NFL | Jan 15, 2024

2024 NFL Wildcard Round Recap

By Harry Bazley

USATSI 22293688

The 2024 postseason has officially begun, and as always, playoff football is producing some shocking results.

From the downfall of Dak to the flunking of Flacco, today we’ll be diving into all of the matchups from this past weekend, including highlights from every single game.

Browns 14 - 45 Texans

Joe Flacco logged a 4-1 regular season run as Cleveland's starting QB, delivering some seriously good highlights - including what might be the best game for a Browns receiver in franchise history. But sadly, Flacco’s playoff prowess did not stick around from his time with the Baltimore Ravens.

He may have found over 300 yards through the air, but turnovers became the real killer for Cleveland, with back-to-back pick sixes putting them 24 points behind in the 3rd.

I guess this was probably the last time we’ll see Flacco on the field, but if I’m the Patriots new HC, I’m begging this guy to come and teach Zappe and Jones how to throw the ball.

And while one career comes to an end, another is just beginning... C.J. Stroud’s impressive rookie season is still rolling, and he's now shown that he’s perfectly capable of handling the pressure of the postseason. The 2024 No.2 overall pick just threw for 274 yards and 3 touchdowns vs the single best pass defense in the NFL. If you didn't know already, this kid is special.

It's clear that Stroud is up to the challenge, but the Texans will now face Baltimore in the Divisional Round and stopping Lamar Jackson is much tougher task than Joe Flacco.

Dolphins 7 - 26 Chiefs

After falling to the Bills in Week 18, the Dolphins lost their home-field advantage and 2nd seed playoff spot. So instead of hosting their Wild Card game in Florida vs the 6th seed, Tua & Co. were sent to Kansas to face the best playoff quarterback of this generation in -30 degree wind chill… Not ideal.

Now, we can’t blame the weather alone for a single touchdown performance from one of the most electric offenses of the regular season… But it doesn't change the fact that it was so cold Patrick Mahomes' helmet shattered on a hit and Andy Reid’s moustache literally froze.

In any case, something was seriously wrong with Miami’s game plan. After one deep shot to Tyreek Hill produced a 54-yard touchdown, Tua Tagovailoa’s next longest completion went for just 19 yards.

This was not the same explosive offense we had gotten so used to. Whether they were scared of throwing picks with the ball drifting in the wind or they just struggled to get receivers open, nothing changes the fact that Mike McDaniel was calling screens on 3rd and long. And the other side of the ball was no better…

The Dolphins tackling was shockingly awful in this matchup, but in fairness, bringing down Isaiah Pacheco is no small feat.

The bottom line is - regardless of the rocky season in KC, we should never underestimate the Chiefs in the playoffs…

They'll now take on the Bills for another Allen-Mahomes shootout.

Packers 48 - 32 Cowboys

C.J. Stroud isn’t the only young player impressing in the postseason. The Packers are officially the youngest team to ever win a playoff game (with an average age of 25 years and 214 days).

Jordan Love and company just put up 48 points on one of the best defenses in the league and made it look like a walk in the park. Don't let the Cowboys 32 points fool you, this game was all Green Bay.

Under pressure, off platform, both feet off the ground, it simply didn’t matter. Love was making throws all over the field for all four quarters, earning himself a 157.2 passer rating in his first ever playoff start.

This is third down, cover zero, all out blitz from Dallas and Jordan Love throws a dime for the score...

And backing up the passing game was Aaron Jones, who tallied 118 rushing yards while finding the end zone on three separate occasions.

And it wasn’t just the offense showing up. They may have allowed 400 passing yards, but they made big plays in big moments, like this 64-yard pick six.

It looks like the Packers may have their next great quarterback and a supporting cast capable of bringing the best out of him. This is certainly the biggest playoff upset so far, but Green Bay will face the 49ers in the next round and given this scoreline, who knows what could happen.

Rams 23 - 24 Lions

It wasn’t the crazy shootout I was expecting, but it was still everything I’d hoped. A one-point game that came down to the wire with both quarterbacks putting on a show. But there is one specific performance that tops the rest…

Puka Nacua broke plenty of records in what might be the best debut season from a wide receiver in NFL history, but he didn’t stop there.

The 5th round pick just set the all-time receiving yards record for a rookie in the playoffs with 9 catches for 181 yards and a touchdown. The Rams might have another generational talent on their hands.

And Stafford went to his guy when it mattered most. 3rd and long, one-point down, final possession for the Rams and the ball goes up to Nacua to get within field goal range. It just so happened to be the most controversial play of the game. Was this pass interference, holding or unnecessary roughness? You choose. All I know is, Detroit caught a break on this one.

Meanwhile, Amon-Ra St. Brown recorded 118 yards on the night, but it was the Lions ground game that reliably put them in the paint with Gibbs and Montgomery both finding the end zone.

The Lions will now take on Tampa Bay, but they’ll need to tidy up their secondary if they want to stop Mike Evans from racking up the scoreboard.

Steelers 17 - 31 Bills

After finishing the season with 5 consecutive wins, the Bills streak continues and they have Josh Allen to thank for that.

The Steelers defense was the only thing that could possibly keep them in this game, but Allen breezed through the secondary for 3 passing touchdowns, but he did more than just put the ball up for grabs.

This goes down as the second longest touchdown run by a quarterback in playoff history…

Without T.J. Watt, pressure in the backfield was very hard to come by, and they weren’t helped by this level of tackling from the secondary when the game was on the line.

Regardless, nothing changes the fact that Mike Tomlin just took this team to the playoffs with Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph at the helm. That deserves credit no matter what.

Now, the Bills will face the Chiefs, and as we know from the infamous AFC Divisional Game that went to overtime in 2022, this matchup is one that you simply cannot miss.

Eagles 9 - 32 Buccaneers

This scoreline may seem shocking, but Philly had lost 7 of their last 8 games heading into this matchup with Jalen Hurts playing injured, A.J. Brown out and the defense in shambles, as usual.

Pair that with a Bucs team that thrives in the passing game and you have a blowout victory vs a team that started the season 10-1 and sat well atop the Super Bowl odds.

Plays like this show exactly why Tampa walked away with the win, lacklustre tackling mixed with sheer determination. It was clear early on which team wanted this more.

And the defense was on fire too, holding Philly to just 9 points and keeping them off the scoreboard for the entire second half.

It’s clear the Birds struggled big time with their top target A.J. Brown, and Devonta Smith did his part in filling that gap with 148 yards on 8 receptions, including this key play that set up Phily’s only score of the night. But in playoff football, you need more than one guy to step up to the challenge.

The Bucs will now travel to Detroit to take on the Lions. They’ll be facing a very balanced offense with an impressive ground game and some talented receivers, but the Lions secondary is nothing special. Saturday 8pm - mark your calendars.

(Header Image Credit: Tim Heitman - USA TODAY Sports)