On a weekend of spectacular playoff debuts, New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones stole the spotlight.
The competition was stiff: 49ers rookie Brock Purdy threw for 300+ yards, threw 3 touchdowns and ran in another, and Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence rebounded from four interceptions and a 27-0 deficit in the first half to finish with four touchdown passes and the victory. Heck, even Justin Herbert, who was flawless in leading the Chargers to a 27-0 debut, might have secured a victory had head coach Brandon Staley not decided a 4th-and-3 on the opponent 22 was the only time in the past two seasons that he didn’t want to go for it. Not only did the Chargers forego the opportunity to regain a three-score lead with the Jaguars charging hard, they missed the field goal to push the lead from 10 to 13, and everything unraveled from there, with the Jaguars scoring 11 in the final few minutes to secure the victory.
With all that in mind, Jones was still the day’s biggest story. Without the supporting cast that Purdy has in San Francisco, Jones was brilliant from start to finish, answering Minnesota’s opening touchdown drive with a scoring drive of his own, and racking up 301 yards through the air and 78 on the ground while tossing two scores. Saquon Barkley got in the endzone twice, including on a highlight-reel twenty-eight yarder, but Jones handled 17 carries to Barkley’s 9; between his 35 pass attempts and 17 carries, Jones accounted for 52 of New York’s 65 plays on the night. A late drop by receiver Darius Slayton negated a potential opportunity for the Giants to win on offense, but the defense held up in the end as Kirk Cousins and the Vikings once again fell short.
Now the Giants move on to play the Eagles in a quarterback-driven rivalry that could extend beyond 2022. Before the season, 3 of the 4 NFC East teams had question marks at quarterback; the Commanders still have some issues to sort through, but it’s fair to say that Daniel Jones and Jalen Hurts have earned the title of franchise quarterback for their respective teams entering this divisional matchup. Much like the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs, who responded to a fifth-year option snub with a career year, Jones has cashed in big by balling out ahead of free agency.
We’ll get into that Eagles-Giants matchup, as well as the rest of the NFL Playoff slate, but before we do, be sure to sign up for The Oracle’s Picks today! The NFL season is winding to a close, but with the NBA, NHL, and NCAA Basketball all in play, there’s no shortage of great action for the Oracle to send your way! Now, on to the NFL’s Divisional Round Matchups.
NFC: Eagles-Giants, 49ers-?
San Francisco is waiting on the outcome of Monday Night’s final Wild Card matchup between the Cowboys and Buccaneers, but whether it was on the plane ride back to New York or in the comforts of their offices in Philadelphia, you can bet that both of these staffs have been getting waist-deep in their game plans.
It’s often said that it’s difficult to beat an opponent three times in a season, but San Francisco’s beatdown of Seattle this past weekend was a reminder that it doesn’t always play out that way. However, Philadelphia’s 48-22 win over the Giants in their first game is a distant memory at this point, as that game came a week before Jalen Hurts injured his shoulder in Chicago. In Week 18, a Hurts-led Eagles team only beat a Davis Webb-led Giants team 22-16, and as Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, and the rest of the New York starters who rested during that game can more than make up a six-point difference, it’s going to be on the Eagles to produce a far better performance this time out.
Any way you slice it, the Giants are a team that has built momentum over the past month, while Philadelphia’s once-dominant season has been listing off the rails. As hot as the Giants have been of late, they don’t stand up to the peak version of the Eagles we’ve seen in 2022, but it seems unlikely that is the group that we’ll get to see next weekend. It’s not just Hurts; injuries to star players such as right tackle Lane Johnson and safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson have knocked this team down a peg.
Momentum can shift at any time, and Philadelphia’s offense will look worlds better if Hurts’ shoulder is healthy enough for him to run in this game, but with the way Jones played in Minnesota on Sunday, it’s hard to rule out anything, except that these two teams, who both have the resources to continue building around their quarterbacks into 2023, should be in it for the long haul.
