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Texans' duo of C.J. Stroud and DeMeco Ryans highlights a big season for rookies

Jan. 10—By JOSH DUBOW

C.J. Stroud and DeMeco Ryans made a memorable debut for the Houston Texans.

The rookie quarterback and first-year coach became the fifth set of newcomers in NFL history to make the playoffs after leading a turnaround in Houston from last place to first in the AFC South.

The only other teams to make the playoffs with a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback were the 2012 Colts with Chuck Pagano and Andrew Luck; the 2009 Jets with Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez; the 2008 Falcons with Mike Smith and Matt Ryan; and the 2008 Ravens with John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco.

All four of those teams made the playoffs as wild cards, making the Texans the first team to do it as division champs.

Stroud ended up leading the NFL with a 4.6-1 touchdown to interception ratio, becoming the first rookie to do that since Paul Governali for the 1946 Boston Yanks. He threw for 4,108 yards and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt.

Only eight other QBs in NFL history have thrown for at least 4,000 yards while averaging at least 8.0 yards per attempt and a TD-INT ratio that high: Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson and Alex Smith.

Stroud was one of several rookies rookies who had milestone seasons.

Rams fifth-round receiver Puka Nacua set a pair of records on Jan. 7 when he wrapped up his debut season with 105 catches for 1,486 yards. He broke a 63-year-old record for rookies of 1,473 yards set by Houston's Bill Groman in a 14-game season in 1960 and Jaylen Waddle's record of 104 catches for Miami set in 2021.

The Lions had a pair of rookie playmakers that helped them win their first division title since 1993: first-round running back Jahmyr Gibbs and second-round tight end Sam LaPorta.

Gibbs scored 11 touchdowns and LaPorta had 10, making them the first pair of rookie teammates to score at least 10 touchdowns from scrimmage in NFL history.

LaPorta's 10 TD catches were tied with Rob Gronkowski for the second most for a rookie tight end, behind the 12 by Mike Ditka in 1961. LaPorta's 86 catches this season broke the rookie record for tight ends of 81 set by Keith Jackson in 1988.

LaPorta joined Odell Beckham Jr. as the only rookies with at least 85 catches and 10 TDs in a season.

Rivalry repeat

From the Ice Bowl in the 1960s to matchups between Brett Favre and Troy Aikman in the 1990s to a 2014 contest that was decided partially on an official's decision that Dez Bryant didn't hold on to a catch for Dallas, the Cowboys and Packers have a rich playoff history.

When the teams meet in the wild-card round on Jan. 14, it will be their record-tying ninth postseason matchup, with the teams splitting the first eight.

The Packers and Cowboys also are part of the only other rivalries with nine playoff meetings. Green Bay has played San Francisco nine times, while Dallas has played both the 49ers and Rams nine times.

Division doings

Dallas' win on Jan. 7 against Washington assured the NFC East of a record 19th straight season without a repeat champion.

The last team to win the NFC East in back-to-back seasons was Philadelphia in 2003-04. The Cowboys have the most NFC East titles in that span with seven, followed by the Eagles with six and the Giants and Washington with three apiece.

Tampa Bay and Buffalo extended their streaks of winning the division, with the Bills winning the AFC East for the fourth straight year and the Buccaneers winning the NFC South for a third straight season. Kansas City previously clinched an eighth straight AFC West title that is the second-longest streak ever.

The AFC North set a different mark with all four teams finishing with winning records after the last-place Bengals beat Cleveland to improve to 9-8. It was the first time since the merger that every team in a division finished with a winning record.

Outsiders

Three of the four franchises who have never played in the Super Bowl have reached the playoffs this season.

Houston won the AFC South, Detroit won the NFC North and Cleveland got in as a wild-card team in the AFC, leaving Jacksonville as the only team without a Super Bowl appearance to miss the playoffs.

The Texans open the postseason at home against the Browns on Jan. 13. That will be the first playoff game between teams that have never reached a Super Bowl since the 1999 AFC championship game when Tennessee beat Jacksonville 33-14.

If the Browns win, Joe Flacco would set an NFL record with his eighth road playoff win as a starting quarterback. He is currently tied with Tom Brady for the most ever.

Extra time

A midseason trade and the timing of bye weeks helped Leonard Williams accomplish something that hadn't been done in 93 years.

Williams played in 18 games this season — eight to start the season with the New York Giants and 10 with Seattle following a trade to the Seahawks.

He became the 16th player to appear in at least that many games in the regular season, but it had been a long time since someone had done it.

The last time it happened was in 1930 when Tony Kostos and Cookie Tackwell did it. Kostos is the last player to appear in 19 regular-season games in a season, having done that in 1929.

BROWNS AT TEXANS

What: AFC wild card game

When: 4:30 p.m., Jan. 13

Where: NRG Stadium, Houston

Records: Browns 11-6, Texans 10-7

TV: WKYC; Radio: WKRK-FM 92.3, WNCX-FM 98.5, WKNR-AM 850, WKKY-FM 104.7