NFL Divisional Round Recap: Hurts So Good

nfl divisional round recap

When Jalen Hurts returned to the field to help the Eagles secure a first-round bye in Week 18, it was not at the standard he had established during an MVP-worthy start to the season. Hurts and the Eagles picked up the win, but after Hurts’ first appearance after his Week 15 shoulder injury, questions remained about whether NFL fans would see the same Eagles unit that had rolled to a 13-1 start.

At the very least, it seemed possible that Daniel Jones and the Giants would turn their recent hot streak into a competitive game, but that storyline went out the window by the end of the first quarter, as the Eagles were back to their dominant ways. The offense rolled, the defense generated relentless pressure, and two key pieces, right tackle Lane Johnson and versatile defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, made it through the game after recent injury woes.

The Eagles are now flying high ahead of their matchup with the 49ers, who dragged out a win over the Cowboys in the Sunday Night spot, while the AFC will see a rematch of last year’s championship game after the Bengals handled the Bills in Buffalo on Sunday.

We’ll get into both of these matchups, but before we do, be sure to sign up for The Oracle’s Picks today! The NFL season is drawing to a close, with only three games left on the slate, but NCAA basketball, the NBA, and the NHL are all picking up, so The Oracle will keep you busy with all sorts of great sports action throughout the football offseason.

With that, let’s get into the NFL’s Championship Round Matchups. Odds are from DraftKings.

NFC Championship: Eagles vs. 49ers (PHI -2.5, Total 45.5)

If the 49ers go on to win the NFL Championship, George Kittle’s absurd triple-tap catch will likely stand as the most memorable moment of their run. In a game where yards and points were both scarce, Kittle’s catch sparked San Francisco’s lone touchdown drive, which Christian McCaffrey capped to give them a 16-9 lead.

San Francisco’s defense has been the best in the NFL, so it’s possible they could slow down the Eagles, but it’s more likely that the 49ers’ offense will need to make a bigger contribution to advance past the NFC Championship Game. While Dak Prescott was only sacked once, the 49ers’ ability to snuff out the Dallas ground game and put Prescott in uncomfortable positions certainly contributed to the dismal decisions he made on his interceptions.

Whether their defensive front can do that against Philadelphia’s offensive line is an open question, but given Lane Johnson’s return and the element Jalen Hurts adds as a running threat, it seems unlikely. This may be the best offensive line matched against the best defensive line, but the offensive line is playing with a massive tactical advantage because of the uncertainty that their quarterback creates in the defense.

On the other side of the ball, the 49ers will look to be more productive after a workmanlike performance this weekend. San Francisco didn’t turn the ball over on offense, which is a positive, but Elijah Mitchell, Christian McCaffrey, and Deebo Samuel were all held under 3.7 yards per carry, and Brock Purdy only threw for 214 yards. To win on Sunday, they likely need more output than that.

The Eagles have had their struggles against the run this season, so Sunday’s game against San Francisco will offer an interesting test now that Philadelphia’s defense is almost back to full strength. Slot cornerback Avonte Maddox remained sidelined this weekend, but against the 49ers, that may not be a bad thing. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson had largely handled deep safety duties since his trade from New Orleans, but his dominant play as a run defender and cover player in the slot allowed the Saints to live in “big nickel” personnel as their base defense for three years. Given how the 49ers are built, Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon may prefer to deploy Gardner-Johnson in the box to snuff out San Francisco’s ground game and force Purdy to challenge Philadelphia’s opportunistic cornerback duo of Darius Slay and James Bradberry.

The Eagles are the co-favorites with the Chiefs to win the NFL Championship Game at +260, while the 49ers slot into the fourth spot at +310. For reasons best known to the book, there is a slight disparity between San Francisco’s moneyline (+125) and their odds to win the NFC (+120), so check both the futures and the game lines before you book a bet this weekend – you never know when a book will give you a free advantage!

AFC Championship: Chiefs vs. Bengals (KC -1, Total 47.5)

Early buyers took advantage of this line on DraftKings as the Bengals-Bills game wound down; Buffalo still had the ball when the initial number went up at KC -3 and a Cincinnati moneyline of +120, but by the time Joe Burrow was kneeling the ball out after Josh Allen’s late-game interception, the number was at KC -2 and a moneyline of +105.

It’s not a surprise after the Bengals’ offense kept on rolling despite the absences of left tackle Jonah Williams and right guard Alex Cappa. Ironically, you might argue that Joe Mixon had his best game of the season running the ball in spite of the injuries up front; Mixon’s five-touchdown regular season game aside, his ability to combine with Samaje Perine to total 27 carries for 138 yards was a key factor in preventing the Buffalo defense from teeing off on Burrow, who was only sacked once on Sunday.

Now Burrow and company head to Kansas City for a matchup with Patrick Mahomes, who played through a high-ankle sprain during Saturday’s win and may need to do his damage from the pocket next Sunday. Steve Spagnuolo’s blitz-heavy approach gave Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence issues on Saturday, particularly on some of Kansas City’s cornerback blitzes, but part of the reason Cincinnati has won their last three games against the Chiefs is that approach isn’t overly effective against Burrow’s recognition skills. To win this one, Mahomes will need to put up points, and it will be interesting to see how head coach Andy Reid adjusts the plan if Mahomes’ ankle restricts him to working from the pocket next weekend.

With their matchup a coin-flip, the Chiefs (+260) and Bengals (+270) have roughly the same odds to win the NFL Championship Game. Combined with the fact that Philadelphia is at +260 despite being a 2.5-point favorite in their conference championship game, this indicates that if the number opened today, the AFC representative would be favored in the NFL Championship Game.

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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.