The 32 things we learned from the wild-card round of the 2021 NFL playoffs:
1. With the divisional round now set, let’s hope less is more as the number of teams continues to dwindle. As much as the league has touted the expansion of its regular-season schedule to 272 games and the postseason format to 14 teams, it hasn’t necessarily felt like a better product to this point – maybe aside from those three wild overtime finishes in Week 18. But here’s hoping next weekend – Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers hosting the San Francisco 49ers at a potentially frigid Lambeau Field, while the Kansas City Chiefs‘ Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo Bills‘ Josh Allen prepare to square off for the second straight January – should help.
2. The Dallas Cowboys have not advanced beyond the divisional round since they won Super Bowl 30 to cap the 1995 season. Their 11 consecutive postseason berths without reaching the conference title game is the longest such string since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
3. The Buffalo Bills haven’t lost a playoff game at home (3-0) under coach Sean McDermott. They also haven’t won one on the road (0-3) since he took over in 2017.
4. After winning their first playoff game in Texas, the Niners will now take on another flagship franchise in Green Bay, a team San Francisco has beaten in its last three playoff matchups. Brett Favre was 4-1 in the postseason against the 49ers, but Rodgers is 0-3.
5. Monday night’s playoff game was the league’s first since the playoff format grew to 12 teams in 1990. But there have now been five postseason Monday nighters during the Super Bowl era (since 1966), and the last four have featured the Rams – most recently in 1988 prior to their defeat of Arizona. LA is now 2-2 on “MNF” in the playoffs.
WINNERS, LOSERS FROM WILD-CARD WEEKEND: Bills break out as Cowboys confound in playoffs
6. This year’s playoff field had seven new teams compared to the 2020 Super Bowl tournament, and all of them – 49ers, Bengals, Cardinals, Cowboys, Eagles, Patriots, Raiders – participated in the wild-card round. Only Cincinnati and San Francisco advanced.
7. Unlucky No. 7? Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger most likely made his final NFL appearance in Sunday night’s loss at Kansas City. And both seventh-seeded teams, Pennsylvania’s Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, both got thoroughly dominated.
7a. Roethlisberger’s five losses in the wild-card round are the most ever suffered by any quarterback.
8. The Cincinnati Bengals and Las Vegas Raiders combined for eight field goals Saturday, the first playoff game ever to have both teams make at least four.
9. OLB Jason Pierre-Paul has never lost in nine postseason appearances, four with the New York Giants, and the last five with Tampa Bay. Oddly, he only has 2½ playoff sacks.
10. Dallas and Philadelphia both lost Sunday. The Eagles and Cowboys each won in the 2018 wild-card round, the last time the NFC East earned a playoff victory.
11. The Bucs are 11-0, including playoffs, when TE Rob Gronkowski scores a TD.
12. Tom Brady now has 709 career TD passes, postseason games included – 101 more than Drew Brees, who ranks second.
12a. Brady is 0-2 against the Los Angeles Rams since joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. Both were losses were in the regular season.
13. In his 13th NFL season, Rams QB Matthew Stafford earned his first playoff victory. Next up, he’ll face TB12 … whose playoff résumé features a 35-11 record.
14. The Cowboys’ 14 penalties Sunday were the most ever committed in a playoff defeat.
15. Dallas was the only home team to lose this weekend – but the ‘Boys managed to do it in spectacular fashion.
16. Cowboys-49ers was the only wild-card contest that wasn’t a regular-season rematch. The Bengals, Bucs and Chiefs all completed sweeps, while the Bills and Rams won rubber matches against division rivals, each of them winning the final two meetings.
17. The last four times San Francisco and Dallas have met in the postseason (1981, 1992, 1993, 1994), the winner has reached the Super Bowl.
18. San Francisco K Robbie Gould has made all 49 of his playoff kicks, including 18-for-18 on field-goal tries – the best mark of the Super Bowl era.
19. Bill Belichick’s three worst losses as New England’s head coach have all come to Buffalo, including Saturday’s 30-point defeat, his worst in postseason.
20. Ugly playoff debut for Cards QB Kyler Murray, who had 143 yards of total offense and two INTs, one of the very ugly variety. Murray and Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury helped the Cardinals climb one more rung in 2021, but this club hardly looks ready for bona fide contention.
21. Mahomes is 7-0 in playoff starts when he doesn’t oppose Brady … against whom he’s 0-2.
21a. Coming off his first wild-card round appearance, Mahomes moves on to divisional weekend – where he’s gone 3-0
22. Mahomes’ 404 passing yards Sunday night were a postseason career high, and he became the first QB to hit the 400 threshold and throw for five TDs in a winning playoff performance.
23. The Chiefs were literally twice as good as the Steelers. Both teams held the ball for 30 minutes Sunday – yet K.C. doubled up Pittsburgh on points (42-21) and outgained them 478-257.
24. Lots of siblings appearing over the weekend, including Chiefs TE Travis Kelce and Eagles C Jason Kelce, Steelers OLB T.J. Watt and Cardinals DE J.J. Watt, and Bills WR Stefon Diggs and Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs.
24a. If Travis Kelce surpasses 100 yards against Buffalo this Sunday, he’ll become the first player with five consecutive 100-yard receiving games in playoff history.
24b. T.J. Watt scored on a fumble return Sunday, joining J.J. by scoring his first NFL TD in a postseason game.
25. Rams CB David Long Jr.’s 3-yard pick-six of Murray was the shortest in NFL playoff history.
26. Sunday was the Buccaneers’ first home playoff game since 2007 and first postseason win at Raymond James Stadium since 2002. (The venue was considered a neutral site for their win in Super Bowl 55.)
26a. Next weekend will also mark the Bucs’ first divisional round home game since 2002.
27. Tampa Bay is undefeated and has scored at least 30 points in all five of Brady’s postseason games with the franchise.
28. The Raiders still haven’t won a playoff game since the 2002 AFC championship game. While it remains to be seen whether coach Rich Bisaccia will have his “interim” label removed, Las Vegas will need a new general manager after firing Mike Mayock on Monday. The team was 25-25 with Mayock, formerly NFL Network’s draft guru.
29. We should’ve known the Cowboys would be sloppy Sunday. Even the equipment guys had a bad day – just check out LB Leighton Vander Esch’s jersey.
30. The Bengals’ defeat of the Raiders was their final home game of the 2021 season and produced a new attendance record for Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium.
31. It’s time to start a swear jar for the ManningCast … might be the best strategy for paying down the national deficit.
32. Last week marked the 40th anniversary of “The Catch,” when Joe Montana’s TD pass to Dwight Clark in the back corner of Candlestick Park’s end zone in San Francisco propelled the Niners past the Cowboys in the NFC title game and on to their first Super Bowl win. Remarkably, Allen found TE Dawson Knox on a very similar play in Buffalo’s win … even if the stakes weren’t quite the same.
32a. Allen: “Honestly, I thought I threw the ball away.” It took the Bills QB a few beats to realize Knox had scored, igniting Buffalo’s stampede.
32b. The Niners didn’t have anyone catch a TD pass Sunday.
32c. And maybe they won’t need one next Saturday given how effective All-Pro “WR” Deebo Samuel is as a rusher, his 72 yards on the ground against Dallas a playoff record for a wideout during the Super Bowl era.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
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