NFL divisional playoffs primer: Get ready for Baker Mayfield vs. Jared Goff

Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff side by side

They have experienced their share of NFL ups and downs, but at the moment, these onetime No. 1 picks are riding high.

Quarterbacks Jared Goff of Detroit and Baker Mayfield of Tampa Bay will meet in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

The Buccaneers advanced to the second round Monday night by knocking off Philadelphia 32-9 a day after Goff’s Lions beat the Rams — his former team — to keep their Super Bowl dreams intact. (Mayfield, too, had a brief stint with the Rams last season.)

In the divisional round, Houston will play at Baltimore on Saturday, followed by Green Bay at San Francisco. On Sunday, the Buccaneers play at the Lions, followed by Kansas City at Buffalo.

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It was a fizzling finish for Philadelphia, defending NFC champion, which lost five of its final six games in the regular season. Conversely, behind the strong play of Mayfield, the Buccaneers won five of their final six regular-season games.

Goff was the No. 1 overall pick by Los Angeles in 2016, and Mayfield was taken first by Cleveland two years later.

By beating the Rams, the Lions snapped a nine-game postseason losing streak and collected their second playoff victory in club history — and first in 32 years. They are one of four NFL teams who have never played in a Super Bowl, along with Cleveland, Jacksonville and Houston.

The Lions posted a 20-6 victory at Tampa Bay this season in Week 6. The Lions improved to 5-1, winning their fourth straight game for the first time since 2016 and four straight by double digits for the first time since 1991.

Although Green Bay and San Francisco did not face each other this season, the franchises have a rich rivalry in the playoffs.

Since winning their last Lombardi Trophy in the 1994 season, the 49ers have made 12 trips to the playoffs. In 10 of those — counting this season — they have played the Packers.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy warms up before a game.

San Francisco won five of those past six meetings, most recently a 13-10 victory at Green Bay in the divisional round two years ago.

Still, these current teams don’t know each other well. 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy hasn’t faced the Packers, and Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love has not played San Francisco.

The Packers began the season with the NFL’s youngest roster, and the 49ers are among the league’s oldest teams.

Twice this season, the 49ers looked to be running on fumes. They lost three consecutive games around midseason, and stumbled a bit at the end of the year.

Kyle Shanahan rested his starters at the end of the season, plus his players were spectators for wild-card games, so many last played a meaningful game on New Year’s Eve. This game should be a good indicator if that rest paid off.

Read more: Jared Goff proves again he’s the impetus behind turnarounds as Lions oust Rams

When Houston plays at top-seeded Baltimore, the game will pit quarterbacks likely to be accepting big awards at NFL Honors. The Texans’ C.J. Stroud is the leading candidate for offensive rookie of the year, and Lamar Jackson of the Ravens is in line to win his second most valuable player award.

Neither quarterback played especially well when Houston and Baltimore met in their 2023 season opener, with Jackson’s passer rating (79.5) only slightly better than Stroud’s (78.0).

The Ravens won that game, 25-9, but Baltimore coach John Harbaugh predicted at the time that the Texans were headed for a big season: “I’ve said this before about certain teams early in the season — ‘They’re going to win a lot of football games this year.’ Mark it down. You’ll see. That’s a good, young football team.”

Ravens rookie Zay Flowers had nine catches in that game, but the offense largely looked out of sync under new coordinator Todd Monken. Still, Baltimore pulled away in the second half and kept the Texans out of the end zone.

Both teams look markedly different now.

“From there to where we are now, we’ve definitely grown,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans told reporters. “[We are a] completely different team. They are a completely different team.”

Read more: Plaschke: Matthew Stafford lost the battle but wins the war in his duel with Jared Goff

One aspect of the NFL that has remained consistent in recent years is that Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes versus Buffalo’s Josh Allen has been a marquee quarterback matchup.

Their teams met in the divisional round in Kansas City two years ago, and Mahomes led the Chiefs to a 42-36 overtime victory.

In that game, Kansas City won the coin toss to start the extra period and Mahomes threw a touchdown pass to Travis Kelce on the opening drive. It was such an abrupt ending that it helped prompt a rules change. The NFL tweaked its overtime rules for the postseason to ensure each team gets a possession.

This year marks the first time since the 1993 AFC Championship Game that the Bills have played host to the Chiefs in the postseason.

Buffalo has reached at least the divisional round in each of the past four seasons and has won a home playoff game in each of those. The Bills routed Pittsburgh on Monday 31-17 with the game postponed for a day because of a snowstorm.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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