DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 14: Jordan Love #10 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half of the NFC Wild Card playoff game at AT&T Stadium on January 14, 2024 in
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

4 Downs Super Wild Card Weekend: Young Quarterbacks Shine In Playoff Debuts

In a lot of ways a spotlight shone on the future of the NFL during Super Wild Card Weekend.

The Lions flexed their muscles at home, surviving and advancing in front of Detroit legends like Barry Sanders, Eminem, and Bryan Cranston, against a former face of the franchise, Matthew Stafford.

Jordan Love and C.J. Stroud ascended into the realm of top-10 quarterbacks in the NFL.

And, by the time the dust settled just before midnight on Tuesday morning, home teams finished 5-1, with the lone blemish one of the most unexpected upsets of these NFL Playoffs.

Before looking too far ahead at the divisional playoffs, here's a look at the biggest storylines and awards from a wild NFL Super Wild Card Weekend.

First Down: Jordan Love Ambushes Cowboys into Offseason Reckoning

Thanks to elite quarterback play, a strangling and opportunistic defense, and savvy playcalling, the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers looked like two teams rocketing in opposite directions.

Sunday afternoon it was clear that one team was just beginning a potentially charmed postseason run, while the other slunk into an offseason of daunting questions staring them in the face.

In the most stunning outcome of Super Wild Card weekend, it was the Green Bay Packers, who snuck in as the No. 7 seed in the NFC that looked the part of a legitimate Super Bowl contender as quarterback Jordan Love, running back Aaron Jones and a swarming defense embarrassed the Cowboys 48-32 in Arlington.

"I don't even think them making a coaching change would matter," former NFL Executive of The Year, Randy Mueller, told FanBuzz. "Haven't they tried that time and time again?"

Jones ran roughshod over the Cowboys, setting the Packers' franchise record for career postseason rushing touchdowns, finishing with 118 yards and three scores, while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Meanwhile Love cemented his future as the Packers' franchise quarterback while airing it out against the Cowboys' vaunted defense for 272 yards, three touchdowns, and a nearly flawless 157.2 passer rating.

Green Bay, with an identity that can travel and dominate in the postseason now faces the daunting task of taking on the No. 1 seed San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Round.

Meanwhile, after Sunday's game, Jerry Jones called it the most surprising defeat in his tenure as Cowboys owner.

"There's no world's smallest violin for me being fooled," Jones told reporters. "I get that. I understand that. I know where the responsibility starts and ends. I've got that real clear. That's not the point. I'm disappointed for everybody."

The Cowboys' loss that saw Dak Prescott throw two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown by Darnell Savage, while passing for 403 yards with three touchdowns brings head coach Mike McCarthy's future into doubt and raises serious concern about the makeup of a team that has won 12 games each of the past three seasons with just one postseason victory to show for it.

"I think Dallas' defense is just too small," an AFC Offensive Coordinator told FanBuzz, on the condition of anonymity to discuss another team. "And Dak made a few terrible plays in that game."

Where Dallas goes from here remains to be seen.

However, given the strong relationship between Bill Belichick and Jerry Jones, the mutual affinity for what each NFL power broker has built, this feels like an ideal match.

That the Cowboys faded down the stretch and came careening to earth in disappointing fashion yet again in the postseason can't sit well with Jones.

Second Down: Detroit's Window is Only Opening

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JANUARY 14: Head coach Dan Campbell of the Detroit Lions reacts during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs at Ford Field on January 14, 2024 in Detroit, Michigan.

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions have arrived.

After 32 years, the Lions won a playoff game, after sinking their teeth into the Los Angeles Rams and holding on for dear life with a 24-23 victory in front of a rabid Ford Field.

It's been a minute since the Lions were relevant, not to mention the beasts of the NFC North — the last time they won the division championship before this season it was actually the NFC Central, but general manager Brad Holmes has built a roster ready to take multiple bites at the Super Bowl apple.

"I think their aggressiveness and culture make them dangerous," NFL analyst Ross Tucker told FanBuzz. "THeir ceiling is the Super Bowl, although winning in San Francisco to get there would surprise me."

