Can any of the four underdogs pull off an upset in this weekend's NFL Divisional Round? It won't be easy, but it's possible. Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports Jan 13, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) before a 2024 AFC wild card game against the Cleveland Browns at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

A trip to the conference championship looms as we’ve made it to the NFL Divisional Round.

By the end of the weekend, the number of remaining teams will be halved, going from eight to four.

Three of the four games feature a point spread of six or more. As the old saying goes, however, they don’t play the games on paper. Here’s how each underdog could pull off an upset to survive and advance.

Houston Texans (+9.5) vs. Baltimore Ravens

The Texans were perhaps the NFL’s biggest surprise this season, going 10-7 and winning the AFC South in their first season under rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans and rookie quarterback C. J. Stroud. Stroud’s sensational performance against the Cleveland Browns in Houston’s 45-14 Wild Card Round win added another chapter of lore to his tremendous first season.

Stroud went 16-for-21 for 274 yards and three touchdown passes in the victory. Stroud will need to continue to play mistake-free and efficient football. When the teams met in the season opener, Baltimore came away with a 25-9 win. Even in Stroud’s NFL debut, he took care of the ball (zero interceptions) but was unable to put up any touchdowns against the stingy Ravens defense. Stroud has undeniably grown and become a better player in the past four months, but still has his work cut out for him.

The Texans feasted on Browns quarterback Joe Flacco in their Wild Card win, sacking the 39-year-old four times and grabbing two interceptions, both of which got returned for touchdowns. In the regular season, Houston’s defense was right around league average as a whole, but the rush defense was excellent. The Texans were one of just nine NFL teams to allow less than 100 rushing yards per game.

Baltimore’s offense will be a true test for the Texans, as they come into this game boasting an NFL-best 156.5 rushing yards per game, with quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back Gus Edwards each rushing for 800+ yards this season.

Houston’s best chance to pull out a victory would be to get a couple of early stops against the Ravens’ offense, especially if Baltimore tries to run the ball, and then Stroud and the offense answer the shutdowns with touchdowns. Coming out strong in a tough road environment could flip the script in Houston’s favor.

Green Bay Packers (+9.5) vs. San Francisco 49ers

Switching gears to another young quarterback, the Green Bay Packers and Jordan Love face as big of a challenge as Stroud and the Texans do.

Amazingly, Love had almost the exact same stat line as Stroud in Green Bay’s 48-32 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Love went 16-for-21 for 272 yards and three touchdown passes in his playoff debut. Much like Stroud, Love protected the ball, didn’t try to force anything, and reaped the rewards. Running back Aaron Jones added 118 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, as well.

Winning a playoff game against the Cowboys in Dallas is one thing. It’s impressive but Dallas constantly falls short of expectations in the postseason. Heading to the Bay Area to face the top-seeded Niners is no easy feat for any team, let alone one with a young quarterback.

For the Packers to succeed, Jones will have to have another productive day on the ground. The seventh-year running back has rushed for over 100 yards in four straight games, and the Packers are 4-0 in those games. San Francisco allowed just 89 rushing yards per game in the regular season, third-best in the NFL. Much like the Texans, Green Bay will have to get out to a fast start and try to catch the 49ers off guard. A couple of big runs from Jones could open up the passing game for Love. They also need to hold onto the ball for as long as they can to keep San Francisco’s high-powered offense off the field.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+6.5) vs. Detroit Lions

It’s not that quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Bucs did anything wrong, however, they likely will be the team with the least rooting interest among neutral fans in this weekend’s games. The Lions have captivated the nation after securing their first playoff win in over 30 years when they beat the Los Angeles Rams 24-23 in the Wild Card Round.

Mayfield and Tampa did everything right in the 32-9 Wild Card Round victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, a team who seemingly gave up on the season weeks ago. Mayfield was able to spread the ball around, with five different Tampa receivers recording at least 40 receiving yards and each of his three touchdown passes going to a different Buccaneer.

If Mayfield can once again spread the ball around and force Detroit to keep an eye on every single receiver on the field, Tampa may very well go into Detroit and secure the upset to head back to the NFC Championship for the first time since 2021.

Kansas City Chiefs (+2.5) vs. Buffalo Bills

The Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes. As a result, they’re always a threat to win any game they play in.

On a serious note, it will be fascinating to see how Mahomes’ first career road playoff game goes, especially in a hostile environment like Buffalo. Kansas City’s game plan will remain similar to what it’s been for ages. Get tight end Travis Kelce involved in the offense and if he’s not open, see if Rashee Rice, who had eight receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown in the Wild Card win over the Dolphins, is. In Buffalo’s 20-17 win over Kansas City in Week 14, though, Kelce and Rice combined for 13 receptions and 20 targets but the team still lost.

On defense, the key is pressuring Josh Allen and trying to force the sometimes-poor decision-maker into throwing interceptions. He’s thrown just three in six career (postseason included) games against Kansas City, a number the Chiefs will have to raise Sunday if they want to advance to yet another AFC Championship.