Maggie and Nate’s Playoff Prognostication: Diving deeper into the Divisional Round



Buffalo Bills’ Tyler Bass (2) watches his extra point during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

What an opening round of the playoffs it was. “Mr. Irrelevant” dominated in a 49ers rout of the Seahawks. Trevor Lawrence overcame a four interception first half and a 27-0 deficit to defeat the Chargers. The Bills won another game for Damar Hamlin. Daniel Jones surprised the NFL in an upset win over Minnesota. Sam Hubbard returned a 98 yard fumble for a touchdown to give the Bengals the edge over rival Baltimore. Lastly, the Cowboys overcame the “Brady curse,” defeating the Buccaneers and possibly ending Tom Brady’s historic career. All these moments presented football fans with one of the most entertaining Wild Card Weekends that have taken place. The National Football League now gets set for the Divisional Round of the postseason.

Eight teams remain. A spot in the Conference Championship games are on the line. Two teams are coming off of bye weeks. Six teams enter after thrilling victories. What a weekend it is going to be in the NFL. From game one on Saturday afternoon to the fourth game Sunday evening, all four games are set up to be just as enjoyable. Can Doug Pederson and the Jaguars shock the Chiefs at Arrowhead? Can the Giants pull off an improbable upset in Philadelphia? Will the Bengals continue their Super Bowl revenge tour with a win in Buffalo? Can the 49ers add to their big win streak and end the Cowboys season? All questions will be answered this weekend in what is expected to be a weekend full of the unexpected.


(4) Jaguars @ (1) Chiefs – Saturday, January 21st @ 4:30 P.M. on NBC

Nathan: 31-28 Jaguars

The Divisional round kicks off at Arrowhead with a battle between two of the NFL’s great young QBs. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is 4-0 in his career in the Divisional Round, throwing for over 300 yards per game in those four appearances. He also has nine passing touchdowns with zero interceptions during the Divisional Round. While Mahomes has dominated and never lost in this round of the postseason, Jags quarterback Trevor Lawrence has not lost a game on a Saturday in his career. 

Lawrence helped Jacksonville overcome a 27-0 deficit by throwing for four touchdown passes, three of which came in the second half. The major issue for facing this deficit was turnovers. The Jaguars had five turnovers in the first half, setting up the Chargers with multiple drives beginning in the red zone. Jacksonville will have to take care of the football against a Chiefs defense that was in the bottom third of the league in takeaways during the regular season. The major challenge for the Chiefs defense is going to be slowing down Lawrence and a Jaguars passing offense that finished top-10 in the league during the regular season. A difficult task lies ahead, however, for a Jaguars defense that finished fifth-worst in the league in defending the pass. They now get to face the top passing offense from the regular season. Once the Jaguars started to gain some momentum during the Chargers game, their pass defense really stepped up to keep Los Angeles from moving the ball down the field. One way they are going to be able to slow down Mahomes is to get pressure. They really struggled in the first half of the Chargers game which gave Justin Herbert time to find an open receiver down the field. In order to contain the Chiefs offense, Jacksonville has to find a way to get to Mahomes a few times. In their matchup back in week 10, Mahomes was not sacked once. The Chiefs, however, still turned the ball over three times. The problem for the Jaguars was they couldn’t cash in, scoring only seven points of those turnovers. Jacksonville also allowed five sacks and missed two field goals. Since that week 10 game, the Jaguars have won seven out of eight games, including six in a row. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have been struggling to play at their highest level. Playing in Arrowhead Stadium is no easy task for opposing teams, especially the quarterbacks. This game seems like the type of game that could start out very slow and be 10-7 at halftime. But once both teams get going, it’ll turn into a shootout. If the Jaguars can keep it within one possession before their offense finds its rhythm, they will set themselves up for success and the possibility of shocking the NFL world. 

With one playoff win under his belt, this is now Trevor Lawrence’s time to rise to the occasion and do what he was so good at doing with his time at Clemson, winning. Look for him to have more confidence and composure this game and put the pressure on Mahomes to deliver what the entire football world and Chiefs organization is expecting him to do. This game is going to be a battle all the way down to the wire, but look for a key turnover in the fourth quarter to set up the Jaguars to knock out the one seed in the AFC. While Riley Patterson missed two field goals in the first matchup, he will be sure to drill these kicks this time around, as the Jaguars look for their first AFC Championship game appearance since the 2017 season. 


