Divisional Round Reactions: Rather Tame, All Things Considered

I promised you Divisional Round INSANITY but we saw nothing of the sort. These games were pretty orderly and ho-hum when you compare them to last year’s games.

I thought for sure the Bills-Bengals game would be off the chain, but it was a beatdown. Then I figured the Dallas-San Fran game would have a wild ending on some major controversy, but no.

Guess we’re going to have to hope Conference Championship weekend goes crazy.

On to the games!

Chiefs 27, Jaguars 20

It was closer than I thought it would be. The Jags actually had chances to win this game. Was a large part of that because Mahomes was hobbled for more than half the game? Most certainly.

The Jags lost this game on three key plays:

  • The dropped INT that could’ve gone for a TD. Instead, it was just an incompletion and Chad Henne was able to lead the Chiefs on a 98 yard touchdown drive after Mahomes got hurt.
  • Christian Kirk’s dropped deep pass that also could’ve gone for a TD. Jags ended up kicking a field goal on the drive.
  • The Jamal Agnew fumble at the 6 yard line. Jags were down 27-17 at the time with 5:36 left in the game, driving down the field, about to make it 27-24. They would’ve just needed a stop and then they would’ve had a chance to go down and either tie it up or take the lead. But instead, Agnew just lost the handle on the ball and that was ballgame.

But really, I’ve just got to tip my hat to the Chiefs and their scheming. All game I was basically screaming at my TV telling the Jags to just double Kelce and jam him at the line, and while I don’t think the Jags did a great job of covering him, the Chiefs did a lot of things to make sure he was getting open. Like this pick play that went for a TD:

This is the Chiefs whole offense now without Tyreek Hill. It’s almost exclusively dinking and dunking.

I wanted to see the Jags jam Kelce at the line on every play then double him, and make Juju and MVS beat you, but it’s easier said than done.

Part of that is simply that Mahomes usually has so much time to throw. The Chiefs offensive line is so good, and it got even better after Mahomes got hurt. He was sacked zero times in this game. It just felt like he had so much time to throw, which obviously gives his receivers more time to get open.

It’s encouraging for the Jags that they were this competitive after having the #1 pick in the draft just 8 months ago. They’ll be back in the mix for sure–and probably for a long time to come.

Quickly I just want to highlight how competitive the Jaguars were in this game:

Total yards was 362 for KC and 349 for JAX. Yards per play: 5.8 for the Jags and 5.4 for the Chiefs.

Both teams had exactly 144 rushing yards, although the Jags did it on 19 carries while KC did it on 30.

Jags were 7/13 on third down while the Chiefs were 6/12. 23 first downs for the Chiefs to 20 for the Jags.

The numbers here are pretty even–except the turnovers of course.

I, and a lot of people out there, thought this game would be a fairly comfortable and easy win for the Chiefs, but the Jags were in it til the very end. Jacksonville could have won this game. There were chances for them, but unfortunately they failed to capitalize on just about all of them. That’s youth and inexperience. They will learn from this.

But the question now becomes, just how serious is Mahomes’ high ankle sprain? We’re assuming that’s what his injury is.

Those normally keep guys out for 4-6 weeks, but obviously it can very depending on the severity.

Mahomes isn’t going to miss any games here. They probably gave him all sorts of painkillers and adrenaline to get him through this Jags game, and they’ll do the same next week.

But Mahomes’ mobility will definitely be limited. It was limited in this game for sure. He was just standing back there in the pocket basically throwing flat-footed. He got outstanding protection from his offensive line.

So this is a massive development for the playoffs, it goes without saying. A hobbled Mahomes makes the Chiefs less scary.

Eagles 38, Giants 7

This was just a whooping, pure and simple. The Giants didn’t stand a chance.

Philly is just too talented. The Giants kind of dominated the line of scrimmage last week against the Vikings, but this week, the Eagles totally controlled the line of scrimmage.

The Giants are a similar team to the Jaguars, in a way. They weren’t supposed to be here, they’re in the first year with a new head coach, and they over-performed to the point where people really aren’t even criticizing them for losing.

The difference is that the Jaguars have a emerging star of a quarterback, while the Giants’ quarterback, Daniel Jones, isn’t regarded anywhere near as highly as Trevor Lawrence is. Trevor Lawrence and the Jags are going to be contenders for years to come. On the flip side, we don’t even know if Daniel Jones will be the Giants’ quarterback long term.

