2023 NFL Divisional Playoff Preview

The Green Bay Packers won’t be participating in the NFL Divisional Playoff round for the first time since 2018-2019. After three consecutive appearances between the 2019-2021 regular seasons, they find themselves at home this January. With all of the nauseating Packers talk swirling around on Twitter not even two weeks after seasons end, I wanted to talk about the current games happening today and tomorrow in the NFL Playoffs.

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)

These two teams already played once at Arrowhead Stadium this season and the Chiefs prevailed with a 27-17 win in early November, despite 3 Kansas City turnovers. The Jaguars were sacked 5 times and Kicker Riley Patterson missed two key field goals to keep Jacksonville in a hole. Will the Jaguars be able to provide better pass protection for QB Trevor Lawerence this time around and utilize his legs more in the second matchup? I’m very intrigued to watch the Jaguars offense, rolling with mojo and confidence, to see if they can sustain their success in the electric atmosphere of Kansas City. If the Jaguars are able to sprinkle in an effective run game and protect Lawerence, this game should be really fun.

On the other side of things, we have Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. For the 5th consecutive season, the Chiefs find themselves hosting an AFC Divisional playoff game. The Chiefs are 4-0 in those games thus far. Fresh off a bye week, where Andy Reid is 27-4 in his career, Kansas City should not only be well rested but well prepared and ready to roll. Offensively, it’s important that they don’t get in their own way and continue to stay balanced. The Chiefs are at their worst when they abandon the running game and put everything on the pass protection and Mahomes, as they did in the second half and overtime of last year’s AFC Championship game against Cincinnati. The Jaguars, who didn’t sack Mahomes in their first matchup, will need to find a way to generate more pressure and also stay disciplined in their rush lanes so #15 doesn’t make a bunch of improvised plays with his legs. Tall order but possible.

With potential snow in the forecast, this game has all the makings of an entertaining and fun matchup to kick off the weekend. With that said, I can’t fade the Chiefs, who are arguably the best team in football, at home. I think it’ll be competitive but ultimately Kansas City comes out with the win, 30-24.

New York Giants (10-7-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)

The Giants are fresh off their wild card victory in Minnesota while the Eagles took the week to rest and get ready for a potential Super Bowl run. These divisional rivals played twice in the regular season and the Eagles went 2-0. In the first matchup where all starters were playing, Philadelphia trounced New York in every direction to an emphatic 48-22 win. In the second matchup, the Eagles were forced to play their starters due to playoff seeding while the Giants rested many key players having already locked up the #6 seed in the NFC. The G-men were surprisingly competitive in the contest and hung around until the very end with Davis Webb at QB but ultimately fell 22-16. All of the ingredients are present for a Giants upset in this matchup.

The reason I say that is because the Giants have found their mojo again. After starting the season 6-1, they went 1-4-1 in their next 6 games and were officially deemed frauds by most. However, the team was able to rebound and eventually clinched a playoff berth in Week 17 with a 38-10 drubbing of the Colts, playing their best game of the season. The week after was the Eagles game I already mentioned and they rolled into Minnesota with confidence.

We all saw what the Giants did last week against the Vikings. Daniel Jones ran it. Daniel Jones passed it. Receivers caught it. Saquon went crazy. Giants DT Dexter Lawrence was unstoppable and the returns of CB Adoree’ Jackson and Safety Xavier McKinney provided boosts to the secondary. Right now, the New York Giants are playing with swagger and belief and that is a dangerous combination for an opponent in the playoffs.

The Eagles, the #1 seed in the NFC, will have quite the challenge in front of them Saturday night. They fizzled down the stretch on offense after Jalen Hurts’ injury and in his first game back two weeks ago, he looked fine, not spectacular. The question with tonight’s game is how much can the Eagles get rolling on offense again? If they come out with the wheels greased and the motor purring, they’re capable of scoring 35+. However, against a division rival playing good football, that’s going to be really difficult to do.

The Eagles defense is one of the best in football. While they can be susceptible against the run (like we saw in the Packers game), they led the NFL in sacks by a wide margin and their secondary is full of good players like Darius Slay, James Bradberry and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Even if the Eagles offense looks a little sluggish, the defense should keep them in the game against a confident but underwhelming Giants supporting cast.

