STACY ROST

Rost: The superlatives for Divisional Round of NFL Playoffs

Jan 19, 2024, 1:10 PM | Updated: 2:08 pm

NFL playoffs...

Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs throws against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 10, 2023. (David Eulitt/Getty Images)

(David Eulitt/Getty Images)

Remember high school yearbook superlatives? Congratulations if you were voted Most Popular or Most Likely to Succeed, hopefully that wasn’t a lifetime peak for you, but this list is a bit different. Let’s take a look at some superlatives for this weekend’s excellent Divisional Round slate of the NFL Playoffs.

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With that, here’s who’s most likely to…

Surpass 60 combined points

Hear me out. One of the best playoff games we’ve seen over the past several years was between two teams who will be playing this weekend. It was just two years ago when the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Buffalo Bills in a wild 42-36 victory. There were 28 points scored in the fourth quarter alone in an overtime thriller that saw 150 receiving yards for Chiefs pass catcher Tyreek Hill, and four touchdowns for Bills quarterback Josh Allen, all of which went to Gabe Davis as part of his own 200-yard game. We loved all of it and never wanted it to end.

But they’re not my pick. Instead, I’m going with the Packers and 49ers. San Francisco averaged the second-most points per game this season (28) while the Pack have scored at least 30 in three of their last four, including a 48-point win over the Dallas Cowboys’ top-five scoring defense. This may even be a one-sided battle – Green Bay’s defense has allowed opponents to score 30 or more in three of the last five – but there’s opportunity here for another high-scoring affair.

Most likely to be a defensive showcase

Here’s another surprising pick. The Bills and Chiefs game will showcase two of the league’s most electric quarterbacks just after the same matchup two years ago saw a combined seven touchdowns thrown in the NFL Playoffs.

But this year’s teams are a bit different.

Patrick Mahomes is playing with one of the better defenses of his Kansas City tenure (17.6 points allowed per game) in a season that coincides with the lowest-scoring Chiefs offense (22.1 points per game) since 2014. Mahomes’ 27 touchdowns were his fewest since 2019 and his 14 interceptions are a career high. A big part of the problem? In addition to some uncharacteristic play from Mahomes himself, the Chiefs’ pass catchers lead the league in dropped passes. Perhaps because of his targets, or perhaps because of game planning, Mahomes is also throwing downfield less than ever.

Throw in a chilly Highmark Stadium and a Bills defense that’s held five opponents to 10 points or less (including Dallas’ highest-scoring offense) and, on the other side of things, Josh Allen’s career high 18 interceptions, and you could be looking at a drastic change from last year’s high-scoring affair.

Most likely upset

How can you not root for the Lions this weekend? Detroit won its first NFL Playoffs game since 1992 with their 24-23 victory over the Rams last week. They’ve fielded one of their best teams ever, a unit top-10 in total DVOA, and won their division for the first time ever (technically the last time the Lions won it was still the NFC Central).

But what if the road ends here? The Bucs are not the better team, but they’ve got a heckuva lot of talent and a chance to let their greatest weapons (their pass catchers) exploit a Lions weakness (the secondary). Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield has been having a quietly solid season; his 28 touchdowns are seventh-most in the league and more than Mahomes, Matthew Stafford, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson.

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