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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Is the NFL Seeing a Changing of the Guard?

  • League loses popular Cowboys, Steelers, and Eagles teams in the Wild Card round.
  • Lions, Texans, and Buccaneers move into the spotlight.
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has enjoyed a steady run of success in its 2023 season, including banner regular-season TV ratings and attendance, plus a beginning to its postseason that included a U.S. streaming record and Fox’s best wild-card audience since 2015. But the league now moves to its divisional playoff round without several of its most popular franchises. 

Losses by the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Philadelphia Eagles over the league’s Super Wild Card Weekend left the NFL without its Nos. 1, 3, and 4 most popular teams, as measured by social media followings. Three of the four most-watched individual NFL games during the 2023 regular season also involved the Cowboys or Eagles. 

In their place are a series of upstart teams:

  • The Detroit Lions hosted and won their first playoff game in 30 years, beating the Super Bowl LVI champion Los Angeles Rams, and they will now host another postseason game on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
  • The Houston Texans advanced to the divisional round for just the fifth time in franchise history, thanks in part to rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud.
  • And a post-Tom Brady Buccaneers team is riding a new wave of success with journeyman quarterback Baker Mayfield. 

The NFL is hardly hurting for star power among its remaining playoff teams. In particular, the Kansas City Chiefs and their Taylor Swift-influenced following will face the Buffalo Bills in a divisional-round rematch of their epic overtime playoff game two years ago, with CBS gaining the coveted late-Sunday broadcast slot. The Green Bay Packers also enjoy one of the league’s broadest bases of fan support, ranking fifth among NFL teams in social media followers. But the remaining teams still showcase something of a changing of the guard from some of the most iconic franchises.

“We were underdogs. We’re going to be underdogs next week, too,” Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles said. “We understand that. We embrace it. We like it.”

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