NFL Divisional Playoff Preview
Well it was an eventful Wildcard weekend with six, mostly exciting, playoff games setting the stage for this week’s divisional round. The Jaguars staged a miracle comeback to take out the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Bills and Bengals withstood surprisingly close challenges to win their games. The 49ers and Cowboys cruised to victories in their matchups, while the Giants finally snapped the Vikings streak of good luck. Now a look ahead to the four games this weekend, including, the first playoff games for the Eagles and Chiefs.
4. Jaguars vs 1. Chiefs Saturday, January 21 at 3:30pm CT on NBC:
The Jaguars (10-8) looked horrible in the opening half of their game against the Chargers Saturday. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw four interceptions and Jacksonville trailed 27-7 after two quarters but then a switch flipped and the Jags went off. With the help of a Los Angeles meltdown, the home team outscored the Chargers 24-3 in the second half to win 31-30.
The Chiefs (14-3) once again secured the top seed in the AFC playoffs thanks to superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Andy Reid‘s team adjusted well to the loss of speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill and led the NFL in yards per game and in points per game in the regular season. Kansas City’s defense is solid, if not spectacular, sitting just outside the top 10.
The Jaguars are not going to be able to get away with a bad start against a loaded Chiefs squad. Jacksonville’s defense did stiffen in the second half to allow the comeback to happen which is a positive. Kansas City has also had a habit of letting inferior teams hang around in games this season. Still, I think the talent gap is too wide and the home team will take home a 34-24 victory.
6. Giants vs 1. Eagles Saturday, January 21 at 7:15pm CT on FOX:
The Giants (10-7-1) pulled off a mild upset to beat the Vikings in Minneapolis Sunday. Quarterback Daniel Jones used his legs and his arm while running back Saquon Barkley made several dynamic plays to outlast the Vikings. New York also did an excellent job shutting down stud receiver Justin Jefferson in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles (14-3) got off to a tremendous start in 2022 and were the last team to lose a game. QB Jalen Hurts was having an MVP season before he injured his shoulder against the Bears. Philadelphia lost both games Hurts missed but he returned for a Week 18 victory over the Giants. This was a team with a top-five offense and defense in the regular season.
The Giants are playing their best football of the season and intra-divisional matchups are always close. The big question is the status of Hurts, who was rusty in his return game. It is unclear if he is fully recovered from his shoulder injury which would give New York a major opening. I think it will be an old fashioned NFC East defensive battle that the Eagles will take 20-17.
3. Bengals vs 2. Bills Sunday, January 22 at 2:00pm CT on CBS:
The Bengals (13-4) were able to come out on top in a defensive struggle against Baltimore on Sunday night. The Ravens were on the verge of going ahead when quarterback Tyler Huntley fumbled on the goal line and Cincinnati returned it 98-yards for the winning touchdown. Joe Burrow had a difficult game as an injury to the left tackle exposed the star QB to a heavy pass rush.
The Bills (14-3) had an emotional game against the Miami Dolphins and they struggled but ultimately took home the win. The crowd was charged with emotion with the news that Damar Hamlin was back at home watching the game after being released from the hospital. Quarterback Josh Allen committed three turnovers to briefly give Miami a second-half lead before going back up and hanging on to 34-31 win.
Obviously the previous matchup between these two teams was canceled due to the Hamlin emergency, which will be on everyone’s mind. I don’t think anyone knows what effect that will have on the game. I’m going to try and make a football prediction separate from that. I think Josh Allen will continue to be sloppy and Cincinnati will take advantage and pull out a 30-27 upset.
5. Cowboys vs 2. 49ers Sunday, January 22 at 5:30pm CT on FOX:
The Cowboys (13-5) played an outstanding game to dominate Tampa Bay on Monday night. The defense beat up on Tom Brady and quarterback Dak Prescott had a mistake free performance as Dallas rolled. The degree of difficulty will increase dramatically when the Cowboys head to the Bay Area Sunday.
The Niners (14-4) got off to a bit of a slow start against the Seahawks Saturday and actually trailed at the half. Then they put the hammer down, scoring three straight touchdowns to bury Seattle 41-23. Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel both had explosive plays and the defense mauled Geno Smith in the second half.
The Cowboys should be able to hang in this game but it’s very hard to pick against San Francisco. I don’t think Prescott will be able to play a mistake free game this week. The 49ers can be susceptible to the pass, so Dallas will hit some big plays. In the end, however, the home team is just too good and San Francisco will prevail 31-20.