Playoffs Show Advancing Teams Have Quarterbacks with Elite Numbers

Playoffs Show Advancing Teams Have Quarterbacks with Elite Numbers
President Harry Truman is credited with saying, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” This is not entirely true, but it is the case that a talented mathematician can manipulate statistics to prove any point. I’m not a talented mathematician, but I have learned that if you take a hard look at year-end NFL statistics, […]

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Divisional Round Actions Final Example of Lawrence’s Growth Into Jaguars’ True Leader

The Jacksonville Jaguars were unable to pull off a significant upset and take down Kansas City in the Divisional Round last weekend. But even after the loss, there was a positive sight for the Jags: Quarterback Trevor Lawrence standing in the tunnel, waiting to greet every member of the team as they left the field. That moment in the tunnel was the final chapter in a story told all season about how Lawrence grew on and off the field, and became an elite leader and the player everyone in Jacksonville looks to to guide the franchise.

Analysis

NFL Divisional Round: What We Learned from Saturday’s Games

Seven takeaways from Saturday’s two Divisional Round playoff games:

Chiefs 27, Jaguars 20 

Mahomes’ Legend Grows

The legend of Patrick Mahomes added another chapter Saturday. The front-runner for the 2022 league MVP award suffered a high ankle sprain late in the first quarter after edge rusher Arden Key fell on the quarterback’s lower leg. Mahomes hobbled around before getting the Chiefs into field-goal range, but then missed the rest of the first half.

Shades of Michael Jordan, Emmitt Smith, Kirk Gibson and Willis Reed before him, Mahomes dramatically emerged from the locker room after halftime and gutted out a solid second half to lead the Chiefs to victory while playing with a noticeable limp.

“It’s one of those moments where if you’re on that team, there’s no chance but to be inspired,” said analyst Eric Mangini of The 33rd Team. “You think about those moments, and you appreciate those moments.”

Mahomes completed 22-of-30 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown, and he had some impressive jump passes both before his injury and after.

In true legend fashion, Mahomes ended his postgame press conference by guaranteeing he’d be ready to play next week in the AFC title game.

“It’s going to take a lot to keep me out of a football game,” Mahomes said via the NBC broadcast. “I’ll be good to go.”

Henne-thing Is Possible?

Chad Henne is still in the NFL? Yup. The 13-year veteran was thrust into action Saturday after Mahomes’ ankle injury, and he proved the Chiefs were lucky to have him in a backup role.

Henne, who hasn’t made a start since 2020 and attempted just two passes this season, took over at the Chiefs’ 2-yard line, with a 10-7 lead and momentum seemingly shifting to the Jaguars after Mahomes exited. He responded by driving the Chiefs 98 yards, tossing a touchdown to Travis Kelce to extend Kansas City’s lead to 17-7.

Ho-hum. Just another day in the world of a backup quarterback.

“For him to orchestrate a drive like he did, to have no penalties, no procedural errors, none of the things you would expect with a guy that has seen so little action is fantastic,” Mangini said. “You talk to your backups and your young guys about being ready for their moments. Sometimes they believe you and sometimes they don’t. It’s a great example for all the young guys on that team.”

Henne finished 5-of-7 for 23 yards and the TD pass. Mahomes is confident he’ll play next week, but if he can’t, the Chiefs know they’re in capable hands with Henne.

Jaguars Forgot About Kelce

Going into Saturday’s game, the Jaguars knew they needed to stop the All-Pro Kelce, and yet it looked like they forgot he was on the field at times. Kelce finished with 14 catches, breaking the record for the most receptions by a tight end in a single postseason game.

“[Jacksonville] struggled against tight ends all year, but you gotta try something different,” Mangini said. “You can’t go into the game saying, ‘Hey, we’re not very good at this. We’re still gonna do the same thing we did before against the best tight end in the NFL and hope for a different outcome.’ It was pretty unbelievable in terms of that approach.”

Kelce had 98 yards and two scores, including Kansas City’s first touchdown where he acted like he was blocking and then simply turned around to find himself wide open.

Most of Kelce’s catches came on short routes as the Jaguars’ defense backed off into deeper zone coverage. He caught all seven of his targets on hitch routes, tied for the most since 2018.

