Last week I went 6-3 overall. If you include my Week 18 results, I ended the season going 14-5 overall. Needless to say, my confidence is at an all-time high and I’m looking for more wins this weekend. Here are my best angles and best bets for the Divisional Round.
Jaguars at Chiefs (-10 at Bet US), Total: 53
The Jacksonville Jaguars will take their winning ways to Arrowhead Stadium for the first Divisional Round playoff game this Saturday. Fresh off a scintillating comeback victory against the Chargers, a game where the whole world got to witness Trevor Lawrence’s leadership ability and resolve, the Jaguars have a bigger challenge ahead of them against the Kansas City Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes is having yet another career year (5,250 yards, 41 TDs, 12 INTs, 105.7 QB rating), and the Chiefs have won nine of their last ten games heading into this contest. As the No. 1 seed, the Chiefs were treated to a full week of rest while other teams competed in the Wild Card Round.
It’s really hard to bet against the Chiefs at home in the AFC Playoffs. The last two times Kansas City had home-field advantage (2019 and 2021), they made it to the Super Bowl. But I think the underdog can be very feisty in this matchup, and most of that is because of the Jaguars’ dynamic passing attack. That’s why I like the total to go over.
The Chiefs do a lot of things right, especially on offense. They lead the league in explosive plays (0.45 points per play) and yards per pass (7.8). They’re also amazing on third and fourth down conversions, ranking second overall. That could be the Achilles’ heel for the Jaguars’ defense Saturday since they allow opponents to convert third downs at a rate of 43.46%, a mark that’s a horrid 29th overall. Jacksonville has a young, super-athletic group on defense. They can wreak havoc and create turnovers on a frequent basis (they’re ninth in takeaways, averaging 1.5 per game). But Andy Reid and Mahomes lead an offense that rarely stops humming, and I’m not sure the Jaguars’ defense has the experience or discipline to greatly limit the Chiefs at any point in this matchup.
The Jaguars’ offense, on the other hand, could still experience plenty of success. They have a very formidable offensive line and are ranked fourth overall in sack rate allowed (only 4.46% of plays). Plus, the Jaguars’ dynamic run game can make life easier for Lawrence in a hostile environment. Kansas City’s Chris Jones, one of the best interior tackles in the NFL, will probably make some big plays at key junctures of the game. I just don’t think it’ll be enough to limit Lawrence, Travis Etienne, and a developing group of young talent in Jacksonville.
There’s a reason why this total is so high. I project this game ending 34-27, so I lean toward Jacksonville, but I really like a lot of points. The Chiefs are the best offense in the NFL, yet again, and the Jaguars should be able to keep up for most of the contest. That’s the narrative.
Take over 53
Giants at Eagles (-7.5), Total: 48.5
As a Giants fan, I’ll try my best to be unbiased in this write-up. It won’t be easy.
Wild things can happen when a team shows the kind of chemistry the New York Giants have to close the season. Big Blue is carrying a ton of momentum leading up to their big Divisional showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles, on the other hand, haven’t looked so hot to end their 2022-23 campaign. Just look at their last five games:
- They barely beat the Chicago Bears, arguably a bottom-three team, in Week 15
- They fell to the Cowboys in Week 16
- They lost to the Saints in Week 17 at home, in a game where they were bullied in the trenches and only scored 10 points
- And they eked out a 22-16 win over the Giants’ second/third units in Week 18
I realize the Eagles were without Jalen Hurts against the Cowboys and Saints, but then that doesn’t fit the narrative that Philadelphia has one of the most talented rosters in football. With or without Hurts, they should have performed better (especially against New Orleans). But when adversity struck, it seemed the Eagles were ill-equipped to handle it.
On the other side, Daniel Jones is the key to the New York Giants’ chances of winning. Jones played his greatest game as the Giants’ quarterback last Sunday. He was flawless in his decision-making, made accurate throws when it mattered and ran 17 times for 78 yards. Almost every one of his rushing attempts was in key moments of the game, including multiple long runs on the Giants’ first drive. The way New York immediately matched Minnesota’s initial score was a sign of things to come– the Giants accrued 431 yards against the Vikings, and Jones was responsible for 88% of that production.
In their Week 14 matchup, the Eagles annihilated the Giants at home, 48-22. The Eagles were at the height of their powers in that contest– they scored a touchdown on their first three drives, immediately putting the Giants out of their element. The Giants prefer to control the game with a dynamic rushing attack, as we’ve seen plenty this season. They’re fifth in yards per carry (4.8) and fourth in rushing yards per game (147.8), so they usually succeed. Big Blue was down 21-0 halfway through the second quarter in Week 14, but I don’t think that’ll happen this weekend. If anything, the Giants’ renewed confidence and momentum might mean they set the tone early. Considering Hurts’ is fighting through a shoulder strain on his throwing arm, I imagine that will be New York’s approach– make Hurts beat playing them from behind.
