What we learned from NFL Playoff Divisional Round weekend, Day 1: 49ers tough but vulnerable, Packers promising

Another round of postseason football is well underway, with the Ravens advancing to the AFC Championship and the Packers falling just short in their upset bid against the No. 1-seeded 49ers on Saturday. Soon, the final four teams will compete for a spot in Super Bowl LVIII, which will be broadcast on CBS, Nickelodeon and Paramount+.

Here are some immediate takeaways from Saturday’s games:

49ers 24, Packers 21

san francisco is very unsafe

The 49ers are tough; We all know that. They were physical and opportunistic on defense here, especially late and in the red zone, and Brock Purdy put to rest any doubts by capping an uncertain night with the go-ahead touchdown drive. The path to a Super Bowl appearance still looks very possible. And yet, for a No. 1 seed hosting a No. 7 seed, they barely survived on their own grass. Kyle Shanahan went conservative in a sluggish first half, perhaps could have used a dominant Christian McCaffrey even more, and allowed more extracurricular shenanigans from veterans like Trent Williams. Should they remain the favorite in the NFC, especially with McCaffrey cooking? Sure. But it’s clear that they are made to play with the lead, not the other way around.

There should be brighter days in green bay

Not entirely dissimilar to the Texans with CJ Stroud, the Packers can take solace in knowing their franchise is in good hands. Jordan Love hasn’t been perfect this year — his fourth in the NFL and first as a Packers starter — and Saturday was no exception, with a late cross-body pick leading to a potential comeback. But his natural fluidity as an off-balance gunslinger was on full display all night, keeping the 49ers fired up. Even better, he has an array of young weapons — four different rookies combined to top 2,100 receiving yards in 2023, including the playoffs — that will only improve with more time in Matt LaFleur’s creative system. Should be. Who knows if Aaron Jones will be a part of that group, but he gave his all against San Francisco as well.

Ravens 34, Texans 10

baltimore really is a complete team

Most fans could have told you this before Saturday, but Houston’s loss was a perfect argument for their Super Bowl chances. Facing a 1-3 career playoff mark, Lamar Jackson looked exactly like an NFL MVP against DeMeco Ryans’ defense, effortlessly gliding over 100 rushing yards while making all the right reads through the air . Mike McDonald’s Ravens “D” was hyperactive as usual, thwarting Houston’s run game to put pressure on star rookie CJ Stroud. And John Harbaugh oversaw the whole thing with championship-caliber flexibility, overseeing halftime adjustments to tighten the screws after a relatively slow start. There may be one more hurdle to overcome before the battle for Lombardy, but it’s clear this club is the complete package.

It’s time for Texans to refill the trenches

CJ Stroud has proven early on that he is the present and future face of the team, displaying unusually sophisticated pocket presence and downfield decision-making ability as a rookie quarterback. But often against Baltimore he was forced to escape the pocket, extend plays and/or run gadget calls to alleviate routine pressure. The Ravens are typical in that regard, but if Houston intends to capitalize on Stroud’s franchise potential and make an immediate playoff jump next time out, strengthening its front will be paramount. Demeco Ryans’ defense also needs its own adjustments, but Stroud works best when he has time to open his hands inside the pocket, and that’s very hard to do without reliable protection or ground support.

The AFC Championship is must-see TV

Not that the Texans wouldn’t make an interesting conference title game, but now we’re guaranteed a duel between Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes, pitting two of the NFL’s most explosive young QBs against each other. No matter who wins Sunday between Buffalo and Kansas City, there will be celebration across the league.

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