Three Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks and a question mark.
That’s the starting lineup in one divisional round of the NFL playoffs, where the remaining NFC quarterbacks are Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and whichever of the walking wounded — Jared Goff or John Wolford — is able start for the Los Angeles Rams.
In the AFC, it’s a reunion of the Class of 2018, with three first-round quarterbacks from that draft: Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, along with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, who was drafted in 2017 but didn’t become the Chiefs’ full-time starter until his second season.
Put another way — in honor of Sunday’s irreverent and innovative playoff simulcast on Nickelodeon — it’s “The FairlyOdd Parents” in one conference and “Rugrats” in the other.
Divisional weekend kicks off with the sixth-seeded Rams at the top-seeded Packers, teams that haven’t met since 2018, when Los Angeles held on for a 29-27 victory at the Coliseum.
Rams-Packers is a chess match between Rams coach Sean McVay and his former offensive coordinator, Packers coach Matt LaFleur, whose team finished 13-3 for the second year in a row. Rodgers, directing the No. 1 scoring offense, will be facing a Rams defense that was No. 1 in yards allowed this season.
Far shakier is the Rams’ quarterback situation, with Wolford transported to the hospital Saturday after suffering a neck injury, later diagnosed as a stinger, on the second series at Seattle. Goff, who suffered a broken thumb in a Week 16 game, also at Seattle, came off the bench to finish the game. The Rams relied on their running game and smothering defense to secure the upset victory.
Saturday’s nightcap features the fifth-seeded Ravens at the second-seeded Bills, with Jackson, the league’s reigning most valuable player, against Allen, the likely MVP in waiting.
It was Baltimore that gave Allen a rude introduction to the NFL in 2018, when the rookie took his first snaps in relief of the struggling Nathan Peterman. Allen completed six of 15 passes in that 47-3 blowout, had no touchdowns or turnovers, and was sacked three times.
The teams met again in 2019 and the game was closer, although the Ravens still won, 24-17, with Allen throwing for one touchdown but fumbling twice. Jackson threw three touchdown passes in that game, and the Ravens became the first AFC team to clinch a playoff berth.
On Sunday, the sixth-seeded Browns play at No. 1 Kansas City, the defending Super Bowl champion. Cleveland is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and is coming off a jaw-dropping rout of Pittsburgh.
Although they won eight NFL championships more than a half-century ago, the Browns are one of four teams that haven’t gotten to a Super Bowl. The others are Jacksonville, Houston and Detroit.
The Chiefs and Browns last played in 2018, when Mahomes threw three touchdown passes — two to Cleveland native Travis Kelce — in a 37-21 victory.
When Mahomes and Baker Mayfield met in college in 2016, they combined for more than 1,700 yards of offense.
In that epic game, Mayfield’s Oklahoma Sooners outscored Texas Tech 66-59, with Mahomes setting FBS records with 819 yards of total offense and 734 yards passing.
Rounding out divisional weekend is Tampa Bay at New Orleans on Sunday afternoon, with the Saints looking to do something no other NFL team has done: beat Brady three times in the same season.
During his two decades in New England, Brady’s Patriots only lost one playoff game to a division rival, falling to the New York Jets in 2010, and those teams split their regular-season series.
This season, the Bills were the first AFC East team to sweep the Patriots since 2000, encompassing the entire Brady era.
But Brady’s Buccaneers lost both games to New Orleans this season — 34-23 in the opener and 38-3 in Tampa in Week 9.
Beating a team three times in the same season is quite an accomplishment.
Sunday morning, before the Saints beat Chicago to advance to the divisional round, Brady recorded an Instagram post, apparently from his home gym.
He didn’t mention the Saints. He didn’t need to.
“Middle of January, we’re still working, we’re still here,” he said. “Round Two next. Who do you guys want us to play? I think I know. Let’s go.”