Maggie: 43-17 Chiefs

Kicking off the divisional round games are the Jaguars versus the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence was limited in practice this week with a toe injury, so he may not be 100% heading into this matchup. Working in favor of the Jaguars, Lawrence has never lost a game on a Saturday all throughout high school, college and the NFL. Coming off of a hard fought, comeback win against the Chargers, the Jaguars will have to play just as hard in this game as they did in the second half of their game last week. This will not be an easy task as Andy Reid, head coach of the Chiefs, is 27-4 as a coach coming off of a bye week. Also, Patrick Mahomes has also never lost a divisional round game.  The Jaguars enter this game with a 4-5 record on the road while the Chiefs were 7-1 at home this season.  Look for the Chiefs to get ahead early and never look back as they should be looking forward to another AFC Championship Game appearance.


(6) Giants @ (1) Eagles – Saturday, January 21st @ 8:15 P.M. on FOX

Nathan: 27-24 Giants

A Saturday night primetime battle features the top seed in the NFC Philadelphia Eagles going up against their rival New York Giants. The Eagles defeated the Giants in both meetings during the regular season, averaging 35 points per game in those two games. This game comes after a bye week for Philadelphia, while New York grinded out a tough upset win against the Vikings on Sunday afternoon. The Giants enter this game as touchdown underdogs, but should not have to worry. This year’s Eagles team showed many similarities to the 2019 Baltimore Ravens team. Both teams’ quarterbacks were MVP frontrunners, both teams won 14 games, both teams had great running games and high-scoring offense, and both also had a solid defense to go along with all that. That Baltimore team had a bye week and then lost in the Divisional round to the six-seeded Titans, a team who is very similar to this year’s Giants team, led by a mobile quarterback and an All-Star running back. 

This game presents a very tough situation for New York, as playing in Philadelphia as an opposing team is not easy at all. In past meetings, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones has played fairly well against the birds, and has protected the football very well in those matchups. If the Giants want to win this game on Saturday night, their offense has to control the football and not turn it over. They will need to sustain long drives that result in points, preferably touchdowns, to put the pressure on Jalen Hurts. Falling behind simply isn’t an option for the Giants if they are going to win this game. Moving the ball on offense and scoring points will take the pressure off of the defense and allow them to be more aggressive. What allowed the Eagles offense to be so successful during the regular season is Hurts having time and a clean pocket, freeing up receivers downfield and also giving him the option of running the football as well. New York is going to have to get after Hurts quickly and keep him in the pocket. If he escapes and starts getting to the edge and running himself, this game has the potential to get out of hand. I don’t think it will, however, as Brian Daboll has already coached this team to this round, and is not ready for this run to end quite yet. The offense for New York will do its job, behind what I believe will be a big game for star running back Saquon Barkley. The major storyline will be how the Giants defense fares. If they can get after Hurts, they could force him into some poor decisions that could lead to takeaways and short fields for New York. The Giants offense, however, needs to stay away from those turnovers. The Eagles had the fourth most takeaways in the league during the regular season, while the Giants had the second-fewest giveaways. The biggest concern for the Giants coming into the postseason, however, was their run defense, which finished sixth worst in the league in the regular season. Last week, they held Dalvin Cook and the Vikings to only 61 total rushing yards. This week is a much tougher challenge for them, facing an Eagles team that ran for almost 150 yards per game this season. This is also a team that averaged 194 rushing yards in their two regular season games against New York. 

Finding a way to contain this Eagles offense as a whole is going to be a very difficult challenge for New York, but I think they will do enough to help their squad leave Philly with a win. Nobody expects New York to win this game. People in Philadelphia are expecting a complete blowout for the Eagles. Being heavy underdogs is going to allow the Giants to let loose and stick to their game. The pressure isn’t on them, it’s on the Eagles. The team that went 14-3 in the regular season is expected by many to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. I believe this will affect the Eagles in a way that fans won’t expect it to. Even though Hurts does have playoff experience, I think people are expecting too much out of him, especially from a team that had one of the NFL’s easiest strength of schedules. Also, defeating the same team three times in the same season is almost unheard of. I strongly believe that it will not happen here. As this longtime rivalry is renewed, I fully expect the underdog Giants to pull out a win in Lincoln Financial Field and shock the city of Philadelphia and the rest of the NFL.


