The NFL playoffs march on this weekend with four intriguing games taking place in the divisional round over the course of the weekend. There are no double-digit favorites, so every game has some level of intrigue. Last season, divisional weekend featured the two No. 1 seeds losing outright. What does this weekend have in store for us? Let's take a look at the four games and talk through which sides we'd rather be on while betting the games.
Kansas City Chiefs or Philadelphia Eagles?
After earning a first-round bye, the Kansas City Chiefs make their 2023 NFL postseason debut on Saturday afternoon. The Chiefs host the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Kansas City is a 9-point home favorite. The Jaguars are coming off a miraculous second-half comeback, erasing a 27-0 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Chargers, 31-30. In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles are also coming off a well-earned bye. The Eagles are 7.5-point home favorites against a very popular and pesky New York Giants team that is coming off a road upset over the Minnesota Vikings. Which No. 1 seed would you rather lay over a touchdown with?
Greg: The Chiefs' defense ranks 21st in points allowed per drive. Under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Kansas City is surrendering 25.7 points per game in the postseason. In nine playoff contests since 2019, his defense has held just one team to less than 20 points. Travis Etienne exploits a Chiefs team that’s league-worst in Run Stop Win Rate, and the Doug Pederson-Trevor Lawrence wombo combo continues to pay off dividends. The real question is to what extent can Jacksonville’s defense stop Patrick Mahomes? They bullied weak offenses trotted out by the Jets, Texans and Titans, but got shredded when they faced explosive offenses like the Cowboys, Lions and Chiefs. Kansas City hasn’t been a profitable ATS play for years and I want to believe that the Jags can keep this close and maybe pull off a memorable upset. My favorite play here is the over.
Drooling over a team because they posted 31 points on the Vikings is like being awestruck by the “got-your-nose” trick. The Eagles buried the Giants 48-22 in Week 14, now they’re going to dig them up and bury them again. Philly has a conveyor belt of elite pass-rushers who lead the NFL in Pass Rush Win Rate and they’ll be battling against a New York offensive line that’s fourth-worst in Pass Block Win Rate. Nick Sirianni’s team also happens to boast the best pass defense in the league. This unit is scary, man, it’s like 11 Babadooks running around out there. Things don’t get much easier for opponents when the Eagles have the ball. Philadelphia scores the third-most points per drive and ranks first in rushing EPA and fifth in dropback EPA. The Giants allow the sixth-most rushing yards per game and are fourth-worst in defensive DVOA. If Jalen Hurts’ shoulder is OK, Philly bulldozes its way to the NFC championship. I’m all over the Eagles.
Pete: Kansas City is far and away the best offense in the league, posting a +0.18 EPA/play mark on the season. What’s most impressive is the Chiefs have done that against a challenging schedule of defenses, with 10 of their 17 opponents ranking above average and only four ranking in the bottom 10 of the league. Jacksonville ranks 26th in defensive DVOA, making it prime to be torn up by this Kansas City defense. Against teams with bottom-10 defenses, Kansas City is 4-0, winning games by an average of 13 points and scoring 33 points per game on average. Trevor Lawrence has grown tremendously this season, but a lot of the success he’s had in the second half of the season has been against man coverage. He actually ranks first against man coverage over the second half of the season. Unfortunately for Lawrence and the Jaguars, Kansas City plays a two-high shell at the fourth-highest rate in the league. Lawrence has also struggled against pressure, and since Week 10, the Chiefs’ defense is getting pressure at the fourth-highest rate.
It’s time to stick up for the New York Giants and challenge my Giants-hating colleague Greg here. The first-half New York Giants got extremely lucky and weren’t very good, but they are long gone. Since Week 9, the Giants’ offense ranks fifth in offensive success rate and EPA/play. They’ve done that against the second-hardest schedule of defenses, playing Philadelphia twice, Washington twice and Dallas once over that stretch. New York lost a bunch of those games, finishing the season winning just two of their final eight games. However, they went 6-2 against the spread in those games and that’s what we care about here. I think Philadelphia wins this game, but Jalen Hurts’ injury is slightly concerning and the Philadelphia defense certainly struggled a bit more in the second half of the season. New York keeps this close while Kansas City hangs 35 on Jacksonville. The backdoor cover scares me a little from Jacksonville, but we gotta pick one here. Give me the Chiefs.
Buffalo Bills or San Francisco 49ers?