So I would like to say the future is bright for the Giants, as it is for the Jaguars, but I just don’t know what they’re going to do about the quarterback position. Do they ink Daniel Jones to a long-term contract knowing that if they get some better pass catchers around him, he should be able to take them even further into the playoffs? This is possible, but he might get a better offer from someone else. Do they franchise tag Jones and keep looking for better options? Franchise tag is $45 million for a quarterback, I believe. I think an appropriate comp for Daniel Jones that a lot of people have been making is Alex Smith. But can you win a Super Bowl with Alex Smith/Daniel Jones?

I certainly think Daniel Jones could get there if a lot of things align for him. He would need a perfect situation, kind of like what San Fran has going on: elite offensive weapons, elite line, elite playcalling and play-design, elite defense. But it’s not going to be easy to put all that around him.

And the Giants are possibly going to lose Saquon Barkley, by far their best offensive skill player. If they don’t lose him, then it will mean they gave a big-ass contract to a running back, which is something that a lot of teams are reluctant to do.

The future isn’t quite as bright for the Giants; it’s more murky and uncertain. However, they do appear to have a really good coach in Brian Daboll, and they’ve got some good pieces on defense. So from this perspective there’s reason to be optimistic. Just not as optimistic as Jags fans should be.

As for Philly, the key for this game was just getting through it without any further injuries to Jalen Hurts and Lane Johnson. The Eagles have a ton of stud players, but those two are probably their most important. And I think Jalen Hurts was able to avoid injuries to his shoulder, as was Lane Johnson with his groin.

AJ Brown looked like he kind of hurt something late in that game, though. They threw it deep to him, and he was open in the endzone, but the ball was overthrown and he had to kind of over-extend for it and I think he may have pulled or tweaked a hammy. He was slow to get up and they were cutting to him on the sidelines afterwards. I’m not sure what was happening as I had the game on mute with the UFC fight on my main TV; it may not have even been an injury. I guess some people were saying he was pouting on the sideline because he wasn’t as involved in the gameplan as he wanted to be?

I don’t know about all that. I don’t think it’s a big issue. I would be more concerned if has some sort of soft tissue leg injury. He and Jalen Hurts are best friends; if there’s any sort of discontent, it’ll get sorted out. I don’t think AJ Brown is a pouter.

Bengals 27, Bills 10

I should’ve stuck with my original prediction of Cincinnati in this game.

I’ve been saying the Bills are broken all year, there is something wrong with them, they just don’t have it, etc. and for some reason, I let the conspiracy theorists talk me into the idea that the NFL was going to have the refs rig this game for the Bills.

Look, it’s gotta be a close game in order to rig it. If one team is clearly better than the other, there’s nothing the refs can do.

Buffalo has a decimated secondary (even Dean Marlowe got knocked out of the game with a groin injury), and they were just at a talent deficit in general.

Cincinnati has a much better running game than Buffalo does. Cincinnati has much better pass catchers than Buffalo does. I like Joe Burrow more as a quarterback than I do Josh Allen. Cincy is the better football team.

Buffalo’s defense is not good enough to overcome the talent advantage Cincy has on offense. In fact the Bengals have the better defense. We could all see that plain as day.

Give Josh Allen a lot of credit, he didn’t turn the ball over until the very end when it was already out of hand. His biggest problem this year has been carelessness with the ball, or trying to do too much–whatever you want to call it. But despite Josh Allen taking care of the ball, Buffalo still couldn’t put up points in this game. They just couldn’t get much going on offense. The 10 points they scored in this game was their fewest point total this season. In fact only twice in the regular season did they score fewer than 20 points (19 and 17).

The game was played in a heavy snowstorm, but despite the fact that they’re from the snowiest city in the NFL, the Bills are not built to play in heavy snowstorms like that. They don’t have a legit run game, but Cincy does. The Bills are a passing team, and I think the weather really slowed them down. Cincy was hitting some passes in this game, and their passing game was highly functional, actually. But a big part of it is that Cincy was able to run the ball. Joe Mixon was just gashing that Bills defense on the ground. As of the early 4th quarter he was averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

I’m typing this up after McPherson just hit a field goal with 11:22 left to play to give Cincy a 27-10 lead, and obviously there’s still time for Buffalo to come back, but it’s now a three-possession game and Buffalo hasn’t been able to stop the Bengals. 5 of 7 possessions to this point, Jim Nantz just said, the Bengals have scored points.