Maggie: 32-26 Eagles

Saturday night prime time has NFC East Division rivals the New York Giants taking on the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles are coming off a bye due to being the number one seed in the NFC. This time off gave starting quarterback Jalen Hurts more time to rest his shoulder that he hurt in a week 15 matchup with the Chicago Bears. The Giants and the Eagles have played each other twice this season with the Eagles winning both games. In their most recent matchup, the Giants sat many of their starters because they already clinched a spot in the playoffs and didn’t want to risk injury. When the Eagles and Giants played the first time, Jalen Hurts was fully healthy and he led the Eagles to a 48-22 victory.  However, after missing two games, Hurts played in their week 18 matchup with the Giants and the entire offense looked a little rusty. The Eagles were the third ranked offense and second ranked defense in the NFL this year.  The Giants were 4-4 on the road this year, while the Eagles were 7-2 at home with one of the losses coming without Hurts at quarterback.  The Giants are coming off a good win against the Minnesota Vikings.  While I expect the Giants to keep the game close, look for the Eagles to come out victorious for the third time this year and move on to the NFC Championship Game. E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES!!


(3) Bengals @ (2) Bills – Sunday, January 22nd @ 3:00 P.M. on CBS

Nathan: 38-35 Bengals

The game that football fans have been waiting for all season long is set to kickoff mid-afternoon at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The Cincinnati Bengals  continue their Super Bowl revenge tour as they get set to face MVP candidate Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. These two teams were scheduled to meet in week 17, but after a life-threatening situation, the game was canceled. Prior to the NFL calling off the game, Joe Burrow led the Bengals on an opening drive that resulted in a touchdown. Josh Allen responded by taking the Bills all the way to the red zone before being forced to settle for a field goal. Nobody will ever know how that game ultimately would have ended, but it sure looked as though it would have been a fantastic game.

Looking ahead to this showdown between these two AFC contenders, it’s clear that the major storyline will be the offenses. Both teams finished in the top 10 in total offense during the regular season. Passing the ball was a success for Burrow and Allen, but finding a way to defend the pass is what is going to help one of these teams come out on top Sunday afternoon. This task is far from easy, however, as each squad is loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball. For the Bengals, there’s Jamar Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd at the receiver spot, and Joe Mixon in the backfield. For the Bills, the skill positions are led by Stefon Diggs, along with Gabe Davis, Dawson Knox, and Devin Singletary out of the backfield. Having all of these weapons has made it easier for both quarterbacks to move the ball down the field and score points. The Bengals averaged 26 points per game this year, while the Bills scored an average of 28 points per game. I expect both of these teams to exceed those numbers with ease on Sunday. I see this being a game that may start off slow, but will quickly turn into a back-and-forth game down the stretch. There is a very good chance it gets to the point where it’s touchdown drive after touchdown drive, just like the Divisional Round game for the Bills last season. I wouldn’t be surprised if this game even goes into overtime. These teams are so evenly matched that it would be very difficult for either side to dominate this game. 

Coming into this game, both sides are riding big winning streaks. The Bills come in on an eight game winning streak, while the Bengals have won nine in a row. Getting hot at the right time is crucial to fueling a championship run. As these two red-hot teams take the field Sunday, look for one turnover to be the deciding factor in this game. In a game that could put a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks, both defenses are going to have to look to generate pressure to force bad decisions and maybe some poor throws. Especially for the Bengals, given that they are going up against the team that had the third-most giveaways during the regular season. Josh Allen had some struggles with red zone interceptions, and Cincinnati will have to look to force at least one of these turnovers to gain an advantage during this game. If they give Allen enough time in the pocket, he will pick apart their defense, both through the air and by running the ball. Same goes for the Bills, who will look to take advantage of a banged up Bengals offensive line that looked vulnerable in the game last weekend against the Ravens. With one game under their belts, these two franchises have some key adjustments they need to make for this weekend. In what should be a very high-scoring and entertaining game, I see the Bengals offense as the one that will get the job done. I also believe that Josh Allen will have one key play where he tries to force a pass or extend the play too much that results in a costly turnover that sets up the Bengals in a prime spot to end the game. No matter how this ends, it will definitely be a great game between these two heavyweights and a game that fans will remember for a very long time. 


