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What we learned from divisional round of 2022 NFL playoffs: Bills vs. Chiefs is top rivalry, Stafford on fire

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Wild-card weekend may have been chock-full of blowouts, but the NFL’s divisional round was overflowing with nail-biters. From the 49ers knocking off Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to the Bills and Chiefs going into overtime with one of the most thrilling playoff games the league has ever seen, there was no shortage of drama ahead of Championship Sunday.

Here are some of our biggest takeaways from the wild and wacky weekend of playoff football:

Bills vs. Chiefs is the new best rivalry in the NFL

No question about it. The NFL could’ve declared Sunday night’s rematch of the 2020 AFC Championship this year’s Super Bowl, and nobody would’ve complained. Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen were both positively ridiculous in the closing minutes of this heavyweight shootout. And only some odd decisions on Buffalo’s end, coupled with the overtime rules, prevented the showdown from lasting longer. The Chiefs deserve this return trip to the AFC title game, but Allen, Gabriel Davis and the Bills proved they could’ve just as easily represented the conference on the biggest stage.

The Rams almost etched themselves into NFL lore for the wrong reasons Sunday, begging the Bucs to overcome a 27-3 deficit with a slew of second-half errors on both sides of the ball. But when it mattered most, Stafford and his arm came to play. The ex-Lions QB was calm and collected in L.A.’s wild-card win, but he was even better in Tampa with the Rams’ playoff lives on the line, perfectly launching the deep ball that set up the game-winning field goal. He’s proven he was worth the team’s offseason gamble.

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The Bucs need to restock around Brady

Tom Brady nearly pulled off another improbable comeback to return the Bucs to the NFC Championship, but he was noncommittal about his future after Tampa Bay was eliminated. And the game itself was a good reminder that Bruce Arians’ squad needs better depth — or more reliable starters — at some key spots on both sides of the ball, from wide receiver to offensive line to cornerback. Brady is more than physically capable of running it back, but the Bucs have some tough decisions to make on their roster.

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Aaron Rodgers’ Packers career could be over

We don’t say this lightly. Green Bay is probably still the most likely destination for Rodgers in 2022, other than retirement. But a departure feels quite a bit more likely than last year, despite the QB apparently mending fences with team management. For one, the Pack didn’t even sniff the Super Bowl this time around. But it’s possible he and/or the front office might convince themselves they’ve passed their prime as a couple, especially with Jordan Love (and big financial concerns) looming.

The 49ers have championship coaching

Kyle Shanahan got — and deserved — lots of flak during the 49ers’ October slump, especially in light of the fact he’s overseen three losing seasons in five years as head coach. But he’s stayed the course with his run-first approach, wisely keeping Deebo Samuel at the heart of the offense. More importantly, he’s assembled another defensive staff and lineup capable of going the distance, with DeMeco Ryans‘ unit feasting on one of the NFL’s top offenses at Lambeau.

Joe Burrow needs more protection

This one practically goes without saying after the Titans sacked the star Bengals quarterback nine (!) times. But Cincinnati can’t expect to sneak by the Chiefs with 19 points and that kind of protection (or lack thereof). A bigger day for Joe Mixon would help take some of the pressure off the pass blockers, but either way, Zac Taylor may need to get creative to keep his man upright. An alternative takeaway: Evan McPherson just might kick the Bengals all the way to the Super Bowl.

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The Titans should explore a QB upgrade

The key word here is “upgrade,” so we’re not talking about a mostly lateral move to someone like Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo. But let’s say Russell Wilson is, in fact, available. Why on Earth shouldn’t they make a call after Tannehill’s three untimely interceptions helped Tennessee go one-and-done as a No. 1 seed? He’s now 0-3 in his last three playoff starts and is fresh off a regressive 2021 campaign. They’re a solid postseason signal-caller away from contending.

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