Welcome to the best weekend in football, the NFL Divisional round. We take a look at eight x-factors which will determine who advances.
Jacksonville Jaguars: How aggressive will Doug Pederson get?
On Saturday night, the Jaguars finished off their epic 27-point comeback with a pair of gutsy calls.
The first was when Jacksonville trailed 30-26 with 5:25 remaining. Instead of kicking an extra point, Pederson gambled to go for a two-point conversion with the ball on the 1-yard line. Trevor Lawrence leapt over the line, converted, and allowed the Jaguars to win with a subsequent field goal.
The second came on the last drive. On 4th and 1 from the Chargers’ 41-yard line, Jacksonville lined up in a goal line formation with three men in the backfield. The call had running back Travis Etienne burst around the right side, who beat corner Asante Samuel Jr. and gained 25 yards.
If the Jaguars are going to beat Kansas City, it’ll take more inspired play calls, more fourth-down conversions and some surprises in abnormal situations.
Kansas City Chiefs: Can they avoid the big mistakes?
The Chiefs come into Saturday’s game with Jacksonville as the weekend’s largest favorite, laying 8.5 points. Kansas City beat the Jaguars 27-17 in Week 10, despite allowing an onside kick to begin the game, and being -3 in the turnover ratio.
However, Jacksonville is playing much better football. The Chiefs can’t give the ball away, but that’s been an issue. In 17 regular-season games, Kansas City turned the ball over in 13 of them, and finished the year with -3 in turnovers, the worst figure for any remaining team.
If the Chiefs lose to the Jaguars, it’ll be because they provided extra possessions.
New York Giants: Can Daniel Jones beat Darius Slay and James Bradberry?
For the Giants, the game plan is largely going to be about running the ball with Saquon Barkley while utilizing the legs of quarterback Daniel Jones. However, when Philadelphia shuts those lanes off, will New York be able to throw against a quality group of defensive backs despite its limited weaponry?
The Giants should feel good about their brain trust in head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka coming up with answers. They should also be happy Philadelphia loves to sit in zone schemes. Still, the talent disparity is real. New York needs to be creative in this area to win.
Philadelphia Eagles: How healthy are their stars?
This one was obvious. What are we getting from quarterback Jalen Hurts and First-Team All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson? Hurts played in Week 18 after missing two weeks with a sprained shoulder, but looked limited. Johnson hasn’t been on the field since suffering an abdominal injury in Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys.
If Hurts and Johnson are their usual selves, it’ll be a tough day for the Giants. However, if Hurts isn’t at full capacity and rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux gets a wounded version of Johnson, New York might be able to cause turnovers against a Philadelphia deal that is averaging almost two per game over the latter half of the season.
Cincinnati Bengals: How does a line at 40 percent health hold up?
Zac Taylor would be forgiven if he’s not sleeping much, thinking about how to protect Joe Burrow. The Bengals are likely going to be without guard Alex Kappa (ankle) and left tackle Jonah Williams (kneecap) in addition to right tackle La’el Collins (knee) who is out for the season. If you;’re not a math major, that’s 60 percent of Cincy’s revamped offensive line.
The good news for the Bengals? Buffalo has struggled mightily to get pressure with four since edge rusher Von Miller tore his ACL on Thanksgiving. Still, Greg Rousseau and AJ Epenesa are quality pass rushers, and defensive tackle Ed Oliver is a load inside.
If the Bengals can block, they have a terrific chance to win. If not, it could be a long day.
Buffalo Bills: Can they sustain long drives?
The Bills are causing consternation within their fans, and this despite being on an eight-game winning streak. Part of it has been ranking 30th in the regular season with 27 giveaways. Another part has been the offense’s boom-or-bust nature, which was on display Sunday in a tight 34-31 win over the Miami Dolphins.
This week, Buffalo’s opponent is much tougher. Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo will force Bills quarterback Josh Allen to go on longer drives, not allowing the deep ball to Gabe Davis and Stefan Diggs. Can Allen be patient, and will Buffalo offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey call enough run plays for James Cook and Devin Singletary to keep Cincinnati honest?
Dallas Cowboys: Can they get consistent pressure with four rushers?
If the Cowboys are going to pull the upset, it starts up front. Dallas has the players to make life difficult for 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy with the trio of Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong, who accounted for 28 of Dallas’ 54 sacks on the year.
It’ll be fascinating to see how Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn attacks the four offensive linemen not named Trent Williams. If they can terrorize Purdy and force a turnover or two, there could be an upset by the bay.
San Francisco 49ers: Will the Niners win situationally on offense?
Dallas is going to get some negative plays from the San Francisco offense, forcing the Niners into some second and third-and-longs. With the cavalde of talent head coach Kyle Shanahan has at his disposal, he must win the key downs this week including third downs and red-zone snaps.
If San Francisco can take advantage of those money situations, it’ll be tough for the Cowboys to force field goals instead of touchdowns, and beating the 49ers in a high-scoring game is a tough ask considering their defensive skill.