NFL Divisional Playoff Weekend Preview

January 20, 2023 by Joseph Santoliquito,

Two things can be true.

The future is now and, at the same time, the future is very bright.

Look no further than this week’s Divisional Playoffs presented by Intuit TurboTax, where 29-year-old Dak Prescott is the oldest starting quarterback remaining in contention for Super Bowl LVII. In fact, the average age of the eight starting quarterbacks this week is 25 years and 278 days. That’s the youngest group since the league began Divisional Playoffs with the 1970 merger. All eight starting quarterbacks in the Divisional Round are under 30 years old, just the second time that’s ever happened (it also occurred during the 2004 postseason).

In the AFC, all four starting quarterbacks – Josh Allen (26 years, 246 days on gameday), Joe Burrow (26 years, 43 days), Trevor Lawrence (23 years, 107 days) and Patrick Mahomes (27 years, 126 days) – are under 28. In either conference, that’s only happened twice previously, in the AFC Divisional Rounds of 1984 (Mark MaloneDave Krieg and Pro Football Hall of Famers John Elway and Dan Marino) and 2020 (Allen, Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield).

And credit the college scouting and coaching staffs of the remaining organizations that have drafted and developed the core of their rosters. Looking at the final eight teams, from Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in 2016 to Brock Purdy, the final selection in 2022, each of the past seven drafts are well represented in this week’s Divisional Round.

This week’s Divisional Round also features the well-rested Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, the respective No. 1 seeds in the AFC and NFC. But beware: Since the beginning of the 2018 playoffs, No. 1 seeds in the postseason are a combined 7-8 (.467) with zero Super Bowl victories over the past four years.

For a seventh consecutive season, at least two teams have advanced to the Divisional Playoffs that missed the postseason the year before, including Jacksonville and the New York Giants this season. Could one of those teams continue a remarkable march?

Storylines abound. The countdown is on. Strap in for one of the best weekends of the year.

The NFL’s Divisional Playoff schedule:
Saturday, January 21

AFC    Jacksonville Jaguars (10-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)  4:30 PM ET    NBC, Peacock, Universo
NFC    New York Giants (10-7-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)  8:15 PM ET    FOX, FOX Deportes

Sunday, January 22
AFC    Cincinnati Bengals (13-4) at Buffalo Bills (14-3)   3:00 PM ET    CBS, Paramount+
NFC    Dallas Cowboys (13-5) at San Francisco 49ers (14-4)  6:30 PM ET    FOX, FOX Deportes

Stay In Your Seat

Twelve of the last 13 postseason games have been within one score in the fourth quarter, including five of six Wild Card contests last week.

Four of the six 2022 playoff games so far, and 11 of the last 13 postseason contests dating to the start of the 2021 Divisional Playoffs, have been decided by seven points or less. Eight of those 13 have been separated by no more than three points.

Eight of the last 13 playoff games have also been decided in the last two minutes of regulation or in overtime.

And, teams have scored the winning points on the game's final play in six of the past 13 NFL postseason contests.

Number Of The Week – 4

The number of teams over the past five postseasons (2017-21) that finished last or tied for last in their divisions and rebounded with a berth in their conference championship games. Both Jacksonville and the New York Giants can join that group this week. The four previous teams to accomplish it: The Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers in 2021, and the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles in 2017.

Since the 1970 merger, 20 teams have reached their conference championship games after finishing in last place (or tied for last) in their divisions the previous season, including eight that reached the Super Bowl: The 1981, 1988 and 2021 Cincinnati Bengals, the 1999 St. Louis Rams, the 2001 New England Patriots, the 2003 Carolina Panthers, the 2009 New Orleans Saints and the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles.

Road Sweet Road

Road teams in NFL Divisional Playoff games have won four of the last five games, dating to Tampa Bay's win at New Orleans in the last contest of the 2020 Divisional Round.

Spotlight – Individual Matchups

Recently named Associated Press All-Pros will match up on Saturday night when the New York Giants (10-7-1) visit the Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) at Lincoln Financial Field (8:15 PM ET, FOX, FOX Deportes).

When Philadelphia has the ball, the Eagles' All-Pro center Jason Kelce draws Giants All-Pro defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence. Then, when the Giants have possession, look for Philadelphia's All-Pro linebacker Haason Reddick lined up across from New York's All-Pro offensive tackle Andrew Thomas.

What's more, in San Francisco on Sunday, look for 49ers All-Pro tackle Trent Williams in a battle against Cowboys All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons, while All-Pro guard Zack Martin anchors a Dallas offensive line tasked with stopping San Francisco All-Pro defensive lineman Nick Bosa.

Spotlight – Team Matchup

Also in that Sunday Divisional Playoff finale, when Dallas (13-5) squares off with San Francisco (14-4) at Levi's Stadium (6:30 PM ET, FOX, FOX Deportes), the teams will tie an NFL record by meeting in a ninth postseason game. The only other pairs of teams to meet nine times in the NFL playoffs are the Cowboys and Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, and the 49ers and Green Bay Packers.

