The Wild Card round of the 2020-21 NFL playoffs is now in the books. Those games revealed a lot about the remaining teams, so we decided to break down some of the top storylines for each of them.
Some teams are clearly better than others, but there are so many different factors at play that could create another upset like the Los Angeles Rams put on the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday. So, here are those storylines.
No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs
Upcoming opponent: Browns
Storyline: The Chiefs are widely considered the best team in the NFL, but they haven’t been a dominant group on the scoreboard. After a 35-9 victory over the New York Jets in Week 8, Kansas City won seven-straight games by six points or less.
Then, the team dropped a 21-38 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers with several key starters, including Patrick Mahomes, sitting out. That’s not a big deal, but while the other weeks were wins, they were all close. Have these games taught them how to close the deal, or do they indicate a trend that will leave the Chiefs short one day? We’ll see.
No. 2 Buffalo Bills
Upcoming opponent: Ravens
Storyline: Buffalo’s trade for Stefon Diggs might be the single most important addition made during the offseason. He has revolutionized this offense with 127 catches for 1,535 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season.
He hasn’t slowed down in the playoffs either. Diggs hauled in six of his nine targets for 128 yards and a score in the Wild Card round against the Indianapolis Colts. The Josh Allen-Diggs connection is one that will play a huge role in how this postseason plays out.
No. 5 Baltimore Ravens
Upcoming opponent: Bills
Storyline: Lamar Jackson was finally able to get over the top. Previously 0-2 in postseason play, the former first-round pick was presumed to be a playoffs loser, just two years into his career. Well, that changed on Sunday as Jackson was instrumental in Baltimore’s 20-13 win over the Tennessee Titans.
Jackson’s struggles through the air continued with only 179 yards, one interception and zero touchdowns, but he got the job done with his legs, rushing for 136 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. His mobility extended drives and put a lot of strain on Tennessee’s defense. That will need to continue against the Bills.
No. 6 Cleveland Browns
Upcoming opponent: Chiefs
Storyline: Here’s to overcoming major obstacles, right? The Browns had no business beating the Steelers on Sunday. Not because they weren’t a talented team, but because of the pieces missing due to COVID-19. Several important figures were out, including head coach Kevin Stefanski.
Yet, Baker Mayfield and the rest of this Cleveland team overcame these obstacles. They scored a whopping 48 points, forced five Pittsburgh turnovers, and ended the first quarter up 28-0. That’s exactly how you want to start a game.
It looks like they aren’t the same ole Browns after all.
No. 1 Green Bay Packers
Upcoming opponent: Rams
Storyline: Who knew drafting a future replacement would motivate the 37-year-old Aaron Rodgers like this? This guy is playing some of the best football of his career, despite his age. He finished the regular season with a career-high in completion percentage (70.7) and touchdowns (48), while throwing just five interceptions.
And he did it without any new “elite” weapons. Impressive.
There are still some areas of concern on the roster, but the Packers might be the best team in the NFL. They’re certainly playing like the best team in the NFC, we know that much. It will be interesting to see how Rodgers looks against a banged up Aaron Donald this weekend.
No. 2 New Orleans Saints
Upcoming opponent: Buccaneers
Storyline: The Saints’ offense is really good, especially with the emergence of second-year receiver Deonte Harris. But the defense will decide how much further this team goes in the playoffs. The unit played inspired football against a subpar Chicago Bears offense, but Tampa Bay is going to bring with it a whole new set of challenges.
The two teams have already played twice this season, however, and the results heavily favored the Saints. Tom Brady combined for two touchdowns and a whopping five interceptions in those games. But he’s playing like a different guy now, so the question is whether he and his team can keep it up.
No. 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Upcoming opponent: Saints
Storyline: Tom Brady is now the oldest quarterback ever to start an NFL playoff game, but, guys, he isn’t playing like it. What we saw on Saturday against a good Washington defense was prime Tom Brady. He threw for 381 yards and two scores while allowing his trio of receivers (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown) to do their jobs.
If that offense can keep the 500-plus yards and 30-plus points going against the Saints this upcoming weekend, Tampa Bay has a really good shot at taking down their division rival and advance to the NFC Championship.
No. 6 Los Angeles Rams
Upcoming opponent: Packers
Storyline: Injuries took their toll on the Rams in the Wild Card round. Despite an impressive 30-20 road victory over the Seattle Seahawks, several key players went out — and most didn’t come back. Those players include Aaron Donald, John Wolford, Cooper Kupp and David Edwards.
The injured Leonard Floyd did eventually return, but it will be worth monitoring the health status of the other guys, especially Donald, as a showdown against the Packers quickly approaches. Donald is expected to play through a rib injury, and how he plays will be important in the outcome of the game.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.