Top NFL Storylines Heading Into the Divisional Round of NFL Playoffs 2023

We are down to the final 8 teams of the season and headed into what’s usually the best weekend of football. Seriously, just remember last year’s playoffs when all 4 games were down to the wire one-score contests, ending with the Bills-Chiefs classic. That’s what we are all hoping for again.

With that in mind, we’re going to examine and predict some of the top storylines heading into this weekend of games.

It’s a New Age at QB

With the Cowboys knocking Tom Brady out of the playoffs, all the remaining playoff quarterbacks are in their 20s. The eldest quarterback remaining in the playoffs is Dak Prescott, who was drafted in 2016 and is 29 years old. We have clearly transitioned into the new era of quarterbacks, especially considering half of the quarterbacks in the playoffs are in their third year of playing or younger.

However, these young and talented quarterbacks playing aren’t just trying to establish a new era at the position, but establish themselves as a top quarterback going forward. It’s safe to say that Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, and Patrick Mahomes have solidified themselves in that category, but where do the rest lie? Cowboys Dak Prescott may not rank in the same tier as the above three, but he definitely demonstrated his value in a signature 5 touchdown performance which secured his second playoff win.

Outside of those four we have four other quarterbacks each in their first postseason. Giants QB Daniel Jones got all of New York off his back by bringing the Giants to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and even getting a win. Both Trevor Lawrence and Jalen Hurts have reached if not exceeded expectations and will likely be leading their teams for at least the next several seasons. Lastly there’s Mr. Relevant Brock Purdy who has pulled off the improbable. It’s up for debate across the league if Purdy has already solidified himself as the 49ers quarterback over Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, but a deep playoff run and potential Super Bowl win will surely give him that title.

Bengals Offensive Line Woes

Cincinnati BengalsAfter the Bengals Super Bowl loss last season, they had one critical goal–improve the offensive line. They took action in the offseason signing RT La’el Collins, RG Alex Cappa and C Ted Karras. It wasn’t an immediate success as the line still struggled in the beginning of the season, but they started to click which significantly helped the Bengals go on their 9 game winning streak. In the first 8 games of the winning streak, the Bengals allowed no more than 2 sacks per game before giving up 4 to the Ravens last Sunday. Injuries have decimated this line with Cappa, Collins, and Jonah Williams all injured and the Bengals needing to turn to 3 backups.

The good news for the Bengals is the line problems won’t necessarily ruin their hopes. The Bengals survived 9 sacks in the divisional round last year and still made the Super Bowl. And Joe Burrow excels is unfazed by pressure like nobody else. Still, it’s not ideal and could cost the Bengals Super Bowl dreams if they can’t protect Burrow.

Will Injuries Hold the Eagles Back?

Philadelphia EaglesThroughout the season, the Eagles established themselves as the team to beat with a forceful pass rush, intimidating pass defense, and impressive offense led by both the legs and arm of Jalen Hurts. They jumped out to a 13-1 start to the season, before dropping 2 of their final 3 games and almost losing the number 1 seed.

The Eagles have had no problem handling the Giants in their battles this season. The Eagles throughout the beginning of the season looked like an unstoppable force, but injuries have taken a toll on the team. They dropped two games in the last month of the season and almost lost the #1 seed after QB Jalen Hurts went down with an injury. Hurts did not look fully back to normal in a week 18 game against the Giants, and also played against their backups. How well he’s feeling will play a big part on if the Eagles can meet their previous status of play.

They also have seen injuries to key players like Lane Johnson, Brandon Graham, and Josh Sweat. Sweat is coming back from a scary neck injury he sustained during the second half of the season while Johnson is planning to play through a groin injury which will require surgery in the offseason. Of course the Eagles want these players on the field, but they may not be able to dominate if their stars aren’t playing at full health.

Coach-Mentor Matchups

In two out of the four games this week we will see a coach take on his former offensive coordinator. When the Jaguars face the Chiefs, we will see Andy Reid up against his former OC in Doug Pederson. Though Pederson has become well established as a coach, even winning his first Super Bowl before Reid, he has known Reid for decades and was under him as both a player and coach. Reid has beat Pederson in both of their matchups thus far, but expressed tons of respect for Pederson and calling him a top candidate for Coach of the Year for turning things around in Jacksonville.

We will also see this in the 49ers-Cowboys when Kyle Shanahan faces his former HC Dan Quinn who’s now the Cowboys DC. When Quinn got hired as the HC for Atlanta, he reportedly chose Shanahan as his OC because Shanahan was always the one coordinator who he hated to face off against. Now Quinn and Shanahan are running their respective sides of the ball for different teams with many talented players. With Shanahan having a slew of offensive weapons from McCaffrey to Kittle going up against Parsons, Quinn, and Diggs, we will hopefully see a great tactical battle between two coaches very familiar with each other.

Who’s the Best Pass Rusher of the Weekend?

On the defensive side of the ball, we will get to see some stellar pass rushers and defensive lineman this weekend. Such players include Chris Jones, Nick Bosa, Dexter Lawrence, Haason Reddick, Micah Parsons, Sam Hubbard, Greg Rousseau and rookies Kayvan Thibedeaux and Trayvon Walker all playing this weekend, defensive line play will be a point of emphasis in each game. Don’t be surprised if at least one of these top players steals the attention away from the star offenses and quarterbacks.

Lastly–A Few Other Items To Keep in Mind:

1. Will the new OT rules come in to play for the first time?
2. Can Brett Maher overcome his kicking yips or could they cost the Cowboys?
3. Would Trevor Lawrence become king of the Duval Waffle House with a win over the Chiefs?

A UCLA graduate, Eva is an experienced football writer who specializes in NFL game analysis and weekly storylines. In her free time you can usually find her cheering on the 49ers or watching the latest Josh Allen highlight clip.

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