Holmes built the foundation by pulling off a trade that altered the trajectory of the entire franchise. When the Lions traded Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff and draft picks, Detroit choice the players who would go on to become cornerstones to this rapid rebuild; running back Jahmyr Gibbs, tight end Sam LaPorta, speedy wide receiver Jameson Williams, starting safety Ifeatu Melifonwu, and defensive end Josh Paschal.

In addition to that young core, Holmes has mined Pro Bowl and ascending edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson and dynamic safety Brian Burns in recent NFL Drafts.

The Lions have married a young, talented, and hungry roster to a head coach that many inside the league believe to be the "prototype for today's player," restoring the roar to a proud franchise that is emerging from a historic drought ready to take its place among the NFL's best teams.

Sunday night, Goff out-dueled Stafford, passing for 277 yards with one interception and one monstrous completion to Amon-Ra St. Brown to move the chains and salt out the win. Gibbs added 78 yards from scrimmage with a touchdown in the franchise's biggest game and most consequential victory in years.

Thanks to a multi-faceted running game behind Gibbs and veteran David Montgomery, Goff protecting the football and setting St. Brown, Williams, and LaPorta up for explosive plays, and a defense that allowed more than 20 points just once over the final four games of the regular season, the Lions have all the pieces in place to make this an extended run at the Lombardi. In 2024 and in coming years thanks to a Super Bowl window that's propped wide open.


Third Down: Allen vs. Mahomes Looms Large in Buffalo

This season has seen both reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen forced to evolve.

Mahomes to figure out how to survive a woefully inadequate receiving corps whose costly drops proved instrumental in the Chiefs falling to the Lions in the season-opener, the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Day, and most consequentially at all, the Buffalo Bills when Kadarius Toney lined up in the neutral zone negating a Travis Kelce game-winning touchdown lateral.

As a result, the Chiefs are forced into the snowy confines of Buffalo in the Divisional round and onto the road for the first time in the postseason of the Mahomes era.

Saturday night in frigid conditions in Arrowhead, the Chiefs ran for 147 of their 409 yards of total offense. Kansas City is morphing into a power-running team, with Mahomes exploiting the opportunities — when he can, that the success on the ground opens up over the top.

Meanwhile, Buffalo has been in postseason mode since boarding the buses from Lincoln Financial Field to Philadelphia International airport and forced to win the final five games out of the bye week just to make the postseason.

Over that span, just as he has time and time again, and as he did Monday in the Bills' 31-17 Wild Card win over the Steelers, Allen put Buffalo on his back and ran into the second-round.

Buffalo makes no bones about what they are; a ground and pound offense with a deep threat in Stefon Diggs on the perimeter.

But, must like Monday afternoon when Allen rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown, the 27-year-old quarterback has become a more lethal weapon as a runner than with his arm down the Bills' torrid closing stretch.

Over Buffalo's final five games, Allen rushed for 182 yards with six touchdowns.

Now, an evolving Chiefs offense meets the steamrolling Bills with a trip to the AFC Championship Game at stake.

Mahomes has only played in Buffalo once, during the COVID-19 season in 2020 when Highmark Stadium was empty. BillsMafia will be creating a slightly different atmosphere on Sunday evening.

The Chiefs have been the most dominant team of the post-Tom Brady era, with two Lombardi Trophies in three trips to the Super Bowl, but they have never had to go on the road.

Allen and the Bills are 3-1 against Mahomes' Chiefs but 0-2 in Kansas City in the postseason.

We're about to find out how much of Mahomes' postseason success sis predicated on homefield advantage, and if Allen's Bills can shrug off their postseason nemesis and log one of the biggest victories in recent franchise history.

Fourth Down: Eagles Epic Collapse Highlights Need for Change

TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 15: Head coach Nick Sirianni of the Philadelphia Eagles reacts against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the fourth quarter in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs at Raymond James Stadium on January 15, 2024 in Tampa, Florida.

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles collapse is going to be a cautionary tale in front offices and on coaching staffs for decades.

Philadelphia's swift tumble from 10-1 on Nov. 26 to 11-7 and bounced by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Wild Card has one clear threadline; Nick Sirianni benching defensive coordinator Sean Desai and elevating Matt Patricia to defensive play caller in Week 15.

