The 32 things we learned from the divisional round of the 2021 NFL playoffs:
1. The second round of this postseason more than compensated for a largely forgettable not-so-Super wild-card weekend. In fact, has there ever been a quartet of playoff games this good? All four featured field goals on the last play of regulation – the final one sending the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills to overtime in an instant classic won 42-36 by the two-time-defending AFC champions. The Chiefs’ touchdown on the first possession of overtime will resurface questions about the fairness of the NFL’s format given Buffalo never got to possess the ball in the extra period. (Kansas City suffered a similar fate just three years ago on the same Arrowhead Stadium field, when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots won the 2018 AFC championship game on the first drive of OT.) But ‘dem are the rules for now, and Kansas City capitalized in spectacular fashion – capping a tsunami of scoring in the final five-plus minutes, which featured 31 combined points. The bar has now been set quite high for championship weekend, when the Chiefs will host the Cincinnati Bengals while the San Francisco 49ers visit the Los Angeles Rams for the second time in three weeks.
1a. The Chiefs will become the first team ever to host four straight AFC championship games.
2. The average margin of victory in the wild-card round: 17.2 points. The average margin of victory in the divisional round: 3.8 points. The average margin in the divisional round after four quarters: 2.3 points.
3. Kansas City’s win was the lone one of the weekend for home teams, which were 5-1 in the wild-card round.
4. Did you know: You can surrender four TD catches to one player but still advance to a conference championship game? The Chiefs knew.
4a. Did you know: You can allow nine sacks but still advance to a conference championship game? The Bengals knew.
4b. Did you know: You don’t have to score an offensive touchdown to still advance to a conference championship game? The 49ers knew.
4c. Did you know: You can lose four fumbles but still advance to a conference championship game? The Rams knew.
5. These playoffs are the first since the 2009 season that won’t feature either Brady or Aaron Rodgers in the championship round.
6. A week after Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and Bills QB Josh Allen each threw five touchdown passes in wild-card blowouts, both accounted for four TDs in Sunday’s showdown. This may very well become the Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry of this decade.
6a. Mahomes also rushed for a career-best and game-high 69 yards. Allen ran for 1 fewer yard … though he’s topped 69 eight times in his career.
6b. Mahomes is 5-0 in playoff contests prior to the championship round and has never lost a postseason contest to a quarterback not named Brady.
7. The Bills owned the league’s No. 1 scoring defense in 2021, yet this was the fourth time it was burned for at least 33 points.
8. Last season marked the first time a team (the Buccaneers) played the Super Bowl in its own stadium. The Rams are one win from making it happen two years in a row.
9. It is worth noting, though, that the Super Bowl 56 matchup is pretty much set. After all, the Bengals have never lost an AFC championship game – advancing from both previous appearances to lose the Super Bowl to the 49ers, who have emerged victorious on Super Sunday when they’ve beaten the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs. Niners-Cincy trilogy, anyone?
10. The 49ers will play in their 17th conference championship next weekend, most of any franchise since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
11. San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan is pretty good against his former subordinates. Saturday’s win in Green Bay improved him to 3-2 against Packers coach Matt LaFleur, including two playoff wins. Next, Shanahan faces Rams coach Sean McVay, who used to work for him in Washington. McVay’s team has dropped seven of 10 to Shanahan’s 49ers, including the last six.
12. The NFL has been framed as a “quarterback-centric” league for quite a few years now. But after a weekend that saw Rodgers and Brady, who will likely finish 1-2 in MVP voting this season, fall by the wayside, would you rather have the best passer … or the best team?
13. To wit, the 49ers have won four in a row – including two playoff victories – but QB Jimmy Garoppolo has a sub-90 passer rating in all of them with five interceptions. He has yet to throw a TD pass this postseason.
14. Since joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020, Brady is 0-3 against the Rams.
15. Rams QB Matthew Stafford (barely) got the best of Brady in their first postseason matchup. Stafford is 1-3 in his other playoff appearances.
16. Stafford joins Nick Foles, Eli Manning, Jake Plummer, Mark Sanchez and Ryan Tannehill as the only quarterbacks to go unbeaten against Brady in postseason. Manning is the only one who went 2-0.
16a. Speaking of Stafford (and Bucs DL Ndamukong Suh), nice to see former Detroit Lions stars have a playoff reunion.
17. Sunday was TB12’s first playoff loss against the Rams, whom he helped beat in two Super Bowls while with the Patriots. Despite a lackluster performance, Brady last defeated them in Super Bowl 53.
17a. Brady’s first playoff loss with the Bucs came in his sixth postseason start for Tampa Bay, which was also the first when the Buccaneers didn’t score 30 points.