It should be 31-10 right now, but the refs took that Ja’Marr Chase touchdown away before halftime. He took 4 steps inbounds yet they still overturned it because the ball was moving around a bit as he fell to the ground out of bounds. I thought it was a ridiculous call, a classic case of instant replay gone overboard; just over-scrutinizing the hell out of everything in a way that instant replay was never intended to be used for.

Not a big deal, though. There is no way the Bills are winning this game. They’re vanquished.

Okay, now the game is officially over. The Bills have gone out sad. They went out with a whimper. They were expected to build off of last season, but instead they regressed this year.

I feel pretty bad for them just because they have such rabid and devoted fans, and I think they do deserve a Super Bowl Championship. But they were not a Super Bowl team this year.

In fact, the Bills really weren’t close this year. We know that now. They were never a realistic Super Bowl favorite. Outside of the first two games of the season, when everyone was ready to crown them, they have not been anything special. They had a nice win streak, but it was a lot of close wins against non-elite teams. When they finally played an elite team, they got stomped.

Is Sean McDermott the guy? I’ve got my doubts. And not just because of this game, either. He should have squibbed it last year against the Chiefs. I’ll never change my mind on that. 13 seconds left on the clock, you could’ve squibbed it and taken at least 4-5 seconds off the clock, maybe a few more, but he chose to kick it deep for a touchback and no time went off the clock. Obviously then the Chiefs were able to go down the field and kick a field goal. Ever since McDermott chose not to squib it, I’ve been a seller of Sean McDermott stock.

He’s supposed to be a defensive expert but their defense got dissected by Cincy. This was a domination. With all that crazy snow, yes, a 27-10 win is a blowout. These blizzard games are supposed to be like 10-7 games, but Cincy’s offense was cutting through the Buffalo defense like a hot knife through butter. Just doing whatever they wanted.

In terms of YPP allowed: this year Buffalo was 10th in the league. Last year they were #1. They were 12th in 2020 but got their doors blown off by Kansas City in the AFC Championship.

So they’ve been pretty good in the regular season, but not so much in the playoffs. If you’ve got a top-5 quarterback in the league and you choose to go with a defensive-minded head coach, your defense had better be pretty damn good. But Buffalo’s isn’t. Cincinnati has the better defense, clearly.

I think Buffalo needs a coach that can come in and really be the “Josh Allen Whisperer.” They need a head coach who is on the same page with Allen. Like Payton-Brees, Reid-Mahomes. The head coach should have Josh Allen as his number on priority.

And another thing: this roster is not well-constructed. Brandon Beane is not going to escape blame here. They have no real running game to speak of. They finished this blizzard game with 19 carries for 63 yards. Cincy had 34 carries for 172 yards. Night and day.

Colin Cowherd said on his show Sunday night that if you take out Josh Allen’s running, Buffalo ranks 30th in the league in rushing. That sounds about right. And since they didn’t really run Josh Allen against Cincy, that’s why you saw them run 19 times for 63 yards. Completely one-dimensional on offense.

The problem with that is Buffalo has no special pass-catchers behind Stefon Diggs (who, by the way, apparently stormed out of the stadium immediately after the game; not sure what that portends). Dawson Knox is a decent tight end, but Gabe Davis? Shakir? Beasley? McKenzie? These Buffalo wide receivers don’t hold a candle to what Cincy has.

So I look at this game, and Cincy has better receivers, better running backs, and a better defense. Cincy’s offensive line, despite missing 3 starters, only allowed one sack. Joe Burrow had decent protection in this game, surprisingly. And of course they had a ton of success running the ball. So I would say Cincy’s offensive line played better than Buffalo’s did. I thought the snow benefitted the offensive lines because it really slows down the fast and explosive players. Pass rushers are typically fast and explosive players, and they were bogged down by the weather. But still, hats off to that patchwork Cincy O-Line. Jackson Carman, who slid in at LT, looks like he can really play. (This pancake he had was awesome; he’s #79.)

And then, while I like Josh Allen, I don’t see how you can say he’s better than Joe Burrow. Joe Burrow is the better quarterback.

