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

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

Dec 5, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; NFL wide receiver free agent Odell Beckham Jr. (black jacket) after the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Odell Beckham Jr.: ‘I don’t see the point’ in regular-season return

Free-agent wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. shed light on what stokes his fire while speaking on Prime Video’s “TNF in the Shop” for Thursday Night Football.

Beckham has been on a very public search for a new team. The three-time Pro Bowl selection has recently visited Dallas (9-3), Buffalo (9-3) and the New York Giants (7-4-1).

“I haven’t made a decision, and for me, I would like to be in a stable environment, get up at 6 a.m., leave at 6 p.m. for four weeks, and then let’s talk about it,” Beckham said. “I’ve played football for a long time. I’m not saying that I couldn’t step in and play regular season, but I don’t see the point. I really don’t. I would rather play when the pressure is on.”

ESPN reported the Cowboys doubt Beckham is completely recovered from the torn left ACL he sustained in Super Bowl LVI after the 30-year-old wide receiver met with team physicians on Monday. According to the report, the concern regards whether Beckham would be available to play before mid-January, or perhaps not until the 2023 season.

On his weekly radio show with 105.3 FM in Dallas, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he is “not confident at all” about signing Beckham until he sees him work out.

Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons said Wednesday that Beckham told him he could be ready to play in five weeks, which would put on track to play during the wild-card round of the playoffs.

Beckham has 531 career catches for 7,367 yards and 56 touchdowns in 96 games (91 starts) with the Giants (2014-18), Cleveland Browns (2019-21) and Los Angeles Rams (2021).

–Field Level Media

Jan 12, 2020; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass against the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter of a NFC Divisional Round playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Report: NFL mulling 16-team playoff field if games lost to pandemic

The NFL has not yet lost any scheduled games because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But the league is constantly preparing in case it does.

The latest evidence is a plan that potentially could adjust this season’s playoff format to a 16-team field, with eight teams in each conference qualifying for the postseason, ESPN reported Monday.

The fall-back option was discussed on a conference call conducted by the NFL competition committee on Monday, with the purpose to soften some of the league’s financial blow in case multiple games are eventually canceled and bye weeks are lost due to COVID-19.

NFL sources were cited describing the idea that would hypothetically increase the numbers of playoff teams by two to 16, with one additional team each from the AFC and NFC. This postseason was already slated for a two-team playoff spike, with one more wild-card team in each conference, after the league approved the switch in March.

If approved and instituted, the seeding system would include no byes for division champions and instead rank each team by conference from No. 1 through 8. In the opening round, the top seed — the division champion with the best overall record — would face the wild-card team with the worst record as the No. 8 seed. Then the second seed would face the seventh seed, with No. 3 versus No. 6 and No. 4 against No. 5 in the opening weekend.

The league office has reportedly remained steadfast in its hopes to avoid any schedule changes that could threaten its current Super Bowl LV date, currently slated for Feb. 7, 2001 in Tampa. In case of major postseason scheduling changes, the NFL’s likely first move would be to eliminate the week off scheduled between the conference championships and the Super Bowl.

–Field Level Media

Is Playoff Experience an Indicator of Future Success?

Every postseason, young teams are counted out from contention because they don’t have “playoff experience,” but does that really matter?

To answer that question we first, we compared Super Bowl wins and playoff appearances. There are 9 teams that have made the playoffs at least 8 times since 2002. All but one of the teams won at least one Super Bowl. The only team missing was the Falcons and we all know how that turned out. 

Secondly, we compared Super Bowl Wins and Playoff Win Percentage. All of the teams that have won the Super Bowl since 2002 have won 50% or more of their postseason games, regardless of the number of playoff appearances they’ve had.

While it may not be the perfect indicator, Playoff Experience is certainly a strong metric for predicting the Super Bowl winner.

The graphic below compares the number of Playoff Appearances and Postseason Win percentage for each team, also indicating whether or not they’ve won a Super Bowl since 2002. Hover over the graph to split into 4 quadrants, revealing the number of teams, and the percent of Super Bowl winners.


Teams That Can't Buy Success – A Look at the NFL's Longest Droughts

Days before Super Bowl III, Joe Namath famously guaranteed his New York Jets would defeat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. His guarantee came true, and New York fans rejoiced. 49 years later, the Jets faithful have had little to celebrate, apart from their postseason win over the Patriots in January of 2011. It’s been a tough go of it, but maybe things will turn around for them soon.

The last time the Browns won their division, it was called the AFC Central, and the year was 1989. Since then, they’ve had only 3 winning seasons.

For most fans, it’s bad news to hear the term Drought and their favorite team in the same conversation. We’ve compiled data on each team, and how long it’s been since their last:

  • Divisional Title
  • Playoff Appearance
  • Playoff Win
  • Super Bowl Appearance
  • Super Bowl Win

Use the drop down menu to change categories.


Wild Card Appearances (2002-2018)

Since the NFL was restructured in 2002, there are four teams that have not played in the postseason as a wild card. The Patriots, Bears, Texans and Buccaneers have either won their division or missed the playoffs completely.

In the same time frame, the Patriots have made 14 postseason appearances. Combined, the Bears, Bucs and Texans have made 10 appearances. 

Amount of wild card appearances is a good metric for the continued strength of a division as a whole. The graphic below displays each division and the number of wild card appearances since 2002. The AFC North comes out on top, boasting five consecutive seasons from 2008-2012 in which they sent at least two teams to the postseason. The AFC East and NFC West each finished with only six appearances.