The divisional round of the playoffs certainly disproved some narratives that persisted in the NFL all year. Maybe the Dallas Cowboys weren’t the Super Bowl contender they were initially thought to be over the last several months, or the Cincinnati Bengals really are the best team in the AFC (despite their 2-3 start to the season).
Where do the Buffalo Bills go from here after a tough loss to the Bengals? What about the Cowboys going forward? Both of these teams can’t see their seasons the same as the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars, two teams that surprisingly reached the divisional round after being two of the worst teams in football for several seasons. There is reason to be optimistic in Jacksonville and New York.
As for the teams that made it to conference championship weekend? Can Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs finally defeat their kryptonite of Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals? Can the San Francisco 49ers and No. 1 defense continue the “defense wins championships” mantra and beat the NFC’s No. 1 offense in the Philadelphia Eagles?
Divisional weekend certainly provided a lot of answers, especially with the conference championship games next week. Here’s what we learned in the divisional round of the playoffs from each team.
The defense rose to the occasion with Patrick Mahomes injured: The Chiefs are 54-3 when holding their opponents to less than 27 points, including postseason games. The defense took that stat for granted and did a very good job of limiting Jacksonville to 20 points in the 27-20 victory.
Was it a perfect performance? No, but it was good enough. The Jaguars had 144 rushing yards and averaged 7.6 yards per carry. carry while going 7 of 13 on third down, but the Chiefs forced a Trevor Lawrence interception up 27-20 late in the fourth quarter and hit him seven times.
The defense stepped up during the second quarter when Mahomes was in the locker room, holding Jacksonville to three points in the second quarter and holding the lead at halftime before Mahomes returned.
Is the Chiefs defense great? No, but this is Steve Spagnuolo’s best unit since arriving in Kansas City. Less than 27 points seems to be the magic number for a win, whether Mahomes is healthy or not.
Drops the team’s chance on an interference: The Jaguars were able to hang with the Chiefs throughout the game, but Jacksonville could have been headed to the AFC Championship Game if not for a few key drops. Trevor Lawrence found Christian Kirk on a deep pass that would have gone 55 yards in the second quarter, but Kirk dropped the pass and the Jaguars rallied for a field goal.
In a 17-7 game, Kirk needed that reception to get Jacksonville in the red zone and put some pressure on Kansas City. The Jaguars had another down in the second quarter when JaMycal Hasty had a drop on third-and-19 that forced the Jaguars to punt.
Drops had an effect on Lawrence in the third quarter, as he was 5 of 8 for 10 yards on two possessions as Jacksonville couldn’t gain ground. The Jaguars offense just seemed out of sync after the Kirk drop – and never recovered.
Jacksonville will be back next year with a franchise quarterback in Lawrence and a roster that should improve. The Jaguars will learn from those mistakes as the young team continues to develop.
Lane Johnson returned in a big way: Johnson spent the last three weeks rehabbing and preparing for the possibility of playing in the postseason after delaying surgery for a torn adductor in his groin. How effective the best right tackle would be was anyone’s guess.
It turns out Johnson was his typical domineering self. He allowed no sacks, pressures, quarterback hits and had a 0.0% pressure rate in 26 pass blocking snaps. His impact was felt against Giants pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, who had no pressure on Johnson in the divisional round. The Eagles also ran for 268 yards, the second most in a postseason game in franchise history.
The Eagles offensive line is the best in football. With Johnson on the field, they are dominant.
The offensive line needs improvement in the offseason: In each of the Giants’ three meetings with the Eagles, the offensive line was no match for a front that had 70 sacks this season. The Giants allowed 60 pressures and 14 sacks in three games against the Eagles, 16 pressures and five sacks coming in Saturday’s loss.
New York allowed 49 sacks on the year, which was tied for fifth in the NFL. The 272 pressures allowed were the second most and the 43.4% pressure rate was the highest. This is simply not good enough.
New York must develop Evan Neal to give Andrew Thomas a battery mate at tackle. The interior of the line needs reworking as Jon Feliciano, Mark Glowinski and Nick Gates struggled against elite pass-rushing teams. Ben Bredeson wasn’t much better either.