Cincinnati is just a better football team than Buffalo in pretty much every way. I originally picked Cincy to win close, I did not see them winning by three scores, but maybe I should’ve. Again, they’re a better football team in just about every way.

And now we pivot to the AFC Championship in Kansas City. Mahomes has a confirmed high ankle sprain. His mobility will be severely limited, as this is a 4-6 week injury. Tony Romo said it’s going to be difficult for Mahomes to even play in the game, even though they’ve already said he’s playing. While I have no doubts that Mahomes will be out there, he will not be his normal self. He’s going to be a statue back there.

As a result I think there’s like a 75% chance the Bengals win the AFC Championship and head to the Super Bowl. I probably would pick Cincy either way. They were able to beat KC this season when Mahomes was fully healthy, and on top of that, I just don’t think the Chiefs are quite as dynamic as they were with Tyreek Hill.

One last thing about this game: I see an awful lot of snickering and jeering when Eli Apple gets burnt, but I didn’t see anybody talking about him on social media after this one. Stefon Diggs had 4 catches for 35 yards on 10 targets. I don’t know if Eli Apple was shadowing him all game, but regardless I did not see Apple getting burnt out there. Not a whole lot of people talking when he has a good game, huh?

49ers 19, Cowboys 12

I came away from this game thinking three things: one, Brock Purdy played okay but he’s very limited.

Two, Dallas was probably the better team; they probably win this game if it’s played in Dallas. Their defense was excellent for most of the game, really had an excellent pass rush and had Purdy on his heels most of the game.

But I have to give credit to Kyle Shanahan for sticking with the run all game even when they weren’t getting much going on the ground in the first half. By the 4th quarter, the 49ers run game started to wear that Cowboys defense down. The 49ers were able to ice this game with their rushing attack. They were like a battering ram all game long, and the wall finally cracked in the 4th quarter. It’s textbook. 2.8 yards per carry in the first half, 4.3 yards per carry in the second half.

The third and most important thing is that I just don’t think Dak is the guy. I think Dak is a nice guy, but you are not getting to the Super Bowl with him as your quarterback. He threw two picks in the first half, one that led to a 49er field goal, and another that was in the red zone and squandered a scoring opportunity.

Dak was 23/37 passing for 206 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs, with a 63.6 passer rating. Not going to get it done. I just think those two interceptions were killer in a close game like this. You lost by 7 points, I don’t know how you can come to any other conclusion, even though the picks were in the first half. Points were at a premium in this game.

This was the first pick. Just a horribly thrown ball:

A big momentum shift in this game was early in the third quarter, when the Cowboys got the ball, but San Fran forced a punt. Ray Ray McCloud muffed the punt, gave Dallas the ball at the 49er 20 yard line, but Dallas could only get a field goal to tie it 9-9. McCloud then made up for it by returning the ensuing kickoff all the way across the 50 yard line. The Niners didn’t score on that possession, but it just felt like a major rallying moment for the Niners; like they gained a lot of momentum off that sequence.

Another major factor in this game was Tony Pollard going down. I had him on my fantasy team, and obviously fantasy football is over but I still pull for my guys in the postseason, and it really sucked to see Pollard get knocked out of the game like that. Very similar to the Mahomes ankle injury, guy just landed on it funny.

The Cowboys without Pollard lose a lot on offense in terms of explosiveness, and the Cowboys’ longest drive of the second half went for just 46 yards (ended in a punt). It was noticeable how much less dynamic they were without Pollard.

But man, I really just keep going back to Dak. I don’t think Dak is a bad quarterback or anything. I just think he’s average. But average doesn’t get you big time road wins in the playoffs. There’s a ceiling for the Cowboys with Dak. And no, Derek Carr is not the answer.

I don’t know who the answer is for the Cowboys. But they need a better quarterback than Dak if they’re going to win a Super Bowl. Dak just isn’t a Super Bowl quarterback.

Dallas got the ball back in this game after the last 49er field goal, down 19-12, about 3 minutes to go, all their timeouts, and went three and out. Didn’t gain a yard. There was one play where Gallup was open deep, and Dak launched one to him, but it was off-target. This was a huge missed opportunity for Dallas, and Dak has to be on the money with that throw with the game on the line:

Dak unloads from about the 10, the ball lands at about the opposing 42, making it about a 48 yard throw. I know Dak can throw the ball farther than that, and he needed to. He only needed to put a bit more on it; if he threw it 50-52 yards instead of 48, he hits Gallup in stride, who may go for a game-tying touchdown. At the very least, it’s a massive gain for Dallas and they are in business to go down there, run some clock and score a touchdown. They’d probably go for two given Maher’s trouble with extra points.

