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What To Watch For In This Weekend's NFL Divisional Round Playoff Games


This weekend, you will want to have your snacking strategy in order heading into two full days of NFL playoff action. Whether you're a fan of underdogs or contenders, you'll have plenty to root for in this round. Will the Baltimore Ravens' unexpected success carry over into the postseason? Who's going to win the battle of the quarterbacks when Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers face off? For that and more, let's talk to Lindsay Jones, who covers the NFL for the website The Athletic.

Hi there.

LINDSAY JONES: Hi. How are you?

SHAPIRO: Good. So big picture - everybody who loses this weekend is out. Stakes are high. We're coming off of some upsets last weekend. What makes this weekend's games so unexpected?

JONES: Yeah. Well, to start, this is my favorite weekend of football of the entire year. I know you expect maybe...

SHAPIRO: More than the Super Bowl?

JONES: More than the Super Bowl, more than Wild Card Weekend, more than championship weekend. This is my favorite weekend as a fan and, you know, in covering the NFL, too, but...


JONES: Because it's so packed. So you have four really marquee games. Usually, what happens in divisional round is you have the right matchups. You now have the marquee quarterbacks. You have the best teams playing, the ones and two seeds that both were off during Wild Card Weekend, and you have just back-to-back games. And I think it's setting up to be a really good weekend for NFL fans, too.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about one of the big storylines going into the weekend. The Baltimore Ravens, led by quarterback Lamar Jackson, ended the regular season with a record of 14-2, which nobody expected at the beginning of the season. Do you think they will have a challenging time against the Tennessee Titans this weekend?

JONES: Well, possibly. I mean, the Tennessee Titans are coming off of a huge upset last week. They went up to New England, knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions and all the questions about if they maybe ended the New England dynasty or not. So, you know, the Titans are - I think have always been a team that was going to be a hard out in the playoffs.

But what we've seen out of the Ravens - they're just really special on offense. They're the league's best rushing team, and Lamar Jackson has just been a revelation. And what he can do with his legs and when he carries the ball - there's just - nobody can stop him right now, and nobody has been able to figure it out this year. And then I think the one other thing that's really important when you talk about the Ravens in the postseason is that it's not just Lamar Jackson. Their defense has been playing really well. So top to bottom, they're a really good team. The one big question I just have is that they're pretty young, especially on offense, and you just never know with that young of a team how they're going to respond in these really big moments.

SHAPIRO: Let me ask you about a big matchup on Sunday. Two of the best quarterbacks of their generation, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, are going to be facing off. What are you watching for there?

JONES: Oh, I'm so excited for this game. And I think the one thing that we know for sure that's going to happen with this game is that something really weird is going to happen.

SHAPIRO: Why weird?

JONES: Because, well, one, the Seahawks never play normal games. If you look at the Seahawks', like, history, especially the games that have mattered have been really close. There'd been some sort of bizarre situation that's happened at the end. You know, I just think when you have two quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, who are so good when they go off-script and they're so good at just really making things happen, you just know that this is going to come down to the very end of the game. One of those quarterbacks is going to make a really big play. You know, I expect that this is going to be the one that we're all talking about on Monday about some really, really wild thing that happened in Green Bay.

SHAPIRO: Given everything that is happening this weekend - so many games, such high stakes - what are you most looking forward to?

JONES: I'm actually going to the game in Kansas City, and I'm really excited to see Patrick Mahomes against the Texans and Deshaun Watson. I think Patrick Mahomes - you know, he had the breakout season in 2018. So I'm really excited for that game and to see Patrick Mahomes where - we haven't really seen kind of them at their full powers yet this year, so I want to see, now that they're in the postseason, if the Chiefs are able to kind of take that next step in their offense and get to what I think would be an ideal AFC championship game next week if they make it that far against the Baltimore Ravens.

SHAPIRO: That's Lindsey Jones, who covers the NFL for the website The Athletic.

Thank you.

JONES: Thank you so much, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPORTS SONG, "YOU ARE THE RIGHT ONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.