Analysis

NFL Super Wild Card Weekend: Biggest winners and losers from Saturday's games

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Just a month ago, the New England Patriots were the AFC's No. 1 seed. After just one day of the postseason, they are finished, swept away by their own ill-timed slump and the Buffalo Bills, who delighted in pouring it on their hated rival on a frigid night that did nothing to dull the celebration of the frozen fans. If the Bills began the season as the biggest threat to the Kansas City Chiefs' preeminence in the AFC, the first day of Super Wild Card Weekend presented another possible hurdle. The Cincinnati Bengals held on in a nail-biter against the Las Vegas Raiders, announcing the arrival of another young quarterback -- Joe Burrow -- to challenge Patrick Mahomes. It is a delicious possibility that Mahomes, Burrow and Josh Allen will fight over the conference for the next decade or so. Maybe Mac Jones will eventually join them. But Saturday's games sent the Patriots back to their rebuilding and the Raiders into another franchise overhaul.

WINNERS

The city of Cincinnati: The biggest crowd in Paul Brown Stadium history caused three Raiders false starts in the first quarter, never sat down and never let up. This felt like an exorcism of decades of futility and helped give the Bengals their first playoff victory in 31 years. Bengals coach Zac Taylor gave the entire city a game ball.

Joe Burrow: Go find the video of Burrow's second quarter in-stride rope to C.J. Uzomah that whizzed right past Divine Deablo's ear for a 29-yard gain. Or the acrobatic, leaping touchdown pass just as he was about to go out of bounds (set aside the fact it should have been waved off because of an inadvertent whistle). Or his mind meld with Ja'Marr Chase, who had nine catches for 116 yards. Burrow was 24-of-34 for 244 yards and two touchdowns in his first playoff game and his cool post-game demeanor suggests this is exactly what he was expecting. The rest of us should expect it, too. A top-five quarterback now plays for the Bengals.

The Bills: Their manhandling of the Patriots was a resounding reminder of what a masterful job of team building has been performed in Buffalo since 2018, when the Bills had a rookie Josh Allen and a whole lot of money being paid to players who were no longer on the team. The Bills are the new boss of the AFC East, and it was hard not to feel like they were delivering a message with this stomping. But the Bills have been talking about the Chiefs being kings of the AFC hill since they lost the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium last year. The Bills have won five in a row, but their two best performances of the year came in their last two games against the Patriots -- there were real struggles against the Falcons and Jets at home in the final two games of the regular season. Now it's time to play like this against an even greater opponent than the Patriots next week -- likely the Chiefs again.

Josh Allen: He rifled passes, he broke ankles, there was nothing the Bills quarterback couldn't do Saturday night. Allen was a one-man wrecking crew -- throwing for 308 yards and rushing for 66 more -- but the Bills' offense collectively was unstoppable. They scored a touchdown on each of their four first-half possessions, running out to a 27-0 lead. Getting out to a lead was a point of emphasis for the Bills, who wanted to force the game into Mac Jones' hands. Done. Then they kept going. The Bills haven't punted against the Patriots since early in the third quarter of the first meeting between these teams this season. The Bills finished with a perfect offensive performance, scoring a touchdown on every single drive until the kneel down. Bills defensive tackle Harrison Phillips raved about the offense saying, "That sounds like some Pop Warner stuff. Maybe you did it on Madden."

Micah Hyde: The Bills safety gets singled out from an outstanding overall defensive effort because of one of the most athletic and timely plays you'll ever see. With the Bills leading by a touchdown, but the Patriots moving the ball at will on their first possession of the game, quarterback Mac Jones had the Patriots with a first down at the Bills' 34-yard line. He heaved a pass toward Nelson Agholor, who was streaking down the left sideline -- wide open -- into the end zone. Hyde had an angle and raced to the spot where Agholor would have met the pass. Tracking the ball all the way, Hyde made a Willie Mays-style catch, turning a certain touchdown into a jaw-dropping interception that ended the Patriots' early momentum. The Patriots' offense never recovered its rhythm.

The Bills' coordinators: Both offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier are candidates for head coaching jobs. This game will be a nice line on their résumés.

The Patriots: Yes, they got blown out in the wild-card game, but the Patriots rebuilt in one season and went to the playoffs with a rookie quarterback. This game exposed their holes, but that is a win by any measure except maybe the one where Tom Brady is the measuring stick.

LOSERS

Bengals' red zone offense: Strange to say this about a winning team, but the Bengals left too many points on the field, settling for field goals following a Derek Carr fumble and after starting a drive on the Raiders' 45-yard line, allowing the Raiders to hang around after the Bengals had dominated the first half. Later, a long drive stalled on the Raiders' 25-yard line and another on the 10-yard line, with a chance to get the Bengals a two touchdown lead with less than 7 minutes to play. The Bengals got away with it against the Raiders, but as they move on and face better opponents, their red zone struggles could come back to bite them.

The Raiders: A huge missed opportunity to steal the win, especially against an injury depleted defensive line that was getting little pass rush at the end of the game. Beyond ending the season with a fourth-down interception from the Bengals' 9-yard line -- and wasting a down by spiking the ball with 29 seconds left -- the Raiders now head into an offseason that likely includes significant changes. Interim coach Rich Bisaccia did admirable work holding the Raiders together and getting them into the playoffs after a season marked by incredible tumult, but the Raiders are expected to conduct a full coaching search. And then decisions will have to be made by the Raiders and Derek Carr about his future. (UPDATE: On Monday, the Raiders fired general manager Mike Mayock after three seasons on the job.)

Officiating: It's never good when the league sends word during a game that it will have a statement about a controversial call. An inadvertent whistle during a Bengals touchdown pass necessitated the statement, which said the whistle came after the touchdown catch was made although video replay suggested that was not the case. The administration of the game was messy beyond that (officials granted the Raiders a timeout as the Bengals snapped the ball, then ignored what seemed to be a late hit on Burrow on the same play, for example). Officiating should never be the story after a game and especially not after a playoff game. Alas.

The Patriots: An embarrassing performance, particularly by the defense. Allen ate up man-to-man coverage and Matt Judon got dusted on an early Allen run that went for 26 yards. The collapse of the pass rush contributed mightily to their demise -- they had just two sacks in their last four losses. Those excellent defensive statistics in the regular season -- second in points allowed, fourth in yardage allowed -- were fattened up on weaker opponents. But the Bills made the Patriots look slow and exposed a lack of numbers in coverage players.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter.

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