The NFL playoffs got underway last week, and in this round, we had the last 8 battling. Our two 1-seeds finally joined the party, with Kansas City and Philadelphia playing their first games of the postseason. Spoiler alert: both won, though one team had a much easier time with their opponent. We got our Bengals-Bills matchup that was short-circuited in week 17 by Damar Hamlin’s awful medical situation (keep sending him your well wishes!). Read on below to see how two 1-seeds, a 2-seed, and a 3-seed moved on to the conference title games in my divisional round takeaways. The games are sorted based on when they occurred (earliest first), separated by conference.
(1) Philadelphia Eagles 38, (6) New York Giants 7
If you tuned out at halftime, I understand. Yes, we saw a 27-0 comeback just a week ago, but the Jaguars were shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly. When NYG went down 28-0 at the half, there were no signs of life anywhere. The Giants didn’t score their first points until halfway through the third quarter. Philadelphia took full advantage of its needed bye week, most notably enjoying the return of RT Lane Johnson from injury. Jalen Hurts, who seems to be feeling much better in his shoulder, must have loved his lockdown blocker keeping him clean all night. Hurts (16/24, 154 yards, 2 TDs; 34 yards, TD on the ground) ran much more than he did in week 18, but he still looked hesitant to take hits. This was key, because he didn’t have to in this contest. The Eagles scored on their opening drive and pitched a shutout for 2.5 quarters. TE Dallas Goedert (5/58/1) made a handful of fantastic catches, while RB Miles Sanders (17/90) was unstoppable whenever he was deployed. Sanders won the battle with Saquon Barkley (9/61) for best Penn State RB of the night.
New York either needs to burn this tape or learn a lot from it. The G-Men fell behind by large amounts early in their previous two matchups with the Eagles, but this was even worse. Their first drive ended in a 4th and 8 sack, and their second ended in an ugly pick. Jones went 15/27 for 135 yards and that INT, and he only ran for 24 yards on the ground. He even had an issue with his contact lens that forced NYG to burn a timeout. The team’s lack of receiving talent was on display more in this game than at any point this season. It had to hurt to see former Giants Evan Engram and Kadarius Toney putting up career years with Jacksonville and Kansas City, respectively. The offensive line was decent despite the 5 sacks allowed; most were products of nobody being open down the field. Their defense was disappointing, but the talent gap between these two teams is proof of how far the Giants have to go. Coach Brian Daboll did a great job, a coach of the year job in fact, this season, but he needs better players. Philly is back to feeling great about their Super Bowl prospects, but they should be wary: SF is going to provide a MUCH stiffer test.
(2) San Francisco 49ers 19, (5) Dallas Cowboys 12
Dak Prescott, this game was on you. I don’t blame the defense at all; they held their own and kept SF below 20 points, only starting to break after being worn down as a result of their own offense not holding the ball. I don’t blame special teams; Kavontae Turpin had a couple of great kick returns. K Brett Maher, after last week’s debacle, had his first PAT blocked, and it likely was going wide left anyway. Still, he made both of his FGs (including a potential job-saver from 43 yards), and I’m not blaming him either. Going up against the #1 defense was always expected to be difficult, but Prescott utterly failed. He threw 2 ghastly INTs. One set up an FG drive for SF, and the other short-circuited a likely scoring drive of their own. Prescott finished 23/37 for 206 yards, a TD, and 2 INTs. His Achilles heel all season has been turnovers, and it finally sunk the Cowboys. Brock Purdy, his counterpart, didn’t have a particularly great game himself (19/29 for 214 yards), but he was efficient and didn’t make mistakes.
San Francisco had their own struggles against the Dallas D. They only averaged 3.5 yards per carry (Christian McCaffrey had just 57 scrimmage yards, though he did score. Purdy was under pressure often, and their drives stalled in the red zone. PR Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled a punt return, which led to a Dallas FG, but he did redeem himself with a return past midfield on the next play. However, the field position was wasted by a 3-and-out. On the positive side, K Robbie Gould is still perfect in his postseason career, and all 4 of his FGs were necessary. TE George Kittle caught 5 passes for 95 yards, including a circus catch on a ball that was a bit off target. Their defense was aided by not having to deal with Tony Pollard, who hurt his leg (later determined to be broken) in the second quarter and did not return. Expect a bigger challenge from the Eagles next week, but this #1 defense is for real.
RB Elijah Mitchell messed up and went out of bounds while trying to run out the clock, letting Dallas have one more shot. Instead, TE Dalton Schultz made two boneheaded plays. First, he ran backwards after a catch, keeping the clock running despite going out of bounds. Then, he was too casual with a reception, failing to get a second foot in bounds and preventing a Hail Mary opportunity. Regardless, they didn’t play well enough to win the game. Purdy was very poised, as he has been during his entire tenure. The $40M-QB on the other side buckled under pressure, completing 15% fewer passes than expected in such situations according to Next Gen Stats. This was a highly talented team that could have won the Super Bowl; their peak is that good. The inconsistency was always going to take them out of a single-elimination tournament. As for the winners, defense travels well, and this defense is special. Philly hasn’t seen a team like this and might not want to.
