The NFL Playoffs: The Old and the New

Following the end of the second round of the playoffs, four teams remain in the hunt for a Super Bowl title in the National Football League (NFL). While half of the contenders are familiar faces to the playoffs, the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens have made huge jumps from their standings last year. 

During Wild Card Weekend, many teams went into their games with something to prove. The Miami Dolphins battled the Kansas City Chiefs, 7-26, in zero-degree weather at the Arrowhead Stadium. Both teams were heavily questioned as “playoff caliber” because of the quarterback affair in Miami, where Chiefs defensive end George Karlaftis sacked Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa during an American Football Confederation (AFC) Wild Card game. The Chief’s poor passing game was prevalent. Nevertheless, the Chiefs persevered through the cold temperatures and have proven to be worthy of a playoff run after eking out Bills, 27-24, to make it to the AFC Championship. 

Next, in the National Football Conference (NFC), history was made when Dan Campbell and the Lions battled Sean McVay and the Rams for a spot in the divisional round to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Being a young team carried by the talent of its rookies, the Rams fell to the Lions, granting the Lions their first playoff win in 32 years. Following their historic victory, the Lions furthered their playoff run after a 31-23 win against Tampa Bay. The Lions’ playmaking with Dan Campbell at the helm makes them a dangerous underdog going into the NFC Championship. 

Meeting the Lions in the Championship is the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers started their playoff run with a close 24-21 win against the Green Bay Packers. While both teams played well, turnovers plagued the Packers as quarterback Jordan Love threw two interceptions, both caught by cornerback Dre Greenlaw. The excellent pass-and-run defense makes the 49ers a likely opponent to end Detroit’s fairytale playoff run. Additionally, second-year quarterback Brock Purdy is a name to look out for. While he is undoubtedly one of the greatest stories in the NFL, emerging as the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and now starting for a team contending for the Super Bowl, many label him as a “system quarterback,” doubting his ability to be the man to bring a Super Bowl back to San Francisco. 

Lastly, the Baltimore Ravens, ending its regular season with the best record in the league, 13-4-0 overall, took the one seed in the playoff bracket. By doing so, they demolished the hopes of the Houston Texans, ending the potential Rookie of the Year campaign for quarterback C.J. Stroud. In their dominant performance in the divisional round, the Ravens controlled the ball on the ground rushing for almost 230 yards compared to the Texans’ 38 yards. Although the Ravens have been a dominating team in the league, will their lack of playoff experience prevent them from getting a win over the current reigning champions? 

The Ravens may seem to have a ticket to the Super Bowl, but that is not the case. Although they have shown an elite running game headed by quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have fallen short in games against average teams such as the Steelers. However, the Chiefs have a strong history of playing well in the playoffs and are definitely out of their passing game slump that occurred late in the regular season when Patrick Mahomes’ receiver had difficulty catching the ball. In the AFC Championship, the Chiefs will most likely show off their experience with a close win over the Ravens, proving that young talent on a team does not always bode well in high-stake games. 

In the NFC Championship, the upcoming playoff run headed by Dan Campbell and Jared Goff will come to an abrupt end in a blowout game against the 49ers. On paper, San Francisco has one of the most star-studded rosters in the league coupled with playoff experience. I believe the 49ers will neutralize the Lions and force quarterback Jared Goff to throw the ball into the 49ers talented secondary. This game will pose as a reality check to the Lions, crediting their great run, but showing that they are not Super Bowl caliber, just yet. 

Although the Super Bowl will most likely reintroduce the matchup between San Francisco and Kansas City, I can picture a very close game ending with celebrations in Kansas City. This game will be a battle of the quarterbacks; the legitimacy of Brock Purdy as a top-five quarterback in the league will be tested. Many believe that Purdy cannot perform in difficult games and if that is the case, it is easy to see quarterback Patrick Mahomes leading the Chiefs to a convincing victory, ascending into his fourth time competing for the Lombardi Trophy.