Tuesday, February 20, 2024
Sportsbook Advisor

The Starting 11 – Fantastic Foursome on Docket as NFL Marches Toward Super Bowl LVIII

NEW YORK ­— Following Detroit’s electrifying first-round playoff win, with none of the 66,000-plus in attendance having departed, defensive end AIDAN HUTCHINSON got some good news from Ross Tucker.

“How great is it that you’ll be here again next weekend?” Tucker asked in a live Westwood One postgame interview.

“Are we?” replied a shocked Hutchinson, who went to high school just 15 miles from Ford Field and starred at the University of Michigan.

“Dallas lost, so you’re back here,” Tucker informed him.

“Who do we play?”

“We don’t know who you play yet. You play the winner of the Bucs-Eagles game.”

“Let’s go, baby! Detroit, this is for you!”

Credit head coach DAN CAMPBELL for having Hutchinson and DETROIT (13-5) keenly focused. The Lions will need that focus again this week when they host a second playoff game in the same postseason for the first time in franchise history. Next up is TAMPA BAY (10-8), which captured that Eagles game in impressive fashion. In fact, the Buccaneers have won six of their last seven – and three straight on the road – behind a rejuvenated BAKER MAYFIELD.

Mayfield squares off against JARED GOFF on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, Universo) in a matchup of former first-overall draft choices aiming to lead their new teams to the Super Bowl. They join five other former first-round quarterbacks – Buffalo’s JOSH ALLEN, Baltimore’s LAMAR JACKSON, Green Bay’s JORDAN LOVE, Kansas City’s PATRICK MAHOMES and Houston’s C.J. STROUD – in action this weekend. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s BROCK PURDY – the last overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft – kept pace with all of them in 2023, leading the league with a 113.0 passer rating.

So zero in, eliminate distractions and focus on the task at hand. Get ready for one of the best weekends in all of sports.

Let’s go, baby.

The Starting 11 entering the Divisional Playoffs…​

1.   ALLEN-MAHOMES VII: JOSH ALLEN and PATRICK MAHOMES, who have split six all-time meetings, face off again when BUFFALO (12-6) hosts KANSAS CITY (12-6) in another win-or-go-home encounter on Sunday (6:30 p.m., CBS, Paramount+). Allen owns a 3-1 advantage in regular-season games, including a critical 20-17 victory earlier this season in Kansas City, while Mahomes has captured both postseason contests. Some called one of those postseason contests, their 2021 AFC Divisional clash, the best playoff game in league history.

  • In that meeting, Allen found GABE DAVIS for a 19-yard touchdown with 13 seconds remaining in regulation, giving Buffalo a 36-33 lead. But Mahomes stunned everyone by completing passes to TYREEK HILL and TRAVIS KELCE in just 10 seconds, setting up HARRISON BUTKER’s 49-yard field goal as the fourth quarter ended. And after Kansas City won the toss and Mahomes orchestrated a game-winning touchdown drive on the Chiefs’ first overtime possession, the game served as a catalyst to change league rules. Months later, the NFL voted to require both teams the opportunity to possess the ball in overtime even if the first team scores a touchdown.
  • That game also marked the only NFL contest (regular season or playoffs) in the Super Bowl era in which each starting quarterback threw for 300 yards, three-or-more touchdown passes, did not throw an interception and rushed for at least 60 yards. Mahomes and Allen combined for seven touchdown passes and each led his team in rushing.
  • Allen in last week’s win scored on a 52-yard run, the longest rush of his career and second-longest rushing touchdown by a quarterback in a postseason game behind COLIN KAEPERNICK (56 yards vs. Green Bay in the 2012 Divisional Playoffs).
  • Mahomes makes his first postseason road start. He’s 12-3 overall in playoff games, 10-2 in Kansas City and 2-1 in Super Bowls.
  • Kansas City head coach ANDY REID hasn’t had to coach in a true road game during the playoffs since the 2015 Divisional Round.

2.   NUMBER OF THE WEEK – 11: The number of consecutive seasons (2013-23) in which at least three teams have reached the Divisional Playoffs that were not in the Divisional Round the year before, including BALTIMOREDETROITGREEN BAYHOUSTON and TAMPA BAY in 2023. Over a longer stretch, in 15 of the past 20 seasons (2004-23), at least half the teams to reach the Divisional Playoffs were not in the Divisional Round the previous year.

