The next wave of NFL playoff football is well underway. The divisional round kicked off on Saturday with two regular-season rematches, and boy do we have a lot left to do after that action? The Chiefs return to the AFC Championship thanks to a 27-20 win over the rising Jaguars. And the Eagles will host the NFC Championship for the second time in five years after beating the Giants 38-7.
Here are some immediate and big takeaways from Division Round Opening Day:
Hurts and the Eagles are back
We say “back” because, honestly, over the last month it’s felt like they’ve “left”. Since Jalen Hurts, once a virtual castle to face Patrick Mahomes for this year’s MVP honors, fell to the ground with a shoulder injury, Philly has plateaued, if not regressed, heading into the postseason. But on Saturday night against a Giants team fresh from an impressive upset from Minnesota, they looked back on their peak form. Hurts, for example, seemed to have no limitations, excelled early on as a passer and, perhaps more notably, on the ground. And the Haason Reddick-led defense chased Daniel Jones and company all night, handing what Brian Daboll later described as a “crash landing” to New York. It’s time to look at the Birds again as true title contenders.
The Giants need more help than we thought
This year was also a success for New York. The G-Men shouldn’t even make the playoffs considering Brian Daboll inherited the torn roster. Daniel Jones is certainly registering as a different prospect than months ago. But unlike Jacksonville, which started Kansas City under a freshman coach (more on that below), the Giants had little struggle or urgency in Philadelphia. This is not primarily due to Jones or Daboll, but rather to a still heavily understaffed lineup of premium spots. General Manager Joe Schoen urgently needs to prioritize upgrades along the offensive line, including on the flank and at the linebacker.
Mahome’s ankle is a legitimate concern
The big story of the Chiefs appearing in an AFC title game for the fifth straight season had nothing to do with the actual win or the highlights that led to it — Isiah Pacheco’s open lanes, Kadarius Toney’s heavy engagement, some big D- line moments. When star quarterback Patrick Mahomes was briefly eliminated in the second quarter with an ankle injury, his health was the priority. Visibly resistant to medical attention, the MVP nominee struggled through a noticeable limp to keep Kansas City in the lead and seal the win.
CBS Sports’ Doug Clawson also points out that Mahomes, accustomed to relying on his mobility, has made 41% of the league’s touchdown passes outside of the pocket (15 of 36) over the past five postseasons.
He’ll certainly do everything in his power to move forward, but that doesn’t mean it won’t affect his mobility and/or Andy Reid’s play-calling, albeit by a small amount. Lucky for the Chiefs…
It doesn’t matter who’s under the middle; Few players produce as consistently when it counts. No. 87 was everywhere, working at center against Jacksonville with 14 catches for 98 yards and two points. There really isn’t much more to say than: Kelce’s presence, with or without an imposing No. 1 receiver drawing outside attention, is often enough to have KC moving up and down the field. At 33, he’s still at his best.
The jaguars are here to stay
It’s been apparent for some time that Jacksonville made the right decision in hiring ex-Eagles coach Doug Pederson, but that team’s postseason performance — only the Jaguars’ second playoff bid in the last 15 years — justifies it the burgeoning optimism in Northeast Florida. Coming back from down 27 to beat the Chargers was miraculous confirmation that Trevor Lawrence and company are on the rise. But keeping the Chiefs busy at Arrowhead was arguably just as impressive, even with Mahomes limping around for most of the day. Pederson called the game with its typical aggressiveness. Lawrence flashed veteran-level confidence. Best of all, reinforcements should come as Calvin Ridley and others join playmakers like Travis Etienne Jr., Christian Kirk and Jamal Agnew; The latter two, with untimely mistakes, showed that they could shine in more secondary roles.