That’s a make-or-break play right there. Playoff games come down to those plays. Dak just didn’t make it.

Now, that said, I don’t think Brock Purdy is a Super Bowl QB, either. I think it’s going to be a very tall order for the 49ers to beat the Eagles in Philadelphia in the NFC Championship. So I am going to be picking the Eagles to go to the Super Bowl.

Purdy had at least two plays where he should have been picked but the Cowboys defenders dropped the ball. One was in a pivotal moment. You can’t really see it here in this clip, but Trevon Diggs has the ball in his hands and just drops it:

This was after the big Kittle catch, and the 49ers would end up scoring the game-sealing touchdown afterward. Massive moment in the game. If Trevon picks this ball off it changes everything.

And speaking of the Kittle catch, Trevon Diggs completely whiffed on the tackle there:

A solid hit on Kittle and he probably drops the ball. But Diggs just totally missed him. Not a good game from Diggs. Two massive missed opportunities by him on that drive.

Back to Purdy, though. He got better as the game went on, but I think we saw a lot of the limitations he has.

I hate to rain on the parade here but I don’t see San Fran winning a Super Bowl with Purdy as QB. I think it’s going to be extremely difficult for them to beat Philly. Now, in fairness, Dallas has a really good defense. But Philly’s is probably even better.

It’s possible I change my mind throughout the week on the Philly/San Fran matchup, but as of right now I’m on Philly.

Tough loss for Dallas, though. Losing Pollard was a huge setback, but I think the lesson we have to take here is that Dak Prescott can only take you so far. Cowboys are going to need to upgrade the quarterback position. I know it’s much easier said than done, but they’ve got a great team on both sides of the ball and they can’t waste it.

Spotrac says the Cowboys can move off of Dak after next season. It would still be about a $40 million dead money cap hit, so I don’t know how realistic that is. After the 2024 season Dak is a free agent.

I just think the Cowboys can do better than Dak. I’m sitting here nitpicking their defense, but at the end of the day, their defense only gave up 19 points in this game. You can’t ask for much more than that.

If you lose a game 19-12, that’s on the offense. You can’t put up 12 points in a playoff game and expect to win.

Cowboys need to draft a quarterback this year. Any quarterback. Start scouting QBs and find your next guy, Dallas. Hell, you found Dak in the 4th round.

This is a perfect year to try to trade up into the top-7ish. I don’t think the Bears would trade with Dallas, since the Bears would be moving from #1 to #27. But if Dallas really wants to get a quarterback, this is a year where the #1 pick is up for grabs. It’s a rare situation where the team drafting #1 already has their QB for the future and is willing to trade the pick. Dallas has to try.

Dallas should definitely consider moving up for Stroud or Young. Dak ain’t it.

Conference Championship betting line history

Now for some food for thought as we await next Sunday’s games…

So the Chiefs opened up -3, but then bettors hammered the Bengals and now the Bengals are a -1 favorite on the road. Pretty wild to see Mahomes as a home dog in the playoffs, but the ankle sprain changes everything.

The Eagles have opened up at 1.5 point favorites. Kind of surprising. I would’ve thought Philly would be favored by a bit more. This line is basically saying San Fran is the better team, but Philly only gets a slight edge because they’re at home. I expect this line will move towards Philly pretty hard by tomorrow morning.

NFC Championship history:

So favorites are 34-18 straight up in NFC Championships (65% win rate), but only 27-24-1 against the spread. Home teams are 34-18 straight up as well, but only cover half the time. The over has hit 20 times and the under has hit 15 times.

NFC Championship results since 2000:

We can see that the biggest line since 2000 was the Rams -10.5 over the Eagles in 2001. The Rams didn’t cover.

Now for the AFC:

Favorites are 38-14 straight up, a 73% win rate. Favorites have a slightly better chance of covering in the AFC, with a 30-21-1 record. Home teams are 37-15 in AFC Championship games.

And AFC Championship game results and betting lines since 2000:

Biggest spread: New England -14 against San Diego in 2007, but New England won by 9. That was the year the Patriots went undefeated but lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl.

I don’t think either of

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