The NFL Divisional Round kicks off this weekend with the top 8 teams fighting for a spot in the conference championships. After an exciting Wild Card weekend, the stakes heighten as these elite squads face off.
Favorites Emerge as Teams to Beat
According to top news reports, the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens have separated themselves from the pack as the teams to beat. The 49ers earned the #1 seed in the NFC behind another MVP-caliber season from quarterback Brock Purdy. Their ferocious pass rush also terrorized opponents. The Ravens enter the playoffs red-hot after quarterback Lamar Jackson returned from injury, showcasing their explosiveness.
While those two dominated in the regular season, anything can happen in the single-elimination playoffs. The Packers, Bills, Chiefs, and Eagles all have recent Super Bowl pedigrees and the firepower to make a run. Don’t count out the feisty Lions either. As coach Dan Campbell said, “We ain’t dead yet!”.
Marquee QB Matchups Headline Games
The quarterback battles shine in the divisional round. Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes leads the Chiefs against Josh Allen’s Bills in a rematch of last year’s epic playoff thriller (USA Today). The NFL’s future also clashes as 25-year-old phenoms Purdy and Jackson square off. Veterans Aaron Rodgers and Jared Goff get chances to further build their playoff legacies.
|Saturday 4:30PM ET
|Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs
|Saturday 8:15PM ET
|New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
|Sunday 3:00PM ET
|Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills
|Sunday 6:30PM ET
|Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers
Home teams favored across the board, but road teams have recent history of playoff success.
Injury Concerns Loom for Contenders
A rash of late season injuries has impacted several projected Super Bowl teams (CBS Sports). The Ravens lost running back JK Dobbins, a key cog in their offense, late in the season. The Eagles are missing starting quarterback Jalen Hurts. The 49ers may be without superstar running back Christian McCaffrey.
How these contending teams adjust to these personnel losses could swing the postseason. Strong organizational culture and “next man up” mentalities will be tested. Coaching adjustments and schematic changes could mitigate the issues…or exacerbate them.
“It’s unfortunate to lose top players, but that’s the nature of this game,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “We focus on putting the guys we have in positions to succeed.”
Upstart Jaguars Look to Continue Magical Run
The Jaguars provided Wild Card weekend’s shocker by blowing out the Chargers on the road. Much of that success stemmed from the toughness displayed by head coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Now this upstart heads to Kansas City looking to take down the AFC’s top seed.
Pederson has instilled a fiery, aggressive mentality in Jacksonville. The players have clearly bought in and bring an underdog, “us against the world” mentality few expected from a 4-win team last season. Lawrence also looks transformed under Pederson’s tutelage, making smart decisions while unleashing his cannon arm for highlight reel throws.
Few expect the Jaguars to take down Mahomes and Reid in Kansas City. But with this coaching, confidence and quarterback play, they just might shock the world again.
What Happens Next
The winners from divisional weekend will battle in their conference championships on January 29th. The Bengals and Bills are on a collision course to decide AFC supremacy after last year’s instant classic. Out west, the prospect of the 49ers and Eagles vying for NFC glory with backup quarterbacks pits two franchises’ organizational strengths against each other.
Those victors will meet two weeks later in Super Bowl LVIII. Will a new dynasty emerge or will a past champion once again lift the Lombardi Trophy? The NFL’s best eight teams vie this weekend for the chance to write their name in the history books.
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