3.   SOMEBODY TO LOVE: Green Bay’s JORDAN LOVE and Houston’s C.J. STROUD made the first postseason starts of their respective careers last week. Each posted a 157.2 passer rating, the highest mark ever by a player in his first postseason start (minimum 20 attempts). Prior to last week, the three highest passer ratings by a player in his initial postseason start were recorded by Green Bay’s LYNN DICKEY (150.4 on Jan. 8, 1983), Philadelphia’s RODNEY PEETE (143.3 on Dec. 30, 1995) and Pro Football Hall of Famer KURT WARNER (143.0 with the St. Louis Rams on Jan. 16, 2000).

4.   SPOTLIGHT – INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: In nine consecutive years (2015-23), the Associated Press All-Pro teams have featured at least 14 first-time All-Pros. Two of those first-time All-Pros, Lions tight end SAM LAPORTA and Buccaneers safety ANTOINE WINFIELD, will battle when TAMPA BAY (10-8) visits DETROIT (13-5) on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, Universo).Winfield, who had 122 tackles, 12 passes defensed and six sacks in 2023, became the first defensive back since RODNEY HARRISON in 2000 to reach 120 tackles, 10 passes defensed and five sacks in a season. He also became the first defensive back this century with six sacks and six forced fumbles in a season.
LaPorta, meanwhile, posted more receptions (86) than any rookie tight end in NFL history, while his receiving yards (889) ranked fourth among rookie tight ends all-time. And with 10 receiving touchdowns, he also became one of three rookie tight ends ever to reach that mark. Along with teammate JAHMYR GIBBS, LaPorta helped the Lions become the first team in league annals to have two rookies score 10 scrimmage touchdowns.
In last week’s Wild Card win, Detroit wide receiver AMON-RA ST. BROWN posted 110 yards on seven receptions. St. Brown has 10 100-yard receiving games in 2023, most in the NFL including the postseason.
Tampa Bay quarterback BAKER MAYFIELD led his team to the Divisional Round by throwing for 337 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and a 119.8 passer rating last week. He is the first Buccaneers player ever with 300 yards and three touchdown passes in a postseason game.

5.   SPOTLIGHT – TEAM MATCHUPJORDAN LOVE and his dangerous stable of young Packers wide receivers – a combination that has produced a 7-2 record and the NFL’s No. 1 passer rating (113.2) since Week 11 – face a 49ers defense that placed four players on the NFC’s Pro Bowl roster, including cornerback CHARVARIUS WARD, who led the league with 23 passes defensed in the regular season.Also since Week 11, San Francisco owns the NFL’s top offense (415.4 yards per game), while Green Bay ranks third in that span (384.3), including the postseason.
Love’s 157.2 passer rating last week at Dallas was the highest mark since at least 1950 by an NFL player in a road postseason game (minimum 20 attempts), surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer BART STARR (143.5) in the 1966 NFL Championship Game, also at Dallas.
GREEN BAY (10-8) and SAN FRANCISCO (12-5) will establish an NFL record on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, FOX, FOX Deportes) with their 10th all-time postseason meeting. Three other series have included nine all-time postseason meetings: Dallas and San Francisco, Dallas and the L.A. Rams, and Dallas and Green Bay.
This season marks the 25th anniversary of the 49ers’ miraculous Wild Card victory over Green Bay in the 1998 playoffs, when Pro Football Hall of Famer STEVE YOUNG connected with Pro Football Hall of Famer TERRELL OWENS on a last-second, game-winning touchdown. And the last time these teams met in the postseason, at a snowy Lambeau Field in the 2021 Divisional Round, San Francisco upset the No. 1-seeded Packers, 13-10. Saturday marks the teams’ fifth postseason meeting since 2012, including a 37-20 San Francisco win in the 2019 NFC Championship.
Green Bay became the first No. 7 seed to win a playoff game and with a win this week would become the first team seeded lowest in a conference to advance to a Championship Game since Tennessee in 2019. Prior to the Titans, the last two teams to do it were the 2010 Jets and 2010 Packers, who won Super Bowl XLV.
Packers running back AARON JONES has three career postseason games with two-or-more touchdowns. Only five other running backs have more such games: Pro Football Hall of Famers TERRELL DAVISFRANCO HARRISJOHN RIGGINSEMMITT SMITH and THURMAN THOMAS,

