Thirty-two teams embarked on a mission this season to win Super Bowl LVIII. Eight teams remain.
Jeff Howe breaks down each of the four divisional-round matchups this weekend before The Athletic’s projection model, created by Austin Mock, reveals each team’s odds of winning the Super Bowl.
A look at the AFC playoff bracket after the Bills’ win over the Steelers.
◽️ Ravens-Texans: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET
◽️ Bills-Chiefs: Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET
Who do you think advances to the Conference Championships? pic.twitter.com/fsz3vSg6bP
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) January 16, 2024
No. 1 Baltimore Ravens vs. No. 4 Houston Texans, 4:30 p.m. ET, Saturday
Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud dazzled in his playoff debut by completing 16 of 21 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns. Stroud’s poise has been remarkable at this early juncture of his career. He has completed at least 75 percent of his passes in three consecutive games and hasn’t thrown an interception in six straight.
Perhaps no one strengthened their head-coaching candidacy more over wild-card weekend than Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, and teams with vacancies will be monitoring his chess match against Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. The Ravens have allowed an average of 15.5 points over their last four games against quality competition (the Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers).
What C.J. Stroud and his parents saw early, the world is seeing now
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has a strong chance to claim his second MVP Award next month, but there’s pressure on him to perform in the playoffs, where he has lost three of his four career starts and completed less than 60 percent of his passes in each loss.
The Ravens won these franchises’ only playoff meeting 12 years ago.
No. 2 Buffalo Bills vs. No. 3 Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. ET, Sunday
The weekend’s marquee matchup will mark Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ postseason road debut. The Chiefs have been spottier than usual this season, but their defense doesn’t slump; it hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in six consecutive games.
The Bills’ six-game winning streak began in Kansas City in Week 14, and they’ve been knocking off quality opponents along the way. Four of those six wins came against playoff teams, including Monday’s victory against the Steelers.
Of course, the biggest story here is the rematch between two of the AFC’s most prominent powers in recent years. Mahomes has knocked off quarterback Josh Allen’s Bills twice in the playoffs since the 2020 season, and both games were entertaining offensive affairs.
The Chiefs are trying to reach their sixth consecutive conference championship game, and the Bills are hoping to avoid their third straight loss in the divisional round.
The NFC Divisional round is set.
◽️ 49ers vs. Packers
◽️ Lions vs. Buccaneers
Call it now. Who advances to the NFC Conference Championship? pic.twitter.com/D2RzHcRhYe
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) January 16, 2024
No. 1 San Francisco 49ers vs. No. 7 Green Bay Packers, 8 p.m. ET, Saturday
The Packers, who now have as many playoff wins at AT&T Stadium as the Dallas Cowboys (three), delivered the biggest upset of the wild-card round behind big-time performances from quarterback Jordan Love and running back Aaron Jones. They had an incredibly disciplined game plan to control the game on the ground, take their shots when necessary and prevent big plays on defense, and they executed it to perfection. The combination of great coaching and high-level production should make the 49ers nervous because those traits can carry over in the playoffs.
The 49ers allowed the third-fewest rushing yards in the regular season, but that’s because their opponents were forced to play from behind so frequently that the Niners faced the least amount of rushing attempts in the league. They allowed 4.1 yards per carry, which ranked 14th and was just marginally better than Dallas (4.2).
Cracks in the 49ers’ playoff machine? Yes, but you have to squint to find them
The Niners are the well-earned No. 1 seed and have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, but there’s cause for concern as they prepare for a hot and confident Green Bay team that has won four in a row and seven of nine. The Niners sat several of their starters in the regular-season finale, so they’re about to find out if they’re rested or rusty after many of their stars haven’t played since New Year’s Eve.
The 49ers have won four consecutive playoff meetings against the Packers.
No. 3 Detroit Lions vs. No. 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 3 p.m. ET, Sunday
Nobody threw a bigger party over the weekend than the Lions, who won their first playoff game in 32 years and captured just their second postseason victory since 1957. They’ll host multiple games in one postseason for the first time in the franchise’s 94-year history.
Lions’ first playoff win in 32 years was pure grit, followed by tears of joy
This will be a rematch between two tough teams, as the Lions won in Tampa 20-6 in Week 6. The Buccaneers just beat up the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night and won’t back down against the favored Lions in a hostile environment. It’s also a matchup between quarterbacks Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield, each of whom was taken with the No. 1 pick but has since found success with new organizations.
These teams have met once before in the playoffs, with the Buccaneers winning 20-10 in 1997.
(Photo of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen: David Eulitt / Getty Images)