The Giants have cap space to improve the offensive line. If New York keeps Daniel Jones, the Giants need to protect him and give him a chance to throw the ball downfield.
So much for having three offensive linemen out: The Bengals did not have left tackle Jonah Williams, right tackle La’El Collins and right guard Alex Cappa against the Bills. Three-fifths of the offensive line out? It didn’t matter.
Jackson Carman made his first start at left tackle, Hakeem Adeniji made his third start at right tackle and Max Scharping made his second start at right guard. The inexperience didn’t matter as the three were part of a dismantling of Buffalo’s defensive front, holding Cincinnati to 172 rushing yards and 5.1 yards per carry. carry. This is the same Cincinnati running offense that was 29th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. carry in the regular season.
The trio of Carman, Adeniji and Scharping did not allow a sack in the game. They allowed just two quarterback hits, but did allow 11 pressures. Regardless of the high pressure, they protected Joe Burrow and set up the running game for arguably their best performance of the year.
The Bengals’ offensive line answered all the questions it had to.
The running game was a farce: No team had more deceptive rushing numbers than the Bills this season, yet rushing yards per game and yards per carry didn’t rear their ugly head until Sunday. Buffalo had just 63 rush yards and averaged 3.3 yards per carry. carry against Cincinnati, their lowest yards per carry carry average in a game all season.
Devin Singletary was a non-factor with six carries for 24 yards. The Bills also didn’t trust rookie James Cook enough to give him the ball late in the year (he finished with five carries for 13 yards). Josh Allen was their leading rusher with 26 yards, and he had just 3.3 yards per carry. carry (average 6.1 on the season).
Neither Singletary nor Cook appeared to be go-to backs late as the Bills averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. carry in the fourth quarter of the year. Singletary averaged just 4.0 yards per carry. carry when the defense caved in on Allen (3.2 yards per carry).
Buffalo needs a go-to back in 2023 if the Bills want to go to the Super Bowl. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a better offense either. They just can’t rely on Allen that much to carry the run game.
Brock Purdy struggled against Cowboys pressure: Purdy did his job for the seventh straight start – leading the 49ers to a win. He didn’t turn the football over in a game where the defense played a big role and got him out of his spot, which was crucial for the 49ers to advance.
There is cause for concern, especially with who the 49ers face next week. Purdy was just 3 of 11 for 24 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions while being sacked twice (39.6 rating). The Cowboys were able to not make Purdy’s life easy, something other defenses couldn’t do in his six previous starts.
Purdy completed 51.1% of his passes for 264 yards with three touchdowns to one interception under pressure in the regular season (82.1 rating). In the playoffs, 36.8% of his passes (7 of 19) for 157 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions (102.3 rating).
Are the numbers better? The Seattle game blew up how Purdy has performed when a defense gets near him, but the Dallas game could be an indication of how things could go next week. Of course, the Eagles and their 75 sacks (regular season and playoffs) actually have to get to Purdy, too.
Dak Prescott was supposed to be good – and wasn’t: Dak Prescott, who appeared most of the season, reappeared in Sunday’s loss to the 49ers. Prescott was 23 of 37 for 206 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, his sixth multi-interception game of the year.
Prescott missed several open receivers and made questionable decisions, becoming a liability to the offense instead of a strength. When pressed, Prescott was a rotten 4 of 11 for 14 yards and an interception for a 7.0 rating. In the second half (the half without Tony Pollard), Prescott was 11 of 21 for 125 yards with no touchdowns and a 70.5 rating.
Those numbers are simply not good enough for a $40 million quarterback who had to lead the offense on scoring drives. Prescott looked like the player who led the NFL in interceptions since returning in Week 7 with his questionable decision-making — rather than the quarterback who had big games against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay over the past month.
Prescott is simply too inconsistent to help the Cowboys make a Super Bowl run. He is what he is at this point — and it’s up to Dallas to try to fix his issues as he approaches 30.