This weekend’s NFL divisional round playoff schedule may only feature the matchups for last weekend’s exciting wildcard list.
The Chiefs and Eagles come off their byes with a chance to confirm their No. 1 seeds, but they each take on two foes — the Jaguars and Giants — who have exceeded expectations and proved tough outs.
NFL Divisional Playoffs Model Projections: Predictions, Totals for Each Game This Weekend
Sunday’s pairings feature four teams that have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.
“That’s four great encounters,” remarked an assistant coach. “All four games could go either way.”
Last week, The Athletic polled coaches and executives anonymously to make their wildcard picks, and they teamed up to accurately predict five of the six encounters, with the Giants’ irritation at the Vikings being the outlier.
It’s time to bring them back for another vote – two executives and three assistant coaches. They were each granted anonymity so that they could express their honest opinions. This is how they see the weekend.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes lit up the Jaguars in Week 10, throwing for 331 yards and four touchdowns. Can the Jaguars find a way to slow him down in this weekend’s rematch? (Jason Hanna/Getty Images)
No. 1 Chiefs (14-3) vs. No. 4 Jaguars (9-8, 1-0)
Kicking off: 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Expert selection: Chiefs 5, jaguars 0
One voter kept the logic very simple.
“Patrick Mahomes,” said one manager.
Make no mistake, the panelists respect what the Jaguars have done, but they won’t doubt the top-seeded Chiefs.
Two coaches actually recommended: “Too much firepower.”
One also pointed to Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s famous ability to schedule an extra week.
“They will play fast and with confidence,” said the coach.
Kadarius Toney, the Chiefs’ newest dynamic WR, could play a key role against Jaguars
The Jaguars have won eight of their last 10 games — the Chiefs gave them one of those two losses, 27-17 at Arrowhead in Week 10 — including big comebacks against the Raiders (17 points), Ravens (9 points), Cowboys (10 points ), Titans (10 points) and Chargers (27 points).
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence opened the wildcard win over the Chargers with interceptions on four of six possessions. He had a 0.0 passer rating in seven series before lighting up in the third-greatest comeback in playoff history.
“If Jacksonville starts fast, it could be a game,” noted one coach, with a feeling the Jaguars would like to put into practice.
“The Jaguars are definitely growing and going in the right direction,” said a manager. “But Arrowhead, Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, that’s a big thing to get over. (Jaguar’s head coach) Doug Pederson is an accomplished play caller. Trevor Lawrence mustn’t make the same mistakes he made in the first half against the Chargers. The Jaguars definitely have the talent to disrupt Mahomes.”
Four matchups that could decide NFL Divisional Round playoff games
The overwhelming record is no small thing on the Jaguars. It’s just respect for the Chiefs.
“Probably the best team in football,” said one manager.
Coach Nick Sirianni’s Eagles won both matchups that season against coach Brian Daboll’s Giants. But the Giants didn’t play their starters in the last matchup and look like they’re playing their best football of the season. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
No. 1 Eagles (14-3) vs. No. 6 Giants (9-7-1, 1-0)
Kicking off: 8:15 p.m. Saturday.
Expert selection: Eagles 4, Giants 1
This was almost unanimous – until one of the executives switched from the Eagles to the Giants.
“(Giants quarterback) Daniel Jones has shown more lately and against the Vikings than he did earlier in the season,” the manager said. (Giants Coach Brian) Daboll will keep the Giants balanced and the big trade-off is the Eagles may not be as healthy. If the Giants are able to establish the run and take an early lead, that will put more pressure on (Eagles QB Jalen) Hurts and his injured shoulder.”
“I want to do that forever”: Why it’s only a matter of time before Mike Kafka becomes head coach
Hurts missed two games in Weeks 16-17 with a right shoulder sprain but was permanently removed from injury reporting this week.
All five voters believed it would be a close game.
“It will be closer than people think,” said another manager. “The Giants will make it interesting, but the Eagles receivers have the advantage over the Giants defenders.”
The Eagles have won three straight games against the Giants, including a 48-22 win in Week 14 and a 22-16 win over many Giants backups in Week 18. Hurts was 20 of 35 for 229 yards and an interception along with nine carries for 13 yards on his return from injury in that Week 18 game.
“The Eagles are tough,” said one coach. “But it’s hard to beat a team three times (in one season) and the Giants wouldn’t surprise me if they came up with a surprise.”
Meet Josh Sweat, the “nerdy” Eagles DE who builds computers and reconstructs himself
Jones was great in his playoff debut against the Vikings, completing 24 of 35 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns and 78 rushing yards. But the Vikings defense allowed the fourth most points and second most yards in the league, while the Eagles conceded the eighth fewest points, second fewest yards and fewest passing yards in the regular season.