Jones will be facing a much more complex, athletic, and experienced defense this Saturday. Receivers won’t be open as often, and he’ll need to go off-script to gain first downs. Jones averages 44.3 rush yards per game, but he’s averaged 50 rush yards per game since Week 11. He’ll need to gain at least his average if the Giants have a shot this weekend. Trust that he’ll be featured early and often, and probably asked to win with his legs.
Take Daniel Jones over 43.5 rushing yards (-120)
Bengals at Bills (-5.5), Total: 48
I don’t have as much nuanced analysis on this game; this is just all about the number. I also think this is the game where the Bills will really miss Von Miller.
Flashback to last year’s NFC Playoffs, and Miller was as big a difference-maker as any player on the Rams’ quest to eventually win Super Bowl LVI. This season, Miller incurred a torn ACL on Thanksgiving against the Detroit Lions, eliminating the veteran All-Pro’s chances of playing on potentially another championship roster. That would have been clutch if the Bills still had him healthy, considering it was Joe Burrow who Miller and the Rams’ defensive line dominated in last year’s final contest.
The Bills still have a very good defense, one that’s only allowing 18.6 points per game to its opponents (third overall), but I’m not sure if it’ll provide as many problems as pundits are saying. Yes, the Cincinnati Bengals have three offensive linemen injured. It’s not ideal, but I just trust Burrow. Burrow came out throwing 4-for-4 for 52 yards out the gate in Week 17 in a game that officially never happened. Both teams looked ready for one of the biggest games of the year, and I think it’ll have the same feel on Sunday.
Burrow and the Bengals are made to handle adversity, and they have players who always seem to come up big in crucial game moments. Look no further than Sam Hubbard’s 99-yard fumble-recovery touchdown last week in the Wild Card Round.
Last year the Bengals’ offensive line permitted 54 sacks during the regular season. In the 2021-22 AFC playoffs, it allowed 12 sacks on Burrow, including nine sacks to the No. 1 seed Tennessee Titans, on their journey to Super Bowl LVI. They still got there, by the way.
And aside from last week, one could argue that the Bengals were lucky to beat the Ravens — Cincinnati was easily one of the hottest teams in the NFL entering the playoffs. They’ve won nine games in a row, their offense is averaging nearly 30 points per game in that span, and their defense is completely healthy. Burrow also has an elite group of wide receivers, arguably the best in the league, at his disposal.
The way Zac Taylor and the Bengals’ staff handled Damar Hamlin’s injury in their almost-game against the Bills three weeks ago told me everything I need to know about the Bengals’ organization. These are high-level guys, exceptional leaders on and off the field, and they have a quarterback who’s rarely deterred.
Take the Bengals +5.5
Cowboys at 49ers (-3.5), Total: 46
One thing is for sure: The NFL must love the fact that the 49ers and Cowboys are squaring off on Sunday in the final Divisional Round playoff game. Two of the most storied (and valuable) franchises in sports will battle for the right to play in the NFC Championship Game, and I think we’ll see some points in this game.
During their last seven games, the 49ers have averaged 34.5 points per game. The Cowboys have averaged 31 points per game during the same span. Everyone knows that both defenses are among the best in the NFL, and it’s reasonable to assume that both quarterbacks could be shaken up early. Since Dak Prescott and rookie quarterback Brock Purdy may take time to settle in, a nice way to hedge this bet could be wagering on the first quarter falling under 9.5 points. Eventually, I think both offenses will win more often than they’ll lose in their matchups.
The Cowboys and 49ers both have tremendous talent on offense. They also have top-tier offensive lines. The San Francisco defense is notoriously aggressive, but like Dallas, they can get beat on downfield throws. One way to mitigate mistakes and create opportunities for long passes is by establishing the run game.
Dallas will face a bigger challenge in that regard. The 49ers have a stingy run defense. They’re second overall in opponent yards per rush (3.4) and opponent rush yards per game (79.2). The Cowboys, not so much. Dallas allows 4.4 opponent yards per carry (17th) and 125 opponent rush yards per game (22nd). The 49ers started really featuring Christian McCaffrey in Week 13 against the Miami Dolphins. Since then, he’s averaged 89 rush yards and 40 receiving yards per game. He’s also scored eight touchdowns. I imagine he’ll be highlighted early and often on Sunday.
On the other side, the Cowboys will roll out a top-10 rushing offense of their own. Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott are among the best 1-2 running back combinations in the NFL. As a team, they’ve accrued 2,298 rushing yards this season. Pollard is also often featured in their short passing game, and he’s proved he’s as elusive and effective as it gets in any role.
These two offenses are just too talented to not find a groove eventually, and the aggressive nature of both defenses should create some opportunities downfield for both quarterbacks. I wouldn’t be shocked if this game went well into the 50s.