Lawrence’s Saturday Streak Ends

Trevor Lawrence entered the game having never lost a game on a Saturday in high school, college or in the NFL. The loss dropped the quarterback’s all-time Saturday record to a 34-1.

Lawrence still had an impressive season, leading the Jaguars to the playoffs one season after they finished with the worst record in the NFL. Suffice to say, he is living up to his billing as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

“Equal part crushed that the road ends for us this year, equal part just proud of what we did,” Lawrence said after the game. “This is more the beginning than it is the end of something. This is just getting started for us. We got a taste of it, and guys are already hungry to get this opportunity again.”

The future is bright in Jacksonville, but Lawrence threw a key interception to Chiefs’ rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson, who made an impressive one-handed catch, with 3:55 remaining in the game while the Jaguars were down by 10.

Analyst Mike Martz of The 33rd Team thought the Jaguars’ offensive game plan was good enough to beat the Chiefs, but Lawrence’s late-game interception and Jamal Agnew’s fumble was too much to overcome.

“I think they had a really good plan on offense,” Martz said. “What hurt them on offense was they had four or five unblocked players create pressures. That should never happen. They had some miscues in protections. One of the protections was going the wrong way, and they turned him loose. [Lawrence] instead of throwing hot, threw a go route and ended up getting picked.”

The interception leaves Lawrence with five touchdowns and five interceptions in his first career playoff run. If the Jaguars are going to advance past the divisional round, cutting down on those interceptions will be the next step in his progression.

Eagles 38, Giants 7 

Eagles as Good as Advertised

The last No. 1-seeded team to win the Super Bowl was Philadelphia in the 2017 season. It’s been tough sledding for top seeds since.

On Saturday night, the Eagles looked much like a team that could break the curse. Philadelphia started the game with a dominant 8-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and then proceeded to shut out the Giants until more than halfway through the third quarter.

“The best thing I saw from the Eagles on Saturday night was they were serious up front,” said analyst Samari Rolle of The 33rd Team. “They were able to do whatever they wanted to do. They were able to push the Giants around and kind of show them, ‘We beat you once, we beat you twice and this will be the third time, and we’re sending you home.'”

The Eagles advance to the NFC Championship Game to face the winner of Sunday night’s Divisional Round matchup between the Cowboys and 49ers. Philadelphia split the season series with the Cowboys and have faced the 49ers in each of the past two season, splitting those games as well.

No matter the opponent, Rolle believes all the pressure is on the Eagles.

“They’ve got a lot of pressure on them next weekend,” Rolle said. “With what’s at stake and the fact that they’re hosting the game and that they’ve been the No. 1 seed pretty much all season long. I think if they end up with the 49ers, they don’t win. If they get the Cowboys, I think the Eagles go to the Super Bowl.”

Time will tell if Rolle’s prediction comes true. For now, the Eagles look primed to win it all.

Hurts Looks Healthy

One of the biggest questions for the Eagles coming into the week was the health of quarterback Jalen Hurts. He missed the Eagles’ Week 16 and 17 games with a shoulder injury before returning in Week 18.

Hurts might not be 100 percent, but he looked much closer to it against the Giants. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations like the Eagles, there is no better development.

“It was great to see Jalen Hurts out there and moving around,” Rolle said. “He got in the game and got out healthy, and they get to host the NFC Championship Game next weekend. There’s nothing more they could ask for. Hurts showed you he can get you an opportunity to play for the Super Bowl.”

Hurts, who was 16-of-24 for 154 yards and two touchdowns and ran nine times for 34 more yards, didn’t seem too concerned about his shoulder after the game.

“Was never in a situation to really test it,” Hurts said. “I’m lucky to come out clean.”

Hurts is clearly a huge part of why Philadelphia was so good this season, and his improved health makes them look like a dominant team. Eagles coach Nick Sirianni took it a step further comparing Hurts to one sport’s most popular figures.

“To have him out there is like — I know this is high praise, but to have him out there is like having, I shouldn’t even go there, it’s like having Michael Jordan out there,” Sirianni said. “He’s your leader. He’s your guy. Hopefully, that’s the biggest respect I can pay to him comparing his ability to being on the field to a Michael Jordan type. This guy leads. He brings this calmness to the entire team. He plays great football. He’s as tough as they come.”

