History was made on the first day of the NFL postseason, thanks to the presence of C.J. Stroud. Making his playoff debut at 22 years and 102 days old, Stroud became the youngest quarterback to ever win a playoff game in NFL history in the Houston Texans' blowout victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Stroud has been the franchise quarterback Houston envisioned -- and more. The Cinderella run of Joe Flacco and the Cleveland Browns unfortunately came to an end as a result. The Kansas City Chiefs dismantled the Miami Dolphins in the nightcap, known more for the freezing cold conditions (-4 at kickoff) than the play on the field.
With Saturday's wild card games in the rearview, here's what we learned from both contests and how that will carry over to the divisional round and next week.
C.J. Stroud had the best playoff game for a rookie in NFL history
With all due respect to Slingin' Sammy Baugh throwing three touchdown passes in the 1937 NFL Championship Game (a 27-21 Washington victory over the Chicago Cardinals), Stroud arguably had a playoff debut that will be hard to top.
In his first career playoff start, Stroud completed 16 of 21 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns in the Texans' 45-14 victory over the Browns. Stroud set the rookie marks for completion percentage (76.2%), passer rating (157.2) and margin of victory by a rookie quarterback in a playoff game (31). He tied the rookie mark for most pass touchdowns (three) in a playoff game.
Stroud is the first rookie quarterback to defeat a former Super Bowl-winning quarterback in a playoff game (rookies previously went 0-5 in such games). He finished with the fourth-best passer rating in a game for any quarterback in NFL history.
This was the best performance the NFL has seen for a rookie quarterback in the postseason. Just a continuation of one of the best rookie seasons ever for a quarterback.
Browns defense showed its true colors on the road
The Browns ended up with the No. 1 defense in yards per possession (20.7) and No. 2 in points per possession (1.43) this season, in the conversation for the best defense in the NFL. For as good as the Browns defense was, they weren't as dominant on the road as they were at home.
Cleveland led the NFL in points per game allowed at home (13.9), but were 31st in the same category on the road (29.6). The 215.9 yards per game allowed at home was first in the NFL, but the 331.3 yards per game allowed on the road was 12th. There were signs the Browns were going to give up points and yards.
The Browns defense gave up 31 points (Joe Flacco gave up two interception returns for touchdowns for 45 points) and 356 yards. The Texans scored touchdowns on four of six offensive possessions, and scoring drives on five of seven possessions. In between was the two interception returns for touchdowns.
This defense was mediocre at best on the road in the 2023 season. They lived up to that in the playoff game.
Chiefs always Super Bowl contenders with Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes
This shouldn't need to be explained, yet it has to be broken down because the Chiefs didn't (gasp) have home-field advantage in the playoffs. Didn't matter in the extremely cold Arrowhead Stadium as the Chiefs blew out the Dolphins.
Mahomes and Reid already have their 12th playoff victory together, the third-most by a quarterback-head coach duo in NFL history (only Bill Belichick-Tom Brady and Chuck Noll-Terry Bradshaw have more). Mahomes tied Brady for the most playoff wins by a quarterback (12) before turning 30.
Mahomes was flawless in the win, finishing 23 of 41 for 262 yards with a touchdown and an 83.6 rating. He found his playmakers in Rashee Rice and Travis Kelce to ride the passing game and had 41 rushing yards on two carries to significantly aid the run game.
Reid notched his 23rd playoff victory and a playoff win in his sixth consecutive season, second most in NFL history behind Belichick in both categories. He continues to go deep in January, reaching the divisional round of the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year and the seventh time in eight years.
Even though the Chiefs were 11-6 and only the No. 3 seed, their victory over the Dolphins just proves Reid and Mahomes should never be counted out this time of year. They won two Super Bowls over the last four years for a reason.
Dolphins are who we thought they were
Miami struggled against teams that finished with a winning record all season. Tua Tagovailoa can't win in temperatures under 50 degrees. Mike McDaniel's high-powered offense struggled against winning teams.
All of these narratives about the Dolphins were true in the wild card blowout loss to the Chiefs.
The Dolphins were 1-5 against teams that finished with a winning record in the regular season, averaging 18.4 points per game. They faced a winning team on Saturday, lost and scored seven points. Their -110 point differential against the playoff teams was the second worst in a season for a playoff team all time (1994 Bears). Miami averaged 16.1 points per game against playoff teams and 35.5 points per game against non-playoff teams.
As for Tagovailoa? He is now 1-7 when the game-time temperature starts below 50 degrees. He finished 20 of 39 for 199 yards with a touchdown and one interception (63.9 rating), altering his mark to nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions when the game-time temperature is below 50 degrees (70.9 rating).
Those narratives about the Dolphins? They were all true.
Rashee Rice is WR1
Those paying attention to the Chiefs over the second half of the season were already aware of the upward trajectory Rice was ascending. Rice had 79 catches for 938 yards and seven touchdowns in his rookie season with the Chiefs, as the second-round pick (the one the Chiefs acquired in the Tyreek Hill trade) was becoming the No. 1 target on the outside for Patrick Mahomes.
Over his last six games, Rice had 43 catches for 518 yards in his last six games, so a huge playoff debut might have been expected. His 130 receiving yards were the most for a rookie wide receiver in a home game in NFL playoff history, and the sixth most by any rookie in a playoff game.
Rice finished with eight catches for 130 yards and a touchdown in his playoff debut, a very reliable weapon for Mahomes in the frigid temperatures. The Chiefs pass catchers have struggled this seaosn, but Rice is a new hope for an offense that needs young playmakers.
He delivered a No. 1 wide receiver performance in the playoff opener.