(1) Kansas City Chiefs 27, (4) Jacksonville Jaguars 20
It was always going to be an uphill climb for the underdog Jaguars to beat KC at Arrowhead. The Chiefs got off to an immediate lead with a Travis Kelce TD. Kelce was a monster all game, catching a playoff TE record 14 passes for 98 yards and 2 TDs. Patrick Mahomes was making magic, throwing jump passes and sidearm bullets to flummox the Jacksonville defense. However, the Jaguars hung around and were only down 10-7 in the second quarter. Then, Mahomes was sandwiched between Corey Peters and Arden Key. On the play, he hurt his ankle and had a noticeable limp. He soldiered threw a few more plays, but he eventually went into the locker room after heavy tape wasn’t enough to control the pain. Backup Chad Henne came in, and although he only threw for 23 yards of short passes, he led the team on a 98-yard TD drive that put the Chiefs up 17-7. RB Isiah Pacheco (12/95) carried the load while Mahomes was hobbled. When Mahomes came back, he was still good, but is mobility wasn’t the same, and the offense was more labored. He finished 22/30 for 195 yards and 2 TDs, a lower-than-normal output but still free of any mistakes.
The Jaguar defense played tough, allowing just 10 points in the second half behind a disruptive performance from DL Roy Robertson-Harris. This allowed Trevor Lawrence (24/39, 217 yards, TD, INT) and RB Travis Etienne (10/62/1) to get in rhythm, and they got within 3 points despite a drop by WR Christian Kirk on a deep bomb. Down 27-17 and driving, KR/RB Jamal Agnew fumbled the ball inside the KC 5. He was great in the return game (3 KRs for 131 yards), but that fumble arguably cost them the game. Lawrence threw an INT on the next drive, but I can’t blame him. He forced a pass he never would have if he were down just 1 score to try and make something happen. Jacksonville should be proud of their turnaround, and they know that Doug Pederson was the right coach to take over for the awful Urban Meyer regime. Plus, they’ve established that they have their franchise QB. KC will be spending the entire week trying to heal Mahomes’ ankle. Any limitations for him would be damaging against the Bengals, who already beat the Chiefs once this season (Joe Burrow is 3-0 vs. KC in his career).
(3) Cincinnati Bengals 27, (2) Buffalo Bills 10
Cincinnati came into this game feeling slighted. They thought that if Buffalo would get to play KC at a neutral site because of their cancelled game, then they should’ve gotten a neutral site against BUF. Had CIN won that “no contest”, they would have been the 2 seed. Instead, they had to go to Orchard Park in heavy snow while Damar Hamlin was giving the Bills energy (aside: how great is it that Hamlin has recovered enough already to be able to attend this game? I don’t care if he ever plays football again. All I want is for the man to be able to make that decision for himself and not have his physical condition dictate the terms). None of that appeared to matter. Coach Zac Taylor channeled that frustration into motivation, and Cincy took it to Buffalo early and often. They couldn’t have asked for a better start, going up 14-0 in the first quarter.
When Buffalo finally got a TD, the Bengals drove again. Joe Burrow seemingly threw a TD on 3rd and goal to Ja’Marr Chase, but the officials overturned it. You can decide for yourself, but I will go on the record and say that it was a clear TD. He had control with 2 feet in and a football move, and only then did LB Matt Milano punch at the ball and make it move. I asked a month ago what we did to the officials, but now I’m wondering if we did something to the head of the referee’s union because this is happening across multiple crews now. Later in the game, CB Mike Hilton blitzed and hit Josh Allen’s hand, forcing a fumble. Once again, the officials overturned a correct call. To their eternal credit, the Bengals stayed composed and let their play talk for them. Burrow (23/36, 242 yards, 2 TDs, 31 rushing yards) played another clean game. RB Joe Mixon (20/105/1) ran as well as he has all year, and the offensive line that was retooled due to injuries actually looked competent. This team might be favored in KC given Patrick Mahomes’ high ankle sprain.
On the Buffalo side, this was as flat a performance as I’ve seen from them. Josh Allen didn’t turn the ball over until firing a desperation heave with less than 2 minutes to go in the game (if you don’t count the fumble that should have been), but his 25/42, 265-yard line was heavily inflated by garbage time. The Bills couldn’t run almost the whole game; Allen led the team with 26 yards on the ground. This is still a talented team and they really were contenders. You have to think that they’ll be better with Von Miller coming back, though Miami can give them a run for their money in the AFC East. This game was largely about Bengals DC Lou Anarumo. His halftime adjustments, schemes, and player development programs have me wondering how this guy hasn’t gotten a head coaching interview yet. Zac Taylor will secretly be happy about this if he gets to keep his DC for another year. We now get a repeat of last year’s AFC championship game, which was an instant classic that went to OT. Let’s hope this year’s game is as entertaining at that one was.