NFL PLAYOFFS – DIVISIONAL WEEKEND PREVIEW
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Kansas City Chiefs (Chiefs -8.5)
There have been few more stunning comebacks than the Jacksonville Jaguars digging themselves out of a 27-0 hole last Saturday to book their place in this weekend’s Division round opener. We saw both sides of 2nd year QB Trevor Lawrence – from the 4 picks he threw in the 1st half to the 4 TD passes he then threw to send the stadium nuts! It’s been an incredible run for the Jaguars, who are now riding a 6 game winning streak. Generating confidence, they are going to need in Arrowhead Stadium this weekend.
In his 2nd year in the NFL, Patrick Mahomes went all the way to the AFC Championship game before losing to the Tom Brady led Patriots in overtime. In his 3rd, he led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl triumph in 50 years! Now he’s the favourite to be named the NFL’s MVP for a second time and once again, the Chiefs are the AFC’s no. 1 seed.
When these two met at Arrowhead in the regular season, Kansas City were 27-17 winners. Despite losing WR Tyreek Hill last off season, the Chiefs still finished the year with the league’s no. 1 ranked offense and no. 1 ranked scoring unit (29.2 ppg). Patrick Mahomes finished with more passing yards (5250) and more TD passes (41) than anyone else this season.
Then there’s the Chiefs defense, led by Chris Jones (15.5 sacks this year) and Frank Clark (more post season sacks, 11, than any active player in the playoffs).
For Jaguars head coach, Doug Pederson, this is something of a home coming after spending 2 years in KC on Andy Reid’s coaching staff. The job he’s done in Jacksonville – leading them from the worst record in the NFL to the playoffs – is remarkable. This is where this season’s fairy tale story likely ends though. The Jaguars cannot afford to be as careless as they were last weekend against the Chargers. If they are, the Chiefs will crush them. As it is, Kansas City are seasoned veterans of the playoffs. Patrick Mahomes is playing at a different level to almost anyone else in the NFL right now and we should expect the Chiefs to be ruthless on Saturday evening.
PICK: Kansas City Chiefs – 8.5
New York Giants @ Philadelphia Eagles (Giants points +17.5)
This is an intriguing matchup – not least because of the manner in which the Giants went into Minnesota and took care of business last weekend!
For much of the year, Philadelphia – with the best record in the NFL, 14-3 – have been regarded as the best team but there seems to be a little less certainty about them right now. The biggest question hangs over the QB, Jalen Hurts. He sat out 3 of their last 4 games with a sprained shoulder. Although he returned for the regular season finale – a 22-16 win over the Giants – that was against a New York Giants team resting it’s key starters. So, is Hurts 100 percent? Can he be the same dynamic player, whose accuracy when passing was so much improved prior to the injury?
There are no such questions hanging over Giants QB Daniel Jones. He’s coming off probably his best outing as a pro football player. He was sensational against the Vikings, making plays both with his arm and his legs but this Eagles defensive front is a very different proposition. The Vikings defense has been one of the worst in football this year. The Eagles……one of the best!
Philadelphia added both Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh mid-season to help strengthen their perceived weakness against the run. Their defense ranks 2nd overall, it’s the best defending the pass (179.8 ypg), 3rd in takeaways (27) and 8th in points allowed (20.2 ppg) BUT it is middle of the league, 16th, in defending the run. Allowing 121.6 yards per game. That’s going to be crucial because the Giants offense runs through RB Saquon Barkley.
New York will employ their stud running back early, and often. He finished the regular season with 1365 rushing yards and 12 TDs. Last weekend in Minnesota he scored 2 touchdowns (1 receiving and 1 on the ground) and had 109 total scrimmage yards. If the Eagles can shut down Barkley, they win this game.
In reality, this is likely to turn into an old fashioned NFC East arm wrestle. This is the 3rd meeting between these two this season. Philadelphia have won both of their previous games, but it would be a surprise if this was a repeat of their 48-22 blowout win in early December. The Eagles are the NFC’s no. 1 seed, they have home field advantage, and they should win but expect the Giants to push them all the way and score some points in the process.