San Francisco's Brock Purdy is expected to become the 10th rookie quarterback to start a Divisional Playoff game since the 1970 merger, the first since the Cowboys' Dak Prescott met the Packers in the 2016 playoffs. The list started with Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino in 1983. Since 1970, only four rookie quarterbacks have started in a conference championship game: Shaun King in 1999, Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, Joe Flacco in 2008 and Mark Sanchez in 2009.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott last week became just the fifth player in NFL history to register four passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in the same postseason game, joining Aaron RodgersTobin RoteMatt Ryan and Pro Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. He also became the first player in the Cowboys' rich postseason history to reach both 300 passing yards and four touchdown passes in a playoff game.

Streak Speak

Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon has scored a touchdown in six consecutive games. His nine receiving touchdowns this season matched the highest mark by a running back in the Super Bowl era, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk (nine touchdown receptions in 2001), Chuck Foreman (nine in 1975) and Leroy Hoard (nine in 1991).

When Kansas City (14-3) hosts Jacksonville (10-8) on Saturday (4:30 PM ET, NBC, Peacock, Universo), the Chiefs' Andy Reid (35 postseason games entering this week) will tie Pro Football Hall of Famers Tom Landry (36) and Don Shula (36) for the most postseason games by an NFL head coach. Only Bill Belichick (44) has more. The Chiefs are 7-2 over their last nine postseason games under Reid, including a Super Bowl LIV victory.

In winning their Wild Card game last week, the Jaguars erased a 27-0 deficit, the third-largest comeback victory in NFL postseason history. The only two greater comebacks were Buffalo's 1992 Wild Card win over the Houston Oilers (32 points) and the Colts' 2013 Wild Card win over Kansas City (28).

Jacksonville is the first NFL team since the 1991 Dallas Cowboys to select first in an NFL Draft and win a playoff game in the same season.

Did You Know?

Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence is 41-0 on Saturdays since his sophomore season in high school. He was 3-0 on Saturdays over his final three years at Cartersville (Ga.) High School and 36-0 in three seasons at Clemson (his two college losses were on Monday and Friday). He's also 2-0 so far in his NFL career (each of the last two Saturdays). Lawrence and the Jaguars face a third consecutive win-or-go-home Saturday game this week.

Under-The-Radar Storyline

Buffalo has gotten tremendous postseason production from wide receiver Gabe Davis, who in last week's win recorded six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. In his previous postseason game, at Kansas City in the 2021 Divisional Playoffs, Davis caught eight passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns. Davis is the first player in NFL history to reach 300 receiving yards and five touchdowns over two consecutive postseason games.

When Cincinnati (13-4) clashes with Buffalo (14-3) on Sunday at Highmark Stadium (3:00 PM ET, CBS, Paramount+), quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Josh Allen will meet officially for the first time. Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, became the first quarterback ever chosen first overall to start a Super Bowl within his first two seasons. Allen, meanwhile, enters Sunday's game as just the second player ever to reach 300 passing yards and three passing touchdowns in three consecutive postseason games, joining Matt Ryan.

On his clutch, 98-yard touchdown return in the fourth quarter of last week's Wild Card win, Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard reached a maximum speed of 17.43 miles per hour, according to Next Gen Stats. Hubbard covered 123.6 yards, the most on a touchdown by a player carrying a football during the 2022 season.

Cincinnati is attempting to become just the eighth team since the 1970 merger to begin a season 0-2 and still advance to its conference championship game. With a win Sunday, the Bengals would join the 1993 Dallas Cowboys, 1996 and 2001 New England Patriots, 1998 New York Jets, 2003 Philadelphia Eagles, 2007 New York Giants and 2014 Indianapolis Colts as teams that lost their first two games and advanced to conference championship games.

Trend Time

Since the Eagles captured consecutive division crowns in 2003 and 2004, the NFC East has had a different champion each of the past 18 seasons (2005-22). It's the longest stretch ever without a repeat division winner.

This season's NFC East champion, Philadelphia (14-3), hosts the New York Giants (10-7-1) on Saturday night (8:15 PM ET, FOX, FOX Deportes). Along with the Dallas Cowboys, three teams from the NFC East have advanced to the Divisional Playoffs, the first time since the league expanded to 32 teams and realigned into eight divisions in 2002 that a single division has placed three teams in the Divisional Round. The last Divisional Round with three teams from the same division was 1997, when Green Bay, Minnesota and Tampa Bay represented the old NFC Central.

In each of the prior two seasons in which the Eagles have earned the NFC's No. 1 seed, they've advanced to the Super Bowl (2004 and 2017).

In last week's win, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones became the first player in NFL history to reach both 300 passing yards and 75 rushing yards in a postseason game.

The Giants' Brian Daboll is bidding to become just the 15th rookie head coach since the 1970 merger to lead his team to a conference championship game. However, only one coach has done it over the last 10 years (2012-21): Green Bay's Matt LaFleur in 2019.

Joseph Santoliquito can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.

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