2022/23 NFL Divisional Round: Teams’ strengths and weaknesses | Possible playoff upsets
There are eight teams left in the NFL playoffs as we head into the Divisional Round. Let’s take a look at what to expect from each one.
You may deem the name “Super Wild Card Weekend” inappropriate, seeing as none of the teams in it are wild cards, but you can’t deny that the super wild part was definitely there this year! From Trevor Lawrence’s four straight interceptions turned four straight touchdowns and the Jaguars’ huge comeback win, to the Giants upset over the Vikings, to the Cowboys destroying Brady and the Bucs, we had ourselves a good time this Wild Card Weekend.
Now, we look ahead to the (more appropriately-named) Divisional Round. The No. 1 seeds in the AFC, Kansas City Chiefs and NFC, Philadelphia Eagles enter into the mix. Bye weeks are typically an advantage, yet last year, both top seeds, the Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packer, were sent home in the second round after having the bye week in the first round. So you NEVER KNOW.
Will there be upsets this week? I hope so. Who doesn’t love a good upset?? Let’s take a look at some of the team’s strengths and weaknesses and see what we can expect heading into the NFL Divisional Round this weekend.
No. 4 Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET
It would be very difficult to bet against the Chiefs in this game, and I am not going to. First of all, Andy Reid has been coaching for 24 years and is 28-5 coming off bye weeks, including in the playoffs. And Patrick Mahomes is 9-1 coming off bye weeks. Of course, Doug Pederson, who spent 10 years playing and coaching with Reid, may just know what it takes to buck that trend. And Trevor Lawrence, as long as he can avoid throwing four interceptions again, could have what it takes to put up a fight against the Chiefs defense. But let’s look at this logically.
The Chiefs’ greatest strength is not just their quarterback, but his connection to tight end Travis Kelce. Of 152 targets, Kelce caught 110 in the regular season. The Jaguars biggest weakness is their defense, particularly against tight ends. They surrendered 1,087 receiving yards and 13.1 yards per reception to tight ends this year. Kelce is likely to rack up the yardage against the Jags on Saturday.
The last time these two teams faced each other was in November, when Jacksonville allowed Mahomes 331 yards and four touchdowns as the Chiefs won 27-17. Though the Jaguars defense has improved (they held the Chargers to just three points in the second half of the Wild Card game last week), they are going to need to do whatever it takes to slow down Mahomes and Kelce if they want to have a chance at winning.
The Jaguars’ strength is in their offense and their head coach Doug Pederson. They have won six straight now and a lot of that credit should go to Trevor Lawrence, who helped take them to the third-largest comeback in NFL postseason history last week against the Chargers. After going 5-of-18 for 35 yards and four interceptions, Lawrence came back on his last five drives to complete 23 of 29 passes for 253 yards and four touchdowns to pull off the 31-30 victory. They are going to need that aggressiveness from the beginning against the Chiefs though. A slow start will not do this week.
Prediction: Chiefs win
No. 6 New York Giants at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET
I want to say that this won’t be a complete Eagles blowout win, but I am not sure I believe it. The only thing keeping me from being certain of it though, is that Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts has only played one game in the last month and is rusty as he recovers. Even still, that was the case in Week 18, and the Giants still lost, so…
Look, the Giants had a great story, making it to the playoffs and upsetting the Vikings in the Wild Card round. But now they’ll face the Eagles no. 6 ranked defense on the road. It’s a different story completely.
In the regular season, the Eagles swept the Giants, the first game being a 48-22 blowout. Though the second game was a struggle, it was still a win. The Eagles, in my opinion, were just having an off day with their quarterback returning from an injury.
Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley are the Giants’ greatest strengths. Against the Vikings last week, Jones became the first player in playoff history to record over 300 passing yard, two touchdowns, and over 70 rushing yards in his first postseason start. Barkley recorded 109 yards from scrimmage and had two touchdowns in the game last week, but the was only able to muster 28 yards in the first game against the Eagles and 32 in the second.