Ultimately, I think the difference in this game will come down to talent, which the Eagles have more of than the Giants. While I believe New York will punch all night long, I think the Eagles survive and advance with a 20-17 win.

Cincinnati Bengals (13-4) at Buffalo Bills (14-3)

These two teams met just three weeks ago when Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field and went into cardiac arrest in the 1st Quarter, which ultimately led to a cancellation of the game. It’s great, heartwarming and miraculous to know that Damar is recovering from that life threatening incident, even as he has a long road ahead of him in his recovery. He was at the Bills practice facility almost every day this week, which is amazing to hear.

In regards to the game tomorrow, the Bengals will be without 3 starting offensive lineman, including their two tackles. While the Buffalo pass rush hasn’t been the same since Von Miller’s injury, they still should be able to capitalize a number of times on this major deficiency for Cincinnati. Joe Burrow will have to get the ball out quickly more often than not, limiting the Bengals big play shots on offense to their star wide receivers in Ja’marr Chase and Tee Higgins.

Buffalo needs to get out of their own way on offense. If Josh Allen doesn’t turn the ball over, the Bills will very likely win this game. They need to sprinkle in the run more often than not and Allen needs to take what the defense gives him. Last week against Miami, Allen threw 11 (!) passes of 20+ yards or more down the field. While the big play is fun and exciting, Buffalo’s quarterback will need to be a lot smarter and not give the Bengals defense free points or short fields.

I do consider Josh Allen an elite quarterback in this league, despite some of his head scratching decisions at times. There are too many factors going in favor for Buffalo in this game for me to pick against them on their home field. I like the Bills to win, 26-17.

Dallas Cowboys (13-5) at San Francisco 49ers (14-4)

This is a rematch of the 2021-22 Wild Card, when the 49ers went into Dallas and upset the Cowboys en route to an NFC Championship appearance. The Cowboys are looking for revenge and just might get it, coming into this game riding high with confidence.

Last week against the Buccaneers, Dallas did pretty much whatever they wanted, other than convert extra points. They passed the ball effectively, they ran the ball well and the defense was lockdown. In my opinion, the Cowboys are very capable of beating anyone on any given day but their execution has been inconsistent through out the season.

I think it’s important to recognize that the Bucs were not a very good football team this year. While they did win the NFC South and stumbled into a home playoff game, they finished the season 8-10 and were gross to watch all year. Credit to Dallas for taking care of business but let’s not blow the win out of proportion.

With that said, this game all starts with the Cowboys offense. If Dallas is able to put points on the board, that puts the pressure on the 49ers to keep up, which suits Dallas’ defense perfectly, given their ability to get after the quarterback and force turnovers in the secondary. If the Cowboys offense is a dud tomorrow night, the 49ers will build a lead and likely never look back.

Prescott will need to play a good game and have time to survey the field. The Cowboys will need to be able to manageably run the ball to take the pressure off the passing game. It will be challenging against a very good 49ers defense but the San Francisco defense has shown more cracks in their armor recently. I think Dallas will be able to put up the points they need to in order to keep them in this game.

On the flip side, the 49ers just might be the best team in football. They are winners of 11 straight games and dismantled the Seahawks last weekend, despite a poor first half of football. They seemingly do everything well, all the time and look determined as ever to get back to the Super Bowl.

When it’s all said and done, I think the Cowboys will give the 49ers everything they can handle and more tomorrow night. I believe Dallas will score enough points and I think the game will ultimately come down to the Cowboys defense needing a stop against Brock Purdy late in the game. My prediction is an upset and I see the Cowboys finding a way and moving on to the NFC Championship game. I’ll go Dallas 26, San Francisco 24.

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Alex grew up in a family of Chicago Bears fans in the suburbs of Chicago but was always a Packers guy. Alex\'s AIM name when he was in elementary/middle school was PackerAlex. He now lives in Nashville, Tennessee and you can follow him on twitter at @Alex_Mayer93.

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