pass down the right sideline Sunday, one of many failed opportunities during a dreadful fourth quarter that could spell the end of an era in Buffalo.

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