PICK: New York Giants points – over 17.5
Cincinnati Bengals @ Buffalo Bills (Bengals points +19.5)
Neither of these teams were overly impressive in progressing last weekend. The Bills squandered a 17-0 lead to a Miami team with a 7th round rookie at quarterback before securing the win late in the 4th quarter. The Bengals were backed up on their own 2 yard line, with Baltimore looking to take the lead before scoring on a 98 yard fumble return and then surviving a Hail Mary attempt as time expired. Both will expect an improved performance this weekend.
Certainly, Buffalo QB Josh Allen is aware he can’t be so careless with the football – he threw 2 interceptions and had a fumble returned for a touchdown against the Dolphins. These mistakes undermine a defense which finished the regular season ranked 2nd only to the 49ers in points allowed (17.9 ppg) and 6th overall. If they give the Bengals good field position, they will be more ruthless than Miami were!
QB Joe Burrow is looking to lead the Bengals to back to back Super Bowl appearances. Their offense finished the regular season ranked 4th overall and they have a receiver, Ja’Marr Chase who is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. He led the team this year in receptions and receiving yards and scored a TD in last weekend’s win over the Ravens.
The Bills offense is explosive though. While Stefon Diggs garners most attention as their leading receiver (108 catches and 1429 receiving yards in ’22), Gabe Davis is someone who seems to come to life in the playoffs. He made some explosive plays last weekend, scored a TD and also scored 4 touchdowns in last year’s playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at this same stage!
History appears to favour Buffalo. Since 1970 they are 13-1 in home playoff games, and they’ve won 2 of their last 3 meetings against the Bengals. However, the Bengals will point to having won both playoff games between these two teams, but they were in Cincinnati. This will be the first ever post season meeting between these two in Buffalo. This will be a competitive game between two teams who know their way to the endzone. The Bengals have scored 20 or more points in each of their last 8 games, including last weekend’s playoff win, and they will do so again here.
PICK: Cincinnati Bengals points – over 19.5
Dallas Cowboys @ San Francisco 49ers (Cowboys points +22.5)
This matchup conjures great memories of titanic clashes from years gone by. From “the catch” to Jimmy Johnson and his “How about them Cowboys” vitriol. These are two franchises steeped in history and tradition. When these two meet in the playoffs, America pays attention!
The 49ers might be the best team in the NFC right now. They head into Sunday’s matchup riding an 11 game winning streak and with a rookie QB, Brock Purdy, who is 6-0 as a starter in the NFL. Their defense ranks no. 1 overall, no. 1 in points allowed (16.3), no. 2 against the run and 2nd in takeaways with 28 this season AND they beat this weekend’s opponents in the playoffs last year – in Dallas.
Everything’s looking good right now for San Francisco and yet, if they are to make it to the Super Bowl, these Cowboys might provide their toughest challenge en-route.
Dallas have the top scoring offense since Dak Prescott returned from injury in week 7, averaging around 32 points per game. Last weekend they not only beat Tom Brady for the first time, but they became the first team in 21 years to keep a Tom Brady led offense scoreless in the first half.
Their defense leads the NFL in takeaways this season (33), they have the 4th most sacks (54), they’re 5th in points allowed (20.1) and while the 49ers defense have a game wrecker in Nick Bosa, the Cowboys have Micah Parsons. The pair have combined for 33 sacks between them this year!
It’s a truly fascinating matchup!
Rookie QB Brock Purdy has looked superb everytime he’s taken the field but what happens if Dallas generate the kind of pressure that ruined Tom Brady’s night on Monday? How does he react in that situation? Dallas score plenty of points but at times defensively, they’ve looked susceptible to the run (ranked 22nd, 129.3 ypg). Few teams run the ball as well as San Francisco. RB Christian McCaffrey has yet to lose a game since completing his mid-season trade from Carolina. While Deebo Samuel and Brandon Ayiuk are superb open field runners!
Then there’s the X-factor of coaching. 49ers head coach, Kyle Shanahan has been criticised for abandoning the run game at key moments in the post season (notably SB LI v New England and SB LIV v Kansas City) and losing those games despite holding double digit leads. Mike McCarthy was heavily criticised for the manner Dallas lost to San Francisco last season.
With home field advantage, the 49ers are favoured to win and given their recent form, it’s difficult to argue with that. However, expect this to be an entertaining game and expect this Cowboys offense to put points on the scoreboard, regardless of the outcome.
PICK: Dallas Cowboys points – over 22.5