6.   STREAK SPEAK: San Francisco has won six consecutive Divisional Playoff games, a streak that began in 2011. Meanwhile, Kansas City brings a five-game Divisional Playoff winning streak into this week. The Chiefs are 5-0 in the Divisional Round since drafting quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES. The most consecutive Divisional Playoff victories all-time:

TEAMWINNING STREAKYEARS
New England*82011-18
San Francisco*62011-22
San Francisco61988-94
Oakland Raiders61973-80
Kansas City*52018-22
Dallas51970-75

*active

7.   DID YOU KNOW?: The Chiefs when allowing 17-or-fewer points, including the postseason, have won 45 consecutive games. When KANSAS CITY (12-6) travels to BUFFALO (12-6) on Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS, Paramount+), the Chiefs will look to extend the fourth-longest stretch in league history. The teams with the longest winning streaks when allowing 17-or-fewer points, including the postseason, in NFL annals:

TEAMWINSYEARS
Chicago681983-89
New England502001-06
Indianapolis492000-07
Kansas City*452017-23

*active

8.   UNDER-THE-RADAR STORYLINE: In six of the previous seven years, at least one road team has won in the Divisional Round. Entering this week, the road team has won five of the NFL’s last nine Divisional Playoff games. Included in that group of road winners are two of the last three Super Bowl champions – the 2020 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS and 2021 LOS ANGELES RAMS.

9.  TREND TIME: Baltimore this season has seven wins by 10-or-more points over opponents that entered the game with winning records, tied with the 2014 New England Patriots and 1929 New York Giants for the most such single-season wins in NFL history.

  • The Texans are bidding to become just the third team since at least 1950, the first year the league can confirm starting lineups for every game, to win multiple postseason games with a rookie head coach and rookie quarterback. With another win this week, head coach DEMECO RYANS and quarterback C.J. STROUD could join JOHN HARBAUGH and JOE FLACCO with the 2008 Baltimore Ravens and REX RYAN and MARK SANCHEZ with the 2009 New York Jets as the only teams to accomplish the feat.
  • HOUSTON (11-7) travels to meet BALTIMORE (13-4) on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC, ESPN+, ESPN Deportes) in a unique matchup that features the NFL team that committed the fewest turnovers this season (Houston, 14) against the club that tied for the league lead in both takeaways and turnover margin (Baltimore, 31 and plus-12, respectively). 
  • The Ravens are the AFC’s No. 1 seed for the first time since 2019 and are looking to host an AFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history.
  • Baltimore wide receiver ZAY FLOWERS is the first rookie to lead a No. 1-seeded team in receptions and receiving yards since the NFL implemented playoff seeding in 1975.
  • Houston’s C.J. STROUD last week became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to win a postseason start, breaking the record held by MICHAEL VICK.

10. NEXT GEN STATS OF THE WEEK: On his 17-yard touchdown reception last week, Buffalo wide receiver KHALIL SHAKIR had a 0.7-percent chance of scoring when he caught the ball. Shakir has now registered receptions on 16 consecutive targets dating back to Week 16. Two days before, on his 76-yard touchdown reception, Houston’s BREVIN JORDAN reached the third-fastest speed by a tight end (20.03 MPH) this season.​

11. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: The NFL’s moniker for the second round of its postseason – the Divisional Playoffs – is a bit of a misnomer but the name made sense when it first started. Before World War II, the NFL separated its teams into Eastern and Western divisions, with the winners squaring off in the annual NFL Championship Game. But in 1941, the CHICAGO BEARS and GREEN BAY PACKERS finished tied for first in the Western Division, forcing a playoff to determine the team that would face the Eastern Division champion NEW YORK GIANTS. Not surprisingly, the league needed a “divisional playoff” several more times over the next two decades. In 1967, the NFL realigned into four four-team divisions, the winners of which squared off in a Divisional Round of playoffs to determine the league’s two berths in the championship. Finally, when the NFL merged with the AFL in 1970, the new league split into two conferences, AFC and NFC, and continued to include a Divisional Round in the playoffs. Since the merger, the Divisional Round has included some of the greatest moments in league history, including the Immaculate Reception, the Minneapolis Miracle, Staubach’s Hail Mary, the Epic in Miami, the Ghost to the Post, the Sea of Hands and the longest game ever played.

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