Dec 31, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) throws the ball during the first half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

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Playoff primer: Storylines galore as matchups are nearly set

The Baltimore Ravens haven’t been to the Super Bowl since the 2012 season and the San Francisco 49ers have had some close calls in recent years while chasing their first Super Bowl title since the 1994 campaign.

The two clubs are in the favorite’s roles with first-round byes as the NFL’s 14-team playoff field came closer into focus on Sunday.

The Ravens are the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the 49ers are the top seed in the NFC as the competition for the Lombardi Trophy heats up.

The Dallas Cowboys earned the No. 2 seed and will host the No. 7 seed Green Bay Packers next weekend. The Cowboys perennially receive a lot of attention but the club hasn’t played in the Super Bowl since the 1995 season when quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and receiver Michael Irvin were all superstars.

The Detroit Lions are the No. 3 seed and will host the red-hot No. 6-seed Los Angeles Rams in what will be the first playoff game held in Detroit in 30 years. The No. 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the No. 5 Philadelphia Eagles, the defending NFC champions who are spiraling downward with five defeats in six games.

The AFC matchups won’t be fully known until the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills complete their Sunday night showdown. The AFC matchups won’t be fully known until the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills complete their Sunday night showdown. If the Dolphins win, they would host the Bills again next week, and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs would host the Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Bills win, they would host the Steelers next week and the Dolphins would travel to play the Chiefs.

The one fully known matchup in the AFC is that the No. 4 Houston Texans will host the No. 5 Cleveland Browns. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud leads the Texans into battle against veteran Joe Flacco of the Browns.

Baltimore can rest this week and ponder why it has just two playoff victories since winning the Super Bowl. The 49ers have won six playoff games while qualifying in three of the past four seasons, but have failed to win it all despite three NFC title game appearances, one prior to a Super Bowl loss.

Green Bay Packers (9-8) at Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
Dak Prescott has yet to lead the Cowboys to more than one win in a single postseason. This time around, Dallas has a chance at two home games as it holds the tiebreaker edge over the Lions (oh yeah, the failure to report controversy). Jordan Love has quickly shown that the Packers can be viable without the departed Aaron Rodgers, who failed to come through on last season’s win-and-in contest while Love did get the job done Sunday.

Los Angeles Rams (10-7) at Detroit Lions (12-5)
Matthew Stafford went 0-3 in the playoffs in 12 seasons with the Lions and will now be looking to keep his former team winless in the postseason since the Barry Sanders-led club beat the Dallas Cowboys in the 1991 season. While “Restore the Roar” is real in Motown behind former Los Angeles QB Jared Goff, the Rams have won seven of eight games since their Week 10 bye. Los Angeles used a similar hot stretch drive two seasons ago en route to the Super Bowl crown.

Philadelphia Eagles (11-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-8)
Baker Mayfield directed a ragged 9-0 victory over the Panthers on Sunday that sent the Buccaneers home to welcome the Eagles in a wild-card matchup. Philadelphia won just once since Thanksgiving, going 1-5 to crumble down the stretch and surrender the NFC East division lead to the Cowboys. The Eagles are facing huge injury questions surrounding the health of QB Jalen Hurts (finger) and WR A.J. Brown (right knee) after both exited Sunday’s loss to the Giants. But can Mayfield pull off a Tom Brady impersonation?

Cleveland Browns (11-6) at Houston Texans (10-7)
Stroud quickly revived the atmosphere around the Texans with a stellar rookie season that saw Houston almost equal its victory total (11) of the past three seasons. Cleveland is thriving behind Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP who is 4-1 as the starter. Pretty ironic that Houston is hosting the Browns in a playoff game and former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson isn’t on the field. The player infamous in Houston for sexually harassing massage therapists is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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