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NFL playoffs: Winners and losers from Saturday's Super Wild Card Weekend games

HOUSTON -- The biggest victor on the first day of Super Wild Card Weekend was common sense, which prevailed when the NFL postponed the AFC playoff game between the Steelers and Bills in Buffalo until Monday afternoon, allowing everyone to stay off the roads with a winter storm in the area and setting up a doubleheader to conclude the weekend.

The first round of the playoffs began on schedule Saturday, though, with AFC games in Houston and Kansas City, and that means there were winners and losers, including those that went well beyond the box score.


1) C.J. Stroud: He was so good, he didn't even finish the game. With more than 9 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Texans quarterback gave way to his backup, Davis Mills. Stroud was nearly perfect, completing 16 of 21 passes (76 percent) for 274 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in leading Houston to a 45-14 victory over Cleveland. He moved in the pocket to avoid pressure, threw darts and generally showed the poise that has made him a phenom and the likely Offensive Rookie of the Year. And, already, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

2) Texans defense: When the Browns and Texans played on Christmas Eve, the Browns offense put up 36 points on the Texans defense, which was without pass rushers Will Anderson Jr. and lost Jonathan Greenard early in the game. With those two playing on Saturday, Joe Flacco, who was not sacked by the Texans in the regular season game, was brought down four times. And Browns receiver Amari Cooper, who scorched the Texans with 265 yards receiving in the regular season game, was limited to just four receptions on five targets for 59 yards, with Derek Stingley Jr. spending most of the game matched up with Cooper.

3) Texans GM Nick Caserio: The Texans rebuild is wildly ahead of schedule, thanks in part to the haul of draft picks Caserio acquired in trading Deshaun Watson to the Browns, and to astute drafting. This past offseason Caserio drafted C.J. Stroud and hired DeMeco Ryans. That rookie quarterback and rookie head coach have transformed the franchise seemingly overnight, injecting positivity and promise into a team that had been dragged down by years of losing, and Watson's trade demand and scandal. Whatever happens in the Divisional Round, the future is bright for the Texans, who are not only one of the most successful teams this season, but one of the league's most likeable.

4) Lovers of big plays: Much of the Browns-Texans game felt like a heavyweight fight in which every play was a haymaker. There were two pick-sixes by the Texans defense, a 76-yard catch and run by Brevin Jordan for a Texans touchdown, a 37-yard touchdown pass from C.J. Stroud to Dalton Schultz, a 38-yard pass to Nico Collins, a 45-yard pass from Joe Flacco to David Njoku and on and on it went.

5) Chiefs fans at Arrowhead Stadium: It was -4 degrees with a wind chill of -27 at kickoff, and the playing surface looked like a block of ice. But fans showed up. They tailgated. They made a lot of noise. They watched Andy Reid's mustache form icicles. They saw Taylor Swift rocking a very cool Travis Kelce jacket, which was made by Kristin Juszczyk, the wife of San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle. All in all, just another playoff game in Kansas City.

6) Kansas City's defense: The elements surely helped, but the Dolphins didn't convert a third down until the fourth quarter. Their inability to sustain drives created a lopsided time of possession, which in turn gave the Chiefs multiple opportunities to add to their score, even if they couldn't get into the end zone. The Chiefs have been led by their defense all season and it didn't change on Saturday night. 

7) Chiefs pass-catchers: A source of angst all season, they somehow looked their best playing in impossible conditions. Rookie Rashee Rice had 130 yards, Travis Kelce finished with 71 of his own and Patrick Mahomes completed passes to nine teammates. 

8) Dolphins red zone defense: It kept Miami in the game until midway through the fourth quarter, forcing the Chiefs to kick four short field goals when drives stopped inside the Dolphins' 15-yard line.


1) Joe Flacco's YOLO passes: It was fun while it lasted, but Flacco's interceptions (eight in five regular season games) caught up to the Browns in a big way in the third quarter. He threw two pick-sixes in the space of five offensive plays -- within 2 minutes of each other. The plays extended the Texans' lead from 10 to 24 points. Still, Flacco and the Browns deserve credit for even being in the playoffs considering Flacco was the team's fourth starter of the season and he came off the sofa less than two months ago.

2) Browns defense on the road: During the regular season, the Browns defense allowed the fewest points per game in the league during games they played at home (13.9). Unfortunately for them, this game was on the road, where, during the regular season, the Browns gave up the most points per game (29.6). The Houston offense scored 31 points and accumulated 356 yards, including 286 in the first half.

3) The S2 test: Let's never speak again of this test, which C.J. Stroud supposedly bombed in the run-up to the 2023 draft.

4) Dolphins defense outside of the red zone: Tackling in bitter cold is a miserable and painful experience, particularly when your defense is already decimated by injury. No amount of Vic Fangio scheming could make up for how many times the Dolphins struggled to bring a Chiefs player down -- even Mahomes -- or how little pass rush they could generate. The Chiefs simply were more physical than the Dolphins for most of the night.

5) Kansas City's missed opportunities: The Chiefs dominated the game, but their blown chances -- a theme of the regular season -- kept it from being a blowout early. We saw dropped passes, confusion and an illegal-block penalty that wiped a touchdown off the board. The game should not have been close at the half. The Chiefs' defense is good enough that they have been getting away with it, but will that continue later in the playoffs?

6) Dolphins clock management: Trailing by 19 in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins did not play fast. They huddled, they let the play clock wind down before the ball was snapped and wasted precious seconds between almost every play.

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