NFL divisional round predictions: farewell to the Bengals and Cowboys
Eight teams remain after a pulsating Super Wild Card Weekend. Which four teams advance to the conference finals?
There was plenty of excitement during Wildcard Weekend, but not a lot of surprises. In fact, we correctly picked all six winners this time last week. Will that mojo continue in the divisional round? We’ll find out over the next few days.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs (Saturday, 4.30pm EST/9.30pm GMT)
What the Jaguars need to do to win: Trevor Lawrence has to have a brilliant first-half – or at least a not-terrible one. The Jaguars gave the Los Angeles Chargers a 27-0 lead before roaring back for a comeback victory last weekend. Lawrence has to prove that his four-interception first half was playoff debut nerves.
What the Chiefs need to do to win: Act as if they’ve been here before, which they have. Last week, the Jaguars proved they can be their own worst enemy, so the more talented Chiefs could benefit from a conservative approach that emphasizes avoiding turnovers and prioritizing time of possession.
Key player: Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs. The last time these teams faced each other, Kelce picked up 81 yards and scored a touchdown. Jacksonville’s defense struggled to contain tight ends in general during the regular season and Kelce is significantly better than “in general.”
Prediction: Chiefs over Jaguars. The Jaguars deserve nothing but credit for making it this deep into the postseason, but this feels like the game that exposes the gap between Lawrence and Patrick Mahomes.
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles (Saturday, 8.15pm EST/Sunday, 1.15am GMT)
What the Giants need to do to win: Run the ball. The Giants have the NFC’s best running back in Saquon Barkley, plus QB Daniel Jones is a threat to take the ball and run himself, having picked up 78 yards on the ground against the Minnesota Vikings last week.
What the Eagles need to do to win: If Philadelphia can prevent Jones and Barkley from creating chaos on the ground – they gave up 121.6 rushing yards a game during the regular season, compared to New York’s 144.2 – the Giants will have to air it out more, which is not their strength.
Key player: Jalen Hurts, QB, Eagles. How healthy is Hurts’s shoulder? That might be what this game comes down to. Hurts went 20-for-35, throwing for 229 yards with one pick and no touchdowns when he was forced into action at the end of the regular season. Philadelphia hope that the bye week helped him regain his form.
Prediction: Eagles over Giants. The Eagles have struggled without Hurts, but assuming that he’s at least at 80%, the best team in the NFL’s regular season will be moving on to the NFC Championship Game.
Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 3pm EST/8pm GMT)
What the Bengals need to do to win: Welcome to the Ball Security Bowl! Whichever team limits their turnovers will most likely win the game. For the Bengals, this means forcing Josh Allen into making the poor decisions that nearly doomed the Bills against the Miami Dolphins (he had two interceptions and was given “credit” for three fumbles).
What the Bills need to do to win: Meanwhile, the Bills’ job will be to sack Joe Burrow. One of the worst-kept secrets of the league is that the Bengals QB has the propensity to hold on to the football too long. It’s something he’s worked on improving but, especially with a battered offensive line, the Bills pass rushers could end up feasting on the opposing quarterback.
Key player: Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals. Should Cincinnati’s passing game start to break down, they do have a high-quality running back in Mixon, who could step in as Plan B.
Prediction: Bills over Bengals. Neither team really proved themselves in their first-round game, so this could end up being a high-scoring, free-for-all with a wild finish. If you’re just going to check out one game, this is it.
Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, 6.30pm EST/11.30pm GMT)
What the Cowboys need to do to win: Can the Cowboys’ offensive line hold up against the Niners’ league-best defense? It’s not the sexiest question but it may answer whether or not Dallas can pull off a road victory on Sunday.
What the 49ers need to do to win: In one way or another, this San Francisco 49ers’ season, and perhaps the entire NFL season, may come down to Brock Purdy’s ability to postpone turning back into the proverbial pumpkin. The final pick of last year’s draft will somehow be making his second postseason start on Sunday.
Key player: Micah Parsons, linebacker, Cowboys. Parsons’s defensive effort against Tom Brady on Monday was a big reason why the quarterback is already looking at plans for next season. Just as San Francisco’s defense is centered around Nick Bosa, Parsons is the key to the Niners’ D.
Prediction: 49ers over Cowboys. At which point, Brock Purdy will officially be nicknamed Mr Extremely Relevant.
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