17b. And the man with seven Super Bowl rings now owns his first unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, flagged for the infraction Sunday after complaining to referee Shawn Hochuli about the bloody lip he sustained from Rams OLB Von Miller.
18. Maybe the Niners consulted a crystal ball when they opted not to draft Rodgers No. 1 overall in 2005. They are undefeated in postseason against the Northern California native, Rodgers’ 0-4 playoff record against them the worst any quarterback has against a single team in the Super Bowl era (since 1966).
18a. Rodgers may own the Chicago Bears, but maybe Colin Kaepernick and Garoppolo should team up for a PSA to remind the three-time MVP that his NFL daddy is in Silicon Valley.
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18b. It’s been 20 years since the Packers have beaten the 49ers in postseason. Rodgers’ predecessor, Hall of Famer Brett Favre, was 4-1 in playoff games against San Francisco – the loss occurring on WR Terrell Owens incredible TD catch from Steve Young in the 1998 wild-card round.
19. Garoppolo has an .800 winning percentage (4-1 record) in the playoffs for the 49ers. Joe Montana’s postseason win rate with San Francisco was .737 (14-5 record).
20. The Tennessee Titans have an 0-3 record as the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
21. Rodgers has a 1-3 record when the Packers are the NFC’s No. 1 seed.
21a. Rodgers is 7-9 in the postseason since the Packers went 4-0 on their way to winning Super Bowl 45 at the end of the 2010 campaign. He’s 5-4 at Lambeau Field in the playoffs.
22. The Bengals’ Joe Burrow is the first quarterback drafted No. 1 overall to reach a championship game by his second season.
22a. Next, Burrow hopes to join Kurt Warner, Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson as second-year quarterbacks to win the Super Bowl. Pretty good company there.
23. Burrow’s teammate, WR Ja’Marr Chase, became the first rookie in league history with multiple 100-yard receiving games in the same postseason.
24. Prior to Saturday, Cincinnati was 0-7 all-time in road playoff games.
25. A star might have been born, Buffalo WR Gabriel Davis with those aforementioned quartet of TD catches, a playoff record for one game. He racked up 201 yards on eight grabs.
25a. But Rams WR Cooper Kupp is still the man, making the backbreaking catch to beat the Bucs. In 19 games this season, Kupp has 159 catches for 2,191 yards and 18 TDs. He also has a dozen 100-yard games. Best overall season by a wideout ever? Randy Moss may have the only counterargument.
25b. And let’s give a shoutout to the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill, who reminded us all he may remain the most explosive receiver in the league, whether on offense or returning punts.
26. Sunday was the first time this season that Tampa Bay’s first-string defense played together. The Buccaneers lost.
27. Saturday was the first time since Week 6 that Tennessee’s first-string offense played together. The Titans lost.
27a. RB Derrick Henry returned, but his 62 rushing yards were his fewest since Week 1, when he notched 58.
28. Buffalo P Matt Haack, who hadn’t had to kick in three of the Bills’ previous four games, punted four times Sunday.
28a. Might have been more work for Haack, but the Bills were 4-for-4 on fourth down. Remarkable stones.
29. Speaking of stones, props to kickers Harrison Butker (Chiefs), Matt Gay (Rams), Robbie Gould (49ers) and Evan McPherson (Bengals), who all have ice water in their veins and showed it with huge conversions this weekend. Gould, who’s never missed a kick in his playoff career, might be exceptionally exceptional … but all of these teams are in good hands – or on good legs – as crunch time becomes increasingly less forgiving.
30. Chiefs TE Travis Kelce finished with 96 receiving yards Sunday, including the game-winning 8-yard TD snatch. He fell 4 yards short of becoming the first player with five consecutive 100-yard receiving efforts in postseason.
31. High times in Athens, Georgia, home of college football’s national champion University of Georgia Bulldogs. Stafford couldn’t do what Stetson Bennett IV managed at the college level, but the Rams gunslinger could become the first former Dawgs QB to win the Super Bowl. Fran Tarkenton went 0-3 on Super Sunday for the Minnesota Vikings in the 1970s.
32. We end with the GOAT, just in case this is the end. If Sunday was Brady’s final NFL appearance – and there seems to be building buzz that, even though he’s under contract for 2022, he may opt for retirement rather than a 23rd season – he gave his fans one final thrill with a near-epic comeback against the Rams. His haters also enjoyed some satisfaction that the Bucs couldn’t finish it off, their repeat bid foiled with TB12 taking the loss. Brady deflected questions about his future following the defeat, but the story of the offseason could be monitoring whether he’ll make good on his long-stated desire to play until he’s 45. Regardless, so many memories, so many yards, so many teammates, so many rings, so many TDs. Even if you’re not a fan, don’t you want to see this man in the arena one more year?
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
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