The Buffalo Bills beat the Miami Dolphins last weekend, but they were far from impressive and made plenty of mistakes. They didn't come close to covering as 14-point favorites. This time around, Joe Burrow makes it a lot less likely they survive such a sloppy game. The Buffalo Bills are 5.5-point home favorites over the Cincinnati Bengals. In the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers are co-favorites to win the conference. They host the Dallas Cowboys this week and San Francisco is a 4-point favorite. Which home team would you rather lay over a field goal with?
Greg: We’ve been waiting like hype beasts for the other shoe to drop on Brock Purdy. It nearly happened last week versus Seattle, as he came out shaky and Knoblauch’d a few balls that either sailed over receivers or bounced off the hands of Seahawks defenders. Once he settled in, the Niners’ “fully-formed death machine” got rolling and it was a wrap. San Francisco is averaging 37.8 points at home with Mr. Irrelevant starting. I don’t see any reason why Purdy and his YAC bros can’t cut through the Cowboys' defense the same way Washington, Jacksonville and Houston have done in recent weeks — especially with Dallas safety Jayron Kearse banged up. Dak Prescott is much better than people are giving him credit for, but they’re still involving Zeke way too much in their offense. The Niners' defense ranks first in overall success rate and second in rushing success rate. Cornerback Charvarius Ward has been stellar all season, so I expect a bounceback from him after a rough outing versus Seattle. San Francisco’s other corner, Deommodore Lenoir, is the one weak link in this defense, but their safeties are really good at helping out and covering up that weakness. Anything can happen in this matchup, but it’s one that I think the Niners win and cover 6.5 out of 10 times.
Is it officially time to worry about the Bills’ defense? They haven’t been able to generate sufficient pressure since Von Miller hit the shelf, so Jonah Williams and Alex Cappa missing this game for Cincinnati may not be the death knell everyone expects it to be. Joe Burrow made it to the Super Bowl last year behind a group of cardboard cutouts, he can do it again. The Bengals' defense leads the league in EPA per play and won’t make it an easy outing for Josh Allen, who’s looked shockingly human over the last half of the season. Allen has completed more than 59.3% of his passes in just two of his last five games and has tossed five picks over his last three appearances. I can’t pass up 5.5 points on a very good Bengals team. Give me the Niners on two extra days’ rest.
Pete: The talk of the week has been the deterioration of the Bengals’ offensive line, as Greg mentioned. Like Greg, I tend to also agree that this might be getting a bit overblown based on the matchup at hand. According to Warren Sharp, 72% of Joe Burrow’s wide receiver targets since Week 13 have come within 2.5 seconds of the snap. Buffalo is absolutely terrible at defending the quick pass, ranking 25th in EPA/play and 28th in success rate against passes thrown in less than 2.5 seconds. We saw this unfold last week, with Miami converting quite a few third-and long situations with quick screen passes. Buffalo also desperately misses Von Miller. Prior to his injury, Buffalo ranked fourth in pressure rate despite almost never blitzing. Since his injury, they rank 24th in pressure rate despite blitzing at a much higher rate. On the other side of the ball, Josh Allen is amazing, but he’s been making plenty of mistakes the last few weeks. He single-handedly got Miami back in the game last week, and Cincinnati will turn a lot of those field goals the Dolphins had into touchdowns. I think the Bengals keep this game close and would not at all be surprised if they pull off the upset.
The Dallas Cowboys embark on their fourth consecutive road game as they head to Santa Clara. Obviously, that’s a tough situation to be in. The best way to take advantage of this extremely stingy San Francisco defense is through the deep passing game. The 49ers' defense ranks first against the run, first against passes thrown under 15 yards, but ranks 31st against passes thrown over 15 yards in the air. Unfortunately, Dak Prescott doesn’t really challenge defenses deep at a high rate. He ranks 17th in completions that travel over 20 yards and ranks 12th in air yards per completion. Dallas cannot waste downs running Ezekiel Elliott up the middle or throwing quick screen passes. This defense is too fast. If Dallas takes shots downfield, I think the Cowboys have a chance, but it’s not something this offense does all too often. Through the early part of Brock Purdy’s career, he’s struggled when he has been blitzed. I think Dallas will attempt to ramp up the pressure against the rookie, but Kyle Shanahan probably knows that as well, meaning he’ll be scheming ways to get the ball into the hands of his elite weapons quickly. I do think Dallas has a chance in this game, so I don’t hate them getting four points. However, if I’m forced to choose between the two favorites, I’m laying it with San Francisco. Two less days of rest and preparation and four straight road games is far from ideal for Dallas.
Stats from FootballOutsiders.com, RBSDM.com and SharpFootballAnalysis.com