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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Ranking every NFL playoff game so far

The NFL playoffs got off to a slightly slow start in 2022. However, after a largely underwhelming opening weekend, things picked up in a big way. Here’s a quick ranking of the 12 games to take place so far in this postseason.

12. Los Angeles Rams 34, Arizona Cardinals 11

This one was pretty boring from the get-go. Particularly compared to expectations, the divisional rivalry didn’t live up to the billing. The Rams took an early 14-0 lead and expanded it to 28-9 midway through the third quarter. The Cardinals never had a shot, and Los Angeles cruised in a game I barely remember.

11.  Buffalo Bills 47, New England Patriots 17

The most exciting thing about this one? The two missed extra points and the fact that Buffalo scored on every possession. Correction: They scored a touchdown on every possession. It was literal perfection from the Bills and a tough postseason debut for the Pats in the Mac Jones era. As a Pats fan, I’d like to no longer talk about it.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, Philadelphia Eagles 15

Quite literally the only reason I’m putting this at No. 10 is for retroactive reasons, so you can call that cheating if you want. But it’ll be the answer to trivia questions for years to come. The last team that Tom Brady beat, the last quarterback to lose to Tom Brady, the final score in Tom Brady’s final victory, et cetera. The actual game? Pretty irrelevant as the Bucs jumped out a 31-0 lead and trounced the No. 7 seed.

9. Kansas City Chiefs 42, Pittsburgh Steelers 21

The Steelers showed up for about a quarter and a half of this one, which is a little more than many expected. But ultimately, the Steelers didn’t belong in the playoffs. It was Ben Roethlisberger’s last game, and after Pittsburgh took an early 7-0 lead, it was all Kansas City. They scored 35 unanswered to take control and really make this one uninteresting by early in the second half.

8. Cincinnati Bengals 26, Las Vegas Raiders 19

I’m not saying Wild Card weekend is always awful — but this year, the quality of games increased dramatically in the second weekend. This was a decent game, but it was still one controlled by Cincinnati most of the way. They never led by less than seven points after the first quarter and kept a double-digit lead for large portions of the game. There was some referee controversy, and the Bengals giving Cincy their first playoff win since ’91 was a nice story. But beyond that, it was pretty low-key for a one-possession playoff game.

7. Los Angeles Rams 20, San Francisco 49ers 17

Eh. This is probably bound to be an unpopular ranking. After all, it was a three-point conference championship. The whole fourth quarter was just a steady San Francisco collapse, but it was also a relatively boring and slow comeback by the Rams. Environments make playoff games fun, and Los Angeles just doesn’t have a huge fanbase that goes to games, so that contributed to what felt like a slow game in general. That, combined with the absurdities that occurred in the AFC Championship, made this one feel like an underwhelming dessert after an amazing dinner.

6. San Francisco 49ers 23, Dallas Cowboys 17

I went back and forth on 6 and 7. For one, it was a divisional game versus a conference championship. But ultimately, I went with a bit of a gut feeling. And I had more fun watching this game. Part of it was the upset. Some of it was watching the Cowboys lose. Part of it was the wild and controversial ending and a near-miraculous comeback from Dallas. There are also just some other amazing moments — I love big kicks in the postseason, and there were three field goals of 50+ yards in this one. Deebo Samuel willed the 49ers to a 23-7 lead with an electric 26-yard run. This was far and away the best game of the opening weekend, and it’s the only game to beat out a divisional or conference championship game.

5. San Francisco 49ers 13, Green Bay Packers 10

Despite the heart-pounding finish, the overall lack of offense in this game made it a tough one to keep an eye on. It was an underwhelming effort from Aaron Rodgers in a game the Packers probably should have won by 17 points. The momentum change in the final minutes, with a blocked punt return touchdown and game-winning 45-yard field goal in the snow, was nothing short of fantastic. It was classic, snowy postseason football in Green Bay. But the combined one offensive touchdown and 10 points through three quarters really dulled the shine of this historic rivalry clash.

4. Los Angles Rams 30, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27

The final game of Tom Brady’s career. The top four games could really be sorted in a variety of orders — they were all fantastic games. This one, I slotted into the fourth spot because it was a blowout for the majority of the contest. I personally didn’t pay much attention to the middle parts of the game, only starting to tune back in as Brady led a potential comeback. But even the comeback didn’t hold the steam of a normal Brady comeback. It was largely due to the Rams struggling to do anything offensively.

However, the game’s final minutes truly did redeem the rest. A bomb of a touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Mike Evans cut the deficit to seven points. A forced fumble and a Playoff Lenny house call evened the score. But then Matthew Stafford pulled the Tom Brady specialty — a game-winning drive. The pass to Kupp was a beauty, and the ensuing mad race to clock the ball and get off the field goal attempt had the majority of North Dining Hall (where I was watching this clash finish out) holding their breath. A great game and one that would have been far higher than No. 4 in most years.

3. Cincinnati Bengals 19, Tennessee Titans 16

The Bengals and Titans got the divisional round weekend off to an amazing start. From the return of Derrick Henry to the 348-yard effort from Joe Burrow, this one was fraught with storylines and momentum changes. I already mentioned I’m a sucker for big postseason kicks, and rookie Evan McPherson made his fair share in this one. He connected on four field goals, two from 50+ yards including his game-winner of 52 yards.

The Titans led a nice comeback and were in position to win before the Bengals notched a final-minute interception to get a chance at the game-winning drive. For 35 total points, this one had its fair share of really good offensive performances and heart-stopping momentum swings.

2. Cincinnati Bengals 27, Kansas City Chiefs 24

The whole world, outside of Kansas City, was rooting for Burrow and the Bengals in this one. And the boys from Cincy delivered. What a game this was, with Burrow engineering a comeback from a 21-3 deficit. But this doesn’t rank this high without an otherworldly second-half effort from the Bengals’ defense. Cincinnati notched multiple interceptions, ended the first half with a goal-line stand and picked off Patrick Mahomes to start overtime.

That allowed Burrow to gradually work his magic; the Bengals closed to 21-10 at the half. By the end of the third quarter, Cincinnati tied up the score at 21-21. Then McPherson came in clutch again with a 52-yarder for the lead. But the Chiefs did respond to send this one to overtime. When Mahomes got the ball, many assumed it was over, but Cincinnati’s defense stepped up once more. A Vonn Bell interception allowed Cincinnati to set up shop, and McPherson drilled the second postseason game-winner of his short career.

1. Kansas City Chiefs 42, Buffalo Bills 36

It couldn’t be any other game. This one had absolutely everything. They had a lot to live up to after three game-winning field goals to start the divisional round, and the two teams responded. Both quarterbacks threw for 300+ yards with at least three touchdowns. Mahomes and Allen also led their squads in rushing in true gutsy efforts.

On the receiving end, the world saw Tyreek Hill continue to be great with 11 catches for 150 yards. But it also saw the emergence of Gabriel Davis. The former UCF receiver hauled in eight passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns. By now, you’ve heard of the last-minute heroics. Davis caught two touchdown passes in the final two minutes, including one with 13 seconds left. But Mahomes delivered two passes to Hill and Travis Kelce to work the Chiefs into field goal range and tie the score. Then in overtime, the Chiefs won the coin toss, and their red-hot offense torched an overworked Bills defense.

We’ve seen some true classics in this postseason. Where will the Rams-Bengals Super Bowl slot in? We’ll cross our fingers for No. 1, but that may be a tough feat.