Tough Decisions Loom for Giants

Although the Giants got run out of the building and saw their playoff run come to a screeching halt, there were a lot of positives that came from a season with shallow expectations.

Brian Daboll looks like the right coach to lead the Giants into the future, Daniel Jones proved he’s worth bringing back next season, and running back Saquon Barkley looked back to his old form.

Daboll coached a talent-depleted roster to the Giants’ first playoff appearance since 2016. Jones’ 301 passing yards and two touchdowns in New York’s upset win at Minnesota in the Wild Card round was the team’s first playoff win since 2011. Barkley, who also played an integral role in the Wild Card victory, ran for a career-high 1,312 yards and had 10 touchdowns in 2022 while finally staying healthy for a complete season.

Both Jones and Barkley’s contracts have run their course. The Giants reportedly want to bring both back but likely would give one of them a long-term contract and use the franchise tag on the other.

Barkley was adamant he wants to return to New York in 2023.

“I wanted to show them the guy they drafted is still here,” Barkley said after the game. “I hope I did that. Everyone knows I would love to be a Giant for life, but I really can’t give 100 percent answers. Sometime this week, I’ll have a conversation with my agent Kim [Miale] and see what’s up. I can’t envision that being my last time in a Giants uniform.”

Daboll was asked after the game if he was ready to commit to Jones for 2023.

“All these conversations, we’re gonna have those,” Daboll told reporters. “We’ve got a long offseason, and there’s a time and a place to have those conversations. Tonight’s not it.”

Analysis

Trevor Lawrence’s Playoff Performance Reminiscent of Ben Roethlisberger

Former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a Super Bowl in his second season. Thomas says he is getting Ben Roethlisberger-esque vibes from Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence. If Lawrence wants to replicate Roethlisberger’s success he’ll have to get past Chris Jones and the Chiefs. That’s something Mitchell Schwartz knows is easier said than done.

DFS

Optimal DFS Plays For 2023 Two-Day Divisional Round Main Slate

If you are new to DFS, check out our introductory pieces, such as DFS 101, Contest Selection, Stacking, Rostership, Leverage, and Lineup Construction.

This weekend’s main slate lasts two days, so late swapping will benefit those who utilize players from Sunday’s games. I have a Divisional Coverage primer that you should look at because this piece will reference a lot of data from that piece. There are many ways to get unique on this week’s main slate and leverage spots at certain price ranges. I will be looking to flip the script with some of my builds based on the popularity of the expensive quarterbacks.

We also have Rostership Data for FREE, which can be found HERE.

Double Stacks

Stack: QB Jalen Hurts, WR DeVonta Smith, TE Dallas Goedert

The week of rest couldn’t have been more important to any playoff team with Hurts’ shoulder injury. A fully healthy Jalen Hurts can put up big numbers against the Giants, and there’s a blueprint to put up big numbers on them. Dallas Goedert has to watch the film of T.J. Hockenson and Mark Andrews and be ready to win in man-coverage situations.

A.J. Brown is the No. 1 receiver in the NFL against man coverage. However, Martindale has his former Titans teammate in Adoree’ Jackson, and I think they will have a good game plan for this matchup. DeVonta Smith is also a top wide receiver against man coverage, and I think being looked at as a second option in this game will allow him to work freely. I don’t believe I want to run it back in this game because of how good this Eagles’ defense is and how the Giants can utilize multiple wide receivers.

Stack: QB Trevor Lawrence, WR Christian Kirk, WR Zay Jones

Runback: TE Travis Kelce

The Jaguars-Chiefs game features the highest point total on the entire slate, and Trevor Lawrence isn’t projected to be one of the most popular quarterbacks on the slate. When Lawrence gets man coverage, who he targets has been relatively consistent week-to-week, and it’s Christian Kirk and Zay Jones. Since Week 10, Lawrence saw a high man coverage rate against the Chiefs, Lions, Titans, and Cowboys. During that span of weeks, Kirk had a 33.3% target share, with Jones at 29.6%, and with the game flow, I believe it’s the spot for the Jaguars to find success. The Chiefs are one of three teams to give up 20 or more touchdowns to wide receivers this year, and these two wide receivers combine for a 55.8% target share.

