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Blowouts in wild card round unlikely to be precursor for rest of playoffs

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The National Football League is trendy around this time of year, and no, I’m not talking about all those new fans enticed because Taylor Swift keeps popping up at games. 

More than any other spot on the calendar, the postseason is when all kinds of weird trends, quirks and coincidences emerge for us to ruminate upon, stress about, and wonder whether there is something deeper at play. 

You want examples? For eight straight years, the winner of the Super Bowl coin toss … went on to lose the game. From the mid-1980s to John Elway’s long-awaited ring in January of 1998, the NFC champion won the biggest game of all an incredible 13 consecutive times, despite often not being the betting favorite, as Buffalo Bills fans will painfully recall. 

And across the past long weekend, the wild-card round produced a collective outlier of an outcome, game after lopsided game adding up to the biggest combined winning margin that the opening group of playoff games has ever seen.  

The start of a new trend? We’ll see. 

A whopping 104 points separated the teams in the six clashes of the Saturday-through-Monday slate, kicked off by the Houston Texans getting things rolling in the opener, where C.J. Stroud’s excellence and a pair of timely pick-sixes set up a 45-14 thumping of the Cleveland Browns.  

It didn’t slow down from there. 

Of the six matchups, only the Detroit Lions’ first postseason win for 32 years provided down-to-the-wire drama, capped off by Jared Goff’s clutch first-down throw to Amon-Ra St. Brown, sealing a 24-23 triumph

[2024 NFL playoff picture, bracket, schedule, standings]

Out of the remainder, both the Bills’ rescheduled Monday winterfest against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Green Bay Packers’ stunning beatdown of the Cowboys in Dallas were considerably more one-sided than even the eventual 14 and 16-point margins suggested. 

Concerned that this might be the start of a slew of blowouts that will persist through the current postseason? 

Cowboys fall to Packers in the first round of the NFL Playoffs

No need, at least according to the most recent statistical comparisons. For contextual purposes, the postseason only expanded to incorporate seven teams per conference (meaning six wild-card games) three years ago and was bumped up to six seeds (four wild-card games) in 1990. 

The only other postseason in which the wild-card action got close to this one in terms of overall one-sidedness was just two years ago. 

In the 2021 campaign, a series of wild-card beatdowns (a 103-point combined margin) merely set the table for, you will surely remember, a divisional round a week later that was an unceasing feast of drama. 

That year, there was a 13-10 San Francisco 49ers victory in Green Bay that prompted Aaron Rodgers to take a sorrowful walk around Lambeau Field for what seemed to be the final time. It wasn’t — not yet, at least.  

Did Jordan Love just raise the Green Bay Packers’ playoff hopes?

It was the end for Tom Brady, though we didn’t know it at the time, when the Rams’ Matthew Stafford found Cooper Kupp twice on a rip-roaring last-minute drive to set up a winning field goal. 

A single field goal was the difference in Tennessee, too, where the Cincinnati Bengals’ rookie kicker, Evan McPherson, announced “I guess we’re going to the AFC Championship” before drilling the kick that turned his prophecy into reality. 

And, of course, who could forget the slugfest between the Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs that produced a mind-boggling 25 points in the final two minutes, 13 seconds of pure mayhem. That was then followed by the overtime touchdown drive that led to a postseason rule change, and all that jazz. 

I’m not promising you a four-pronged feast on that scale this weekend, but these things do have a habit of evening themselves out. 

In 2016, which produced the highest total winning wild-card margin of the 12-team postseason era (76 points), the divisional round spawned a pair of nailbiters with Pittsburgh beating Kansas City by two points and  Green Bay once again defeating Dallas by just three points. And that then the most remarkable Super Bowl comeback of them all, when Brady’s New England Patriots sunk the Atlanta Falcons

One way or another, this week is set up for intrigue.  

Are the Chiefs back in Super Bowl form?

The San Francisco 49ers won’t be taking the Packers lightly (Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App) after Jordan Love’s exploits last weekend, even with recent playoff history favoring the team from the Bay Area, which ended Rodgers’ Super Bowl dream no fewer than four times. 

“Certainly we know we’re going against one of the elite teams in the NFL, certainly the class of the NFC,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur told reporters. “But it is a great opportunity as well. That’s exactly how we’ll approach it.” 

When it comes down to it, there are trends everywhere, if you look hard enough. 

The Bills and the Chiefs have their destinies so intertwined at this point that the potential of a postseason meeting is never really that far from discussion. Sunday will be merely the latest chapter, but this time in Western New York. 

The Baltimore Ravens will try to conquer their own demons of early postseason exits, with Lamar Jackson holding a 1-3 playoff record, when they greet Houston on Saturday

Perhaps more than anything this year, there is a lean towards fresh opportunity. The Texans are enjoying a surge that seems impossible when you consider last year’s team. The Lions are relishing a buzz that was missing for so long they could be forgiven for thinking it would never come. 

And the Bucs, behind Baker Mayfield’s poise and tenacity, are beginning to dream about the kind of good times they thought were behind them. 

The real business end of the postseason begins now, a time for hope and trepidation all rolled into one. And just remember: beware of the trends, because they’re not always what they seem. 

 Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.


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