Key Matchups for Every Divisional Round Game NFL Playoffs 2023
Is this the best weekend of football all year? The divisional round has been prone to some huge upsets over the years, and last year’s divisional weekend featured four thrilling games that came down to the final seconds.
As the final eight teams compete for a chance to play for a trip to Super Bowl LVII, here are the key matchups from each game that could make all the difference.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Jaguars Pass-Rush vs. Chiefs Offensive Line
The Jaguars haven’t generated a ton of pressure this season, sitting 13th among the 14 playoff teams with only 35 sacks, but that’s started to change over the past few weeks. Josh Allen and Travon Walker both made a big impact in Jacksonville’s Week 18 win over the Titans, and their numbers outshined Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack in the wild card comeback last week.
The Jaguars have an impressive offense, but it’s going to take a complete team effort to beat the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Chiefs have a very strong offensive line, with three Pro-Bowl caliber starters, but the Bengals proved in last year’s AFC Title Game that 1) it can be beaten and 2) pressuring Mahomes can change the tide of a game. The question is whether the Jaguars’ front seven is up for the challenge on the road.
New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Giants Receivers vs. Eagles Secondary
The Eagles had one of the NFL’s best cornerback duos this season in Darius Slay and former Giant James Bradberry, and the return of safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson only bolsters the secondary. While the unit will be missing Avonte Maddox, it’ll still be a much tougher day for a thin Giants receiving corps than the wild card matchup in Minnesota.
Daniel Jones had his way against a bad Vikings pass defense, but is a receiving corps led by Isaiah Hodgins, Darius Slayton, and Richie James up for the challenge of facing one of the NFL’s best teams? James was the only Giants receiver with more than 42 yards when these two teams met in December, and Jones was held to 169 yards.
Yes, the Giants have won with only their running game and defense this season, but it feels like it’s going to take some more overachievement from these receivers if the Giants are going to knock off the NFC’s No. 1 seed on the road.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Buffalo Bills
Bills Pass-Rush vs. Bengals Offensive Line
The Bills are more decisive favorites than I expected this weekend, and my guess is that the line has much to do with the Bengals’ offensive line. With three starters set to be out, Cincinnati’s line might be in worse shape than it was during last year’s playoff run.
Luckily for Joe Burrow, the Bills’ pass rush attack hasn’t been very productive since Von Miller went down. Buffalo needs Gregory Rousseau and other young players to step up and take advantage of what’s become a genuine weakness for the Bengals. Another quiet week from the Bills’ pass rushers would erase the Bengals’ one real vulnerability.
The run defense should also have an easier time containing Joe Mixon with less than impressive blocking by the Bengals’ line.
Josh Allen vs. Turnovers
More specifically, Josh Allen vs. a Bengals defense averaging 1.5 takeaways per game. Both the Bills and Bengals force turnovers at a high rate, but only one team seems to be battling turnover issues on the offensive side of the ball right now.
Allen needs to take better care of the ball than he did against the Dolphins, and these problems have followed him through the second half of the season. He might be trying to do too much considering Buffalo doesn’t have a dominant group of weapons outside of Stefon Diggs, but a punt tends to be safer than a turnover.
Cincinnati’s safety tandem of Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell has a combined 8 INT, and the Bengals have forced a whopping 14 fumbles this season. Considering the Bengals’ offense might not be at its best with the offensive line depleted, the Bills need to take their chances there instead of handing Cincinnati free field position.
Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers
Christian McCaffrey vs. Cowboys Run Defense
The Cowboys’ run defense was near the middle of the pack this season, but it looked better as the season went on and gained back Leighton Vander Esch last week. Dallas’ only real slip-up in recent weeks came against Travis Etienne. The unit held up fine against Jonathan Taylor and Dameon Pierce before limiting Miles Sanders and eventually the Buccaneers’ running game very well.
This group needs to step up again with Christian McCaffrey in the 49ers’ backfield. San Francisco has everything working offensively right now, but it’s no coincidence that McCaffrey’s success has translated to 49ers success. If the Cowboys can find some way to contain McCaffrey and force Brock Purdy to toss it around a bit more than he expected, the path to an upset win will be clearer.
Dak Prescott vs. 49ers Secondary
Prescott may very well be the better quarterback in this game, but it takes more than that to beat the 49ers. Winning is going to require another performance similar to the one he had against the Buccaneers.
Prescott was rusty early on but was surgical once he settled in, starting 0-for-3 but completing 25 of his final 30 passes. The Bucs’ pass defense has been far from perfect this season, but it’s not a unit that was easily carved up by QBs this season. Prescott was genuinely impressive.
With the 49ers’ tough run defense presenting a serious challenge for Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott, it’s going to be on Prescott and his receivers to challenge a 49ers cornerback room that isn’t intimidating outside of Charvarius Ward.
The ‘Niners defense has had some moments of weakness in recent weeks against Jarrett Stidham and Geno Smith. When Prescott is as locked in as he was on Monday, he’s in a different realm than both of those quarterbacks. The oldest quarterback remaining in these playoffs can’t be intimidated.