The Eagles are 7-point favorites on DraftKings, and sit as the NFC Favorites at +155 as the 49ers (+175) await their opponent. Regardless of whether Dallas (currently +600) or Tampa Bay (currently +1200) prevails, the Giants (+1000) will be back in the fourth spot after tonight’s game, but San Francisco’s next opponent could determine whether or not the 49ers or Eagles enter the Divisional Round in pole position.
AFC: Chiefs-Jaguars, Bengals-Bills
For the first half of Saturday Night’s game between the Jaguars and Chargers, it appeared that NFL fans were likely on track for another division three-peat in the Divisional round, with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs set to face off with Justin Herbert and the Chargers. Even after Trevor Lawrence connected with Evan Engram to get the Jaguars on the board before halftime, the Chargers’ victory seemed like a foregone conclusion (apparently this bettor thought so…).
Then the second half, and to his credit, Lawrence, who could have easily called it a season after his dismal first half, showed the sort of mental makeup a franchise quarterback needs in the NFL. Lawrence drove the Jaguars on three straight touchdown drives in the second half, which made it four straight with the Engram touchdown before the half, and as Lawrence got his offense humming, the Chargers’ offense faltered, going into a conservative shell that cost them on multiple occasions.
For all the times he’s gone for it on fourth down in inappropriate situations, including multiple inexplicable decisions in the loss to Las Vegas that knocked the Chargers out of the NFL Playoff field in 2021, Brandon Staley picked a remarkably bad time to wimp out. It started on the first drive of the second half, when they elected to punt the ball from the Jacksonville 38 rather than go for it on fourth and ten. It’s a conventional decision, but the Chargers haven’t been a conventional team, and the 27 yards of field position they gained on the punt didn’t turn out to matter very much as Lawrence drove the Jaguars 89 yards for a score.
The field goal on the ensuing drive made sense, as it was 4th and 11 and the kick pushed the lead from two scores back to three scores, but the decision on the second field goal attempt of the second half was a bad one even before Cameron Dicker missed the field goal. Los Angeles was unraveling on defense, Lawrence was in a rhythm, and Herbert had led the Chargers 58 yards on the drive to set up 4th and 3 at the Jacksonville 22, but rather than make what had been a stock decision to put the ball in his quarterback’s hands, Staley picked that moment to take the conservative route.
Now Lawrence and the Jaguars will take their show on the road for a coaching reunion between Andy Reid and Doug Pederson, who both appear to be fairly well set with the quarterbacks they have in place. Expectations are low for Jacksonville after what was likely an MVP season from Mahomes, as the Jaguars head into Kansas City as an 8.5-point underdog, but as the Bills and Bengals learned this week, being a touchdown-plus favorite doesn’t count for much in an NFL Playoff game.
The second matchup appeared to be up in the air when some gaffes allowed the Dolphins to take a mid-game lead over the Bills, and again when Tyler Huntley and the Ravens had the ball on the Cincinnati 1-yard-line in a tie game, but both teams escaped, with Josh Allen and the offense leading the way for Buffalo late while Sam Hubbard’s phenomenal fumble return touchdown stole the day for Cincinnati.
The rematch of the Damar Hamlin game, which will take place in Buffalo, looks a lot different than it did the last time around, not only because of Hamlin’s absence, but because of the slew of injuries that Cincinnati has suffered along the offensive line. Last night saw them lose left tackle Jonah Williams on top of previous injuries to right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle La’El Collins, and while none of the three was contending for All-Pro honors, they were certainly better than the group that has replaced them. Those injuries are at least part of the reason that Buffalo opens as a 4-point favorite.
As for the AFC odds, Kansas City leads the pack at +140, with the Bills at +165, the Bengals at +400, and the Jaguars at +400. The Buffalo-Cincinnati site does raise the question of why the AFC Title game is being played at a neutral site – had Cincinnati beat Buffalo in the canceled game, the Bengals would be hosting this matchup, so another neutral site would have made some sense – but those are the breaks, as are the injuries that Cincinnati has suffered up front. That said, Joe Burrow has a history of success working behind depleted offensive lines, and the Bengals offer a solid return at +400.
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.