"It comes down to the panic moves at defensive coordinator," an AFC Scouting Director told FanBuzz is what broke the Eagles. "The players don't look bought in. Watching this game, it looks like they lost their swagger."

Falling to the Buccaneers 32-9 in the Wild Card Round is obviously the most glaring indictment of Sirianni's handling of the defense, and perhaps his tenuous hold on the head coaching job.

Since promoting Patricia, the Eagles' defense has allowed 30.56 points per game over the last seven games as Philadelphia's secondary seems to have forgotten how to tackle. Or how to care.

Multiple sources around the NFL suggest that promoting Patricia rocked the Eagles' locker room, and zapped the players of their motivation.

One year removed from losing the Super Bowl by three points, the Eagles suddenly became an undisciplined team, a team that lacked any semblance of an identity on either side of the football, and the coaching staff was unable to stem the tide during the most critical stretch of the season.

Following one of the most significant collapses in recent NFL history, Sirianni's job security and whatever course general manager Howie Roseman charts this offseason, it seems that major changes are necessary in Philadelphia.


Super Wild Card weekend MVP: C.J. Stroud, QB, Houston Texans

C.J. Stroud's electrifying rookie campaign reached a crescendo with one of the most dominant postseason performances by a rookie quarterback in league history.

Stroud set the record for most touchdown passes by a rookie quarterback in a playoff game, when he connected with tight end Dalton Schultz on a 37-yard strike ... With 1:19 remaining in the second quarter.

By game's end, Stroud had sliced and diced the Cleveland Browns' defense, that entered Super Wild Card Weekend ranked second in the league against the pass, for 274 yards, three touchdowns, a nearly perfect 157.2 passer rating. Stroud was the driving force behind the Texans punching their ticket to the AFC Divisional Round with a 45-14 game, that wasn't even that competitive.

"I can't remember the last time I've seen a rookie be that poised against a good defense like that," an AFC scout told FanBuzz, following Stroud's performance.

Stroud passed a first major test with his first playoff victory, and while Houston is playing with house money as it heads to the No. 1 seeded Baltimore Ravens, there is no reason to think that the moment will be too big for the No. 1 overall pick or that the Texans don't have the pieces to pull off an upset and keep this magical run going.

Likewise, Stroud's strong chemistry with wide receiver Nico Collins, who caught six of his seven targets for 96 yards and a touchdown, make it easy to wonder just how high the ceiling is for this duo and the Texans as they continue to grow and develop in coming seasons.

DeMeco Ryans has built a hyper-competitive culture in his first season as the Texans' head coach, but with Stroud as the foundational building block this is a team capable of meaningfully competing for years to come. And, if Stroud can replicate his success against Cleveland this weekend, this Texans run might have only just begun.

Super Wild Card Weekend Breakout Star: Rashee Rice, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 13: Kader Kohou #4 of the Miami Dolphins pushes Rashee Rice #4 of the Kansas City Chiefs out of bounds after a catch during the second quarter in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on January 13, 2024 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It was so cold in Kansas City on Saturday night that Patrick Mahomes' helmet shattered after taking a bone-rattling hit near the goal line, but the -37 wind chill did nothing to stop Rashee Rice from heating up.

Rice, chosen by the Chiefs in the second-round of the 2023 NFL Draft, emerged as Mahomes' favorite and most productive target Saturday on a night where conditions it difficult to consistently move the football.

The field in various states of frozen did little to keep Rice from looking the part of a No. 1 receiver against the Dolphins' defense.

Finishing with eight catches, on 12 targets, for 130 yards while pulling down Mahomes' only touchdown pass of the night, there was something poetic and maybe a bit ironic about Rice emerging as the Chiefs' focal point with Tyreek Hill on the opposite sideline.

Rice is the headliner of a beleaguered receiving corps that saw Kadarius Toney a healthy scratch against Miami and the rest of Kansas City's receivers catching just five passes in the Super Wild Card Game. As the Chiefs have been forced to morph into a team that relies on the running game, Rice's speed and reliability give him the chance to remain atop Mahomes' target hierarchy, which is a great place to be in the postseason.

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