The Eagles, behind Hurt’s breakout campaign, had the third best offense this season.
“The Eagles’ offensive will prevail in the end,” said one coach.
Joe Burrows Bengals will take on Josh Allens Bills in a duel between two of the AFC’s best teams and quarterbacks. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
No. 2 Bills (13-3, 1-0) vs. No. 3 Bengals (12-4, 1-0)
Kicking off: 3 p.m. Sunday.
expert selection: Bills 3, Bengal 2
The Bills and Bengals will face off after their Week 17 game was called off when Bill’s safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field.
The Bengals, who have won 13 of their last 15 games, led 7-3 in the first quarter when play was initially suspended. One of the voters gave the Bengals the advantage due to quarterbacks.
Even against elite Bills D, the Bengals’ biggest advantage is colored red
“The Bengals have won nine straight games,” said one coach. “Joe Burrow is a little bit more grippy than Josh Allen.”
The Bills’ sales are certainly a problem. They’ve given it away three times in each of their last three games, and the Bengals have had 11 takeaways in their last four games.
The Bills’ 27 regular-season turnovers were the third-most in the NFL and four more than any surviving team. Allen’s 14 interceptions were the third most in the league.
“I think the Bills are holding on and have had too many close talks lately when they’ve had teams hanging around,” said a coach who picked the Bengals.
The Bills shockingly had to walk away with a wildcard win over the Dolphins, clinging to a 34-31 win in the closing moments. The Dolphins, who started QB Skylar Thompson on the third row, had lost five straight games before sneaking into the playoffs in Week 18 with an 11-6 win over the Jets.
“Maybe that was her wake-up call,” said a manager who picked the Bills. “Allen has to play with himself. The Bills haven’t been generating the same pressure since (linebacker) Von Miller went down.”
Bill’s Roundtable: Reasons to be Calm and Concerned Ahead of Bengal’s Showdown
The Bengals have the second-longest winning streak in the league, and Burrow was hot enough to pick up his first MVP. But even taking all of those factors into account, the panel leaned toward Buffalo.
“If you’re just looking at the wildcard games, I’d go with the Bengals,” one manager said. “But the Bills will win a very close one late. The Bills defense is very solid and will eliminate the big plays.
Charle Omenihu and the 49ers’ defense knocked Dak Prescott and the Cowboys out of the playoffs last year. Will Dallas get revenge this weekend? (Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
No. 4 49ers (13-4, 1-0) vs. No. 5 Cowboys (12-5, 1-0)
Kicking off: 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
Expert selection: 49ers 3, Cowboys 2
Relive the nostalgia of the 20th century.
The Cowboys are 5-3 in the playoffs against the 49ers, although the Niners beat them 23-17 last year. The other seven matchups occurred well before the birth of 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy.
Purdy put on massive numbers in the playoff win over the Seahawks, completing 18 of 30 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns and a rushing score. The Niners averaged a league-best 33.6 points since Purdy’s first start in Week 14, then trailed 41 points last week to edge away from the Seahawks.
However, the rookie missed a few early throws in his playoff debut, and that caught the eye of a manager picking the Cowboys.
“The Cowboys have the ability to create the kind of pressure that makes Purdy look like a freshman and make mistakes,” the manager said. “It will depend on whether Brock cares about football.”
Purdy has thrown just two interceptions in his six starts. While he played absolutely fine, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan also deserves a lot of credit.
How Kyle Shanahan’s coaching barbs motivate and uplift the 49ers
A subplot: Shanahan used to work for Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn when he was the Falcons head coach, so they know each other well.
“Dallas will make life difficult, but there are too many guns for the San Francisco offense,” said the other manager.
The Niners have won 11 straight games and conceded the fewest points and yards in the regular season.
“The defense will come through for San Fran,” said one coach.
Purdy has been in the spotlight a lot, but the bigger factor might be Dak Prescott’s performance. Prescott threw a league-high 15 interceptions despite starting only 12 games, and the 49ers led the NFL with 20 regular-season interceptions.
It starts with Dak Prescott, but who else do the Cowboys need to take on the 49ers?
Prescott pulled off a seven-game interception streak with a nearly flawless performance in the 31-14 win over the Bucs in the wild card round. He was 25 of 33 for 305 yards, four touchdowns and a rushing score.
“Cowboys in great excitement,” said one trainer. “The Cowboys’ defense will stop the run and confuse the rookie QB.”
This game could have more talent on the field this weekend than the other three.
“The Cowboys are explosive,” said a coach who had chosen the 49ers. “I think Kyle will know how to attack Dan’s defenses and create plays.”
(Top Photo: Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)