 

Travis Kelce has had 90 yards receiving in six straight playoff matchups and has scored in five of the last six games. All of these team’s games planned to slow down Kelce and couldn’t find any success, and I don’t expect that to change here. The Chiefs have a wide receiver rotation that I don’t plan on trying to guess in tournaments because I think the number of players they utilize will limit the upside of breaking the slate with the value at wide receiver this week. Kadarius Toney is the one Chiefs wide receiver I would bet on, and if Clyde Edwards-Helaire is activated, I have no interest in this running back room.

Single Stacks

I’m not single stacking this week.

Mini-Stacks

WR Tee Higgins, WR Gabriel Davis

Greg Jennings believes we could see Tre’Davious White shadow with Ja’Marr Chase, and with three starting offensive linemen, I think Joe Burrow throws Tee Higgins’ way in contested coverage. Higgins has been the best player against Cover 3 coverage, and with the Bills’ struggles against the run, I think we see plenty of that coverage for Higgins to exploit.

Gabriel Davis will get Eli Apple in this matchup, and Stefon Diggs will deal with bracketed coverages. Davis has to win in his matchup against the Bills for this offense to find success and score points. Last weekend, Demarcus Robinson was able to win deep on Apple, and Davis will have plenty of film on the matchup to be able to replicate that double move.

RB Christian McCaffrey, WR Brandon Aiyuk, WR CeeDee Lamb

Christian McCaffrey is a chess piece that Dan Quinn has not seen Kyle Shanahan have on his board before, and he will need to get going if they want to slow down the pass rush. Mike Martz believes that the Cowboys are weak in their interior defensive line and that McCaffrey can exploit that area of the field.

Brandon Aiyuk is a lethal route runner and the 49ers’ pass catcher that can get the job done down the field against the Cowboys’ secondary. Aiyuk is the down-the-field threat with Brock Purdy, and I believe he will continue that trend in this matchup.

The Cowboys should be looking at the Davante Adams film against the 49ers and getting every bit of the route combinations he ran for CeeDee Lamb to get free against the 49ers. The 49ers’ weakest point is the slot, and Lamb will frequently align in that area. The 49ers’ primary coverages also bode well for Lamb because he has a high target rate against them, with Dak Prescott as the starter.

 

Divisional Round DFS Player Pool

Player Pos Team Opp DK Salary FD Salary VegasPts
Jalen Hurts QB PHI vs NYG $7,600 $9,000 27.5
Trevor Lawrence QB JAC @ KC $6,000 $7,600 22.5
Christian McCaffrey RB SF vs DAL $8,000 $9,200 25
Saquon Barkley RB NYG @ PHI $7,900 $8,500 20.5
Joe Mixon RB CIN @ BUF $6,500 $7,700 21.75
Travis Etienne RB JAC @ KC $6,400 $6,800 22.5
Tony Pollard RB DAL @ SF $6,100 $7,100 21
Jerick McKinnon RB KC vs JAC $6,000 $7,000 30.5
Miles Sanders RB PHI vs NYG $5,700 $7,200 27.5
James Cook RB BUF vs CIN $4,800 $5,800 26.75
Eli Mitchell RB SF vs DAL $4,700 $5,400 25
A.J. Brown WR PHI vs NYG $7,600 $8,300 27.5
CeeDee Lamb WR DAL @ SF $7,300 $7,800 21
DeVonta Smith WR PHI vs NYG $7,200 $7,400 27.5
Christian Kirk WR JAC @ KC $6,000 $7,600 22.5
Deebo Samuel WR SF vs DAL $5,900 $7,100 25
Tee Higgins WR CIN @ BUF $5,800 $7,000 21.75
Brandon Aiyuk WR SF vs DAL $5,000 $6,500 25
Gabriel Davis WR BUF vs CIN $4,800 $6,600 26.75
Zay Jones WR JAC @ KC $4,700 $6,500 22.5
Kadarius Toney WR KC vs JAC $4,100 $5,800 30.5
Michael Gallup WR DAL @ SF $3,800 $5,700 21
Isaiah McKenzie WR BUF vs CIN $3,300 $5,100 26.75
T.Y. Hilton WR DAL @ SF $3,200 $5,000 21
Travis Kelce TE KC vs JAC $7,700 $8,000 30.5
George Kittle TE SF vs DAL $5,700 $7,100 25
Dallas Goedert TE PHI vs NYG $4,500 $6,300 27.5
Dalton Schultz TE DAL @ SF $4,200 $6,400 21
Hayden Hurst TE CIN @ BUF $3,200 $5,000 21.75
49ers DST SF vs DAL $3,300 $4,500 21
Eagles DST PHI vs NYG $3,200 $4,800 20.5
Chiefs DST KC vs JAC $3,100 $4,200 22.5
Cowboys DST DAL @ SF $3,000 $3,900 25
Bills DST BUF vs CIN $2,900 $4,100 21.75
Giants DST NYG @ PHI $2,500 $3,000 27.5
Bengals DST CIN @ BUF $2,400 $3,400 26.75