Maggie: 33-30 Bills

Sunday starts off at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo, New York with the Bengals taking on the Bills in a game that should have been a rematch of their Week 17 game, but that game was canceled with 5:35 left in the first quarter after safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field. This game is one of the most anticipated games of the postseason. Both teams have strong offenses, the Bengals were sixth in the NFL and the Bills were second in the NFL, but the Bengals have three offensive linemen out this week. The Bills have a much stronger defense, ranking sixth in the NFL, and the Bengals only ranked 16th this year.  Special teams are strong for both teams as well as they have great kickers. Tyler Bass has an 87.1% field goal percentage for the Bills and Even McPherson has an 82.8% field goal percentage for the Bengals. Given all of the drama leading up to this game, I expect this to be a hard fought game that may come down to a field goal. Either it will be a missed field goal to not tie and force overtime or a made field goal to pull ahead and win the game. Let’s hope the Bills can “Circle the Wagons” and move on to the AFC Championship Game next week. 


(5) Cowboys @ (2) 49ers – Sunday, January 22nd @ 6:30 P.M. on FOX

Nathan: 35-27 49ers

The Divisional Round closes out in Santa Clara with a rematch of last year’s Wild Card matchup between the 49ers and Cowboys. Both teams are coming off dominant wins last weekend. The 49ers scored 25 points in the second half in their rout of the Seahawks. Meanwhile, the Cowboys knocked off Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, 31-14, behind 5 total touchdowns from quarterback Dak Prescott. After that impressive performance, however, Dak has to go up against the top defense in the league at San Francisco’s home field. Also, the Cowboys have lost six straight games in the Divisional Round. If they want to break this streak, they will have to play their best football of the season, and even that may not be enough.

San Francisco comes in riding an eleven game winning streak, while Dallas has had their fair share of inconsistency. Dak threw the most interceptions in the league during the regular season, and now has to face the team that had the third-most takeaways. Dallas’ defense on the other hand hadn’t looked as good through their last few games of the regular season, but they played very well last week against a Buccaneers offense that was red hot down the stretch. They face a tougher challenge this week, as they have to try to contain the many weapons the Niners offense has. First, they have to slow down Deebo Samuel, who always poses as a threat to run and catch the ball. Then there’s Christian McCaffery, who has been playing his best football and fitting in very well with Kyle Shanahan’s offense. If Dallas puts priority on these two, it frees up pass-catchers George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk, who have received many targets with Brock Purdy at quarterback. I feel as though this is too difficult of a test for the Cowboys defense to handle, and I feel like this game could get out of hand rather quickly. 

For Dallas, they will have to rely on linebacker Micah Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs to come up with some big plays to set up Prescott and the offense with short fields to work with. In order for Dallas to have a chance on Sunday, their offense is going to have to score a lot of points. By having to go against the Niners, however, I don’t see this happening by any means. This game could definitely be close for a decent amount of time, but I believe the pressure of the 49ers pass rush will get after Dak and force him into some bad throws that could result in interceptions. The turnover battle is so crucial for this game, as I believe that is how Dallas could have an advantage. If they can’t force any takeaways, however, they won’t win this game. Also, by not taking the ball away, it forces Prescott to have to be “perfect” and I just don’t see him playing as well this weekend as he did against the Bucs. Also, CeeDee Lamb is the only major threat I see that could pose a problem to the 49ers defense. Once they figure this out, I see them shutting him down and making Dallas have to turn to Noah Brown, Ezekiel Elliot, and Tony Pollard to lead the offense. These matchups just don’t look great for the Cowboys, especially facing Nick Bosa and Fred Warner, some of the best players in the NFL on the defensive side of the ball. This rematch is a game the Cowboys have been waiting for since last year’s playoffs, but this shot at revenge will come up short, and extend Dallas’ streak of seven straight Divisional Round losses. 


Maggie: 42-20 49ers

The divisional round games end with the Cowboys traveling to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California to take on the 49ers on Sunday night. Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy, who isn’t so “irrelevant” anymore, hopes to bring home another win for San Francisco this weekend. With the 49ers winning their last six games since Purdy took over as the starting quarterback, the postseason is looking good for the team with the youngest quarterback in the divisional round. On the other hand, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys are hoping that they can show this kid that their “old man” quarterback has what it takes to win the game as Presscott is the oldest quarterback in the divisional round. These two teams haven’t played each other yet this season so who truly knows what could happen.  The Cowboys have the 11th best offense in the NFL while the 49ers were ranked 5th.  The 49ers have the number one defense and the Cowboys have the 12th best.  The Cowboys are only 4-4 away from Dallas and the 49ers are 8-1 at home.  Look for the 49ers to cruise to victory and move on to the NFC Championship Game.