The opening salvo of divisional matchups for the NFL’s 2020 playoffs is in the books. And though Saturday’s couplet of games was relatively short of the postseason drama this round so often provides, there were ample subplots to sift through – and many will extend into Sunday.
So while hoping the first-ever playoff matchup between Drew Brees and Tom Brady justifies all of its History Channel hype – and before the graybeards go at it, we’ll learn whether the Kansas City Chiefs remain on track to pull off the first Super Bowl repeat in 16 years – let’s anoint the winners and losers from the Rams-Packers and Ravens-Bills contests:
Quarterback-loving NFL fans: Aaron Rodgers’ latest masterful performance (296 yards and 2 TDs passing, another TD rushing) means he will be hosting either Brady’s Buccaneers or Brees’ Saints next weekend. Rodgers has never faced either legendary quarterback in the postseason. The Packers beat the Saints in New Orleans this season but were blown out by the Bucs in Tampa Bay. On the AFC side, Buffalo’s Josh Allen will square off against 2018 draft mate Baker Mayfield or reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes in what would be quite a pairing of young gunslingers.
Bills Mafia: The long-awaited Western New York party will rage for at least another week, Buffalo advancing to the AFC championship game for the first time since the 1993 Bills won it before losing a record fourth consecutive Super Bowl.
2018 QB class: With Allen, Mayfield and Lamar Jackson in action this weekend, this divisional round is the second to feature three starters who were all first-round picks from the same draft. Twelve years ago, 2004 first-rounders Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers all participated in the NFL’s quarterfinal weekend.
Taron Johnson: The third-year corner’s 101-yard pick-six – it tied a playoff record in terms of length – was the pivotal play in Buffalo’s victory, flipping the second-half script when it appeared Baltimore was about to tie the game 10-10.
Packers running backs: Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams combined for 178 yards and a TD in Green Bay’s victory. Neither is signed beyond this season and could be auditioning for 2021 employers.
Urban Meyer: The Rams’ loss means their first-round pick this spring, acquired by the Jacksonville Jaguars in last season’s trade of CB Jalen Ramsey, won’t drop any further and settles in at the 25th position.
Allen Lazard: His 58-yard fourth-quarter TD snatch put the game out of reach for the Packers. However prior to his coup de grâce, Lazard dropped some balls that helped Los Angeles stick around and clearly drew Rodgers’ ire. Sometimes, one play is the difference between being a winner and (once again) bemoaning Green Bay’s decision to not select a receiver high in the 2020 draft.
Bills Stadium: Perhaps the league’s most-antiquated facility, it has provided a raucous environment for Buffalo’s first home playoff games in a quarter-century … and the guys in charge of the music are doing a bang-up job.
Former Cal QB: Rodgers, the presumptive 2020 NFL MVP who last played for the Golden Bears in 2004, has guided the Packers to the NFC championship game for the fifth time but will look to break a three-game skid in the conference title game next weekend. This will be the Pack’s first championship game appearance at Lambeau Field since 2007, when Rodgers was on the team but served as Brett Favre’s backup. If Rodgers throws at least two touchdowns next weekend, it will be his ninth consecutive playoff game with multiple TD strikes – which would break the record he currently shares with Joe Flacco.
Former Cal QB: Jared Goff, who last played for the Golden Bears in 2015 and will probably never be confused for a league MVP, deserves credit for enduring through a surgically repaired throwing thumb this postseason. But the Rams’ starter was sacked four times Saturday, and a largely dink-and-dunk approach was never going to allow him to keep pace with Rodgers’ surgical precisions. Signed through 2024, if Goff and coach Sean McVay don’t recapture their synergy from 2017 and 2018, the quarterback’s massive contract and declining play threaten to drag this franchise down in the coming years.
Ravens special teams: K Justin Tucker, P Sam Koch and LS Morgan Cox may be the best trio of specialists to play together in NFL history. But they didn’t show up Saturday night in Orchard Park, New York. Tucker missed a pair of field goals, alternately kissing the uprights, inside 50 yards in the same game for the first time in his nine-year career. He’d never misfired inside 50 during his playoff career after 11 consecutive conversions. Koch’s 23-yard shank in the first quarter led to the Bills’ first points, a field goal. And Cox, who became the inaugural All-Pro long snapper this season, committed a false start. Oof.
Bills offense: Can’t argue with a Buffalo win, but an offensive strategy that almost completely ignored the run – 16 attempts for 32 yards, largely after the game was in hand – likely won’t be sufficient if this team has to go toe-to-toe with the explosive Chiefs with the AFC crown on the line.
Aaron Donald: Playing with a rib injury on the defensive line can’t be easy. But despite Donald’s willingness to suit up while hurt, he barely registered – finishing the day with one tackle and often watching helplessly from the sideline.
Rams defense: You wouldn’t know this group had surrendered the fewest points and yards in the league in 2020 given how easily the Packers dismembered it. Having Donald at less than 100% didn’t help, but watching an All-Pro like Ramsey unravel on the field was a microcosm for the entire unit – one that permitted 484 yards after not allowing more than 390 in any regular-season game.
Lamar Jackson: A week removed from earning his first playoff win, the reigning league MVP suffered a cruel reversal of fortune. He was adequate, if not transcendent, until his final few plays. With the Ravens trailing 10-3 but driving for the tying TD, Jackson threw the first red-zone interception of his career – he had 49 consecutive TD passes inside the opponent’s 20-yard line prior to his fateful pick – a play that led to Johnson’s decisive score. A few plays later, Jackson was on his back, knocked from the game with a concussion.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
If you love talking football, we have the perfect spot for you. Join our Facebook Group, The Ruling Off the Field, to engage in friendly debate and conversation with fellow football fans and our NFL insiders. Do the right thing, sign up now!