WATCH: Best Divisional Round Sleepers, Values

Betting

2023 NFL Divisional Round Betting: Odds, Spreads, Picks, Predictions For Saturday’s Slate

The Divisional Round is one of the finest weeks of football all year. We kick this weekend off with two Saturday games that I’ll evaluate from a sports betting perspective. Below I provide summaries for each of those matchups, with a link to my in-depth betting previews for those contests.

No. 4 Jaguars at No. 1 Chiefs

Weather: Outdoors, chance of rain or snow late in the contest

The Line Report

  • This line opened as Chiefs -8.5
  • This line has moved to Chiefs -9.5
  • This total opened at 51.5-points
  • This total remains at 51.5-points

Bottom Line

The Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes Chiefs are the measuring stick in the AFC. No one wins every game, but Kansas City is the most reliable team in the league. Trevor Lawrence’s Jaguars are the interesting upstart that’s ahead of schedule. I expect this to be the last time Lawrence will be a two-score underdog for the next decade.

Ultimately, I have the Chiefs winning this contest, but I’m taking the Jaguars against the spread or passing given this large number. I took Lawrence over 249.5 yards passing and for him to not throw an interception at plus money on our Player Prop Happy Hour show. I also tailed Josh Larky on Christian Kirk’s over-yards receiving prop, although the line has moved since we made that play.

Score Prediction: Chiefs 27 Jaguars 24

No. 6 Giants at No. 1 Eagles

Weather: Outdoors, no current concerns

The Line Report

  • This line opened as Eagles -7
  • This line has moved to Eagles -7.5
  • This total opened at 48-points
  • This total has moved to 47.5-points

Bottom Line

From a pure talent standpoint, the Eagles have an advantage against the Giants at virtually every position group. If Jalen Hurts looks like the MVP candidate he was before his throwing-shoulder injury, the Eagles could dominate this game in every aspect. If Hurts looks rusty, that opens the door for the Giants to keep this one close.

 

The winning formula for the Giants was driven by strong defensive efforts paired with Daniel Jones’ low-risk offense. While New York’s offense has had a limited ceiling all year, Jones carved up a Vikings defense that fired their defensive coordinator in the wake of their wild-card loss. Expect the Eagles’ defense to be a far more problematic opponent for Jones and the upstart Giants.

I have some level of interest in all of the Eagles’ key offensive players to exceed expectations in this matchup. Eagles star right tackle Lane Johnson is off the injury report, which increases my enthusiasm. Since I think a lot of Eagles players are in for a big day, I will avoid straight bets in this matchup. However, I’m building a same game parlay where the Eagles smash in the air and one where they smash on the ground.

Score Prediction: Eagles 27 Giants 16

WATCH MORE: Top Player Props for Divisional Round

Video

Maxx Pressure: Breaking Down Each Divisional Round Quarterback

Over the course of his four-year career, Maxx Crosby has had the chance to get to know many of the NFL’s best quarterbacks (and plant them to the turf). Ahead of the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, Crosby breaks down the games of all eight quarterbacks attempting to lead their teams to the Conference Championship Round.

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