An upset is of course possible. The Giants will have three key players back, Adoree’ Jackson, Xavier McKinney, and Leonard Williams, who were out the last time they played the Eagles. While I expect this will help them do better against the Eagles, I don’t expect it will be enough to pull off the upset. Hurts had a total of 446 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception over the two games against the Giants this regular season. Now that he’s better, even if he’s still a little wonky, I think he will be the deciding factor in their win over the Giants.
Prediction: Eagles win
No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals at No. 2 Buffalo Bills
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET
No matter who you pick here, this is going to be the best game to watch, and certainly the most emotional. The last time these two teams met, the game was canceled when Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field. Hamlin is doing way better, was at the teams’ facilities last week, and could be in attendance at the game with his family. The Bills will have that to motivate them. They also get home-field advantage and are 7-1 at home this season.
Both the Bengals and Bills let their Wild Card opponents get much closer than they should have. The Bills were up against the Dolphins, who nearly pulled off an upset with their third-string rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson in, going on a 17-0 run in the second quarter to tie the game, followed by a defensive fumble recovery for a touchdown in the second half to take the lead. The Bills were the biggest favorites in Wild Card history, and they struggled to get a 34-31 win. Josh Allen threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions and had three fumbles. The Bengals also had a close call against the Ravens last week, with Tyler Huntley and J.K. Dobbins giving them quite the challenge. If it weren’t for the Bengals DE Sam Hubbard’s fumble recovery for a touchdown, they may not have pulled off the 24-17 win. I expect both teams to play better against each other this week, but last week was surprising on both accounts.
The Bills have committed at least three turnovers in each of their last three games. Josh Allen has thrown 16 interceptions and lost six fumbles on the season, making the most turnovers of any quarterback this season. The Bills defense could also beat up on Joe Burrow, getting some sacks here and there, but Burrow has had fewer turnovers. This year, when Burrow was sacked more than five times, the Bengals went 0-3. When Burrow was sacked fewer than five times, they were 13-1. If the Bengals o-line can keep the sacks to a minimum, their chances look good. Another note worth mentioning is that Burrow has never, not once, lost a game in the month of January. It will be a close game, but I’m taking the Bengals on this one.
Prediction: Bengals win
No. 5 Dallas Cowboys at No. 2 San Francisco 49ers
I have to go with the Dallas upset here. It’s hard to say it out loud for me. I do not enjoy betting on or against the Dallas Cowboys, mainly because they are just so consistently inconsistent. But here we go, that’s my pick and I’m stickin’ to it.
This is a rematch of last years’ postseason matchup between the Niners and Cowboys, which ended in the worst possible way for Dallas. Don’t remember? Here…have a refresher.
Dallas will need to get their run game going this time, which they should be able to do with Tony Pollard getting 77 yards alone in the game against their Wild Card victory over Buccaneers last week. Last year, they had just 77 rushing yards total in their loss to the Niners. The Cowboys offense will be up against defensive beast Nick Bosa so they will have to be careful not to be so turnover-happy.
Another thing that helps me feel a little more confident against the Niners here is the fact that they are starting their third-string quarterback. Though Brock Purdy’s story has been incredible and he’s beaten many odds, it’s still hard to see him breaking the stats of rookie quarterbacks in the playoffs. Only four rookie quarterbacks have ever made it to a conference title game and those were Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, and Shaun King. Purdy could be the fifth, but I don’t think so.
More worrisome than Purdy is that the Niners have Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel on their offense. But the Cowboys have CeeDee Lamb, Dalton Schultz, and Tony Pollard to boast on their offense as well. In fact, these two offenses have been the two highest-scoring teams in the league since Week 7. As far as defenses go, the two are a pretty even matchup there as well. Both are in the top five for fewest points allowed in the regular season.
Now, if this game gets down to the wire, the Cowboys are going to need their kicker Brett Maher to get way over his bad case of the yips though if they want to win.
Prediction: Cowboys win
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