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The Hilltop


Preview: The NFL Playoff Divisional Round Is One Step Closer To Football Immortality

Patrick Mahomes gearing to throw in the Chiefs’ week 10 27-17 victory over their divisional round opponents, the Jaguars. Photo by Associated Press.

What is to be a scintillating NFL division round playoff slate awaits the NFL community. Win and advance to the conference championship, a feat only few can claim.

As teams not in the postseason a year ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Giants face a tall task as they will go against their conference’s number-one seed, the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively. The Chiefs and the Eagles consequently received a first-round bye for capturing the number one seed in their conferences. 

The Cowboys hope to transcend their recent divisional round woes, losing three out of five of their last playoff appearances in the divisional round. No favorite resides in the Bengals-Bills matchup, but many will be thankful merely for Bills safety, Damar Hamlin, being alive to watch the game. 

The Hilltop dives into what to expect in the NFL playoff divisional round. 

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: Battle of the Exes

If anyone can out-coach the Andy Reid-led Chiefs, it’s Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson. Pederson spent time with Reid as a player and assistant coach in Philadelphia from 2009-2012 and in Kansas City from 2013-2015. The task at hand will require slowing down Patrick Mahomes. He is 9-1 off of a bye week, and the Chiefs average just over 30 points in those ten games. 

Mahomes’ dominance, especially this season, has been nothing short of fascinating.

Upon the departure of speedy wideout Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, many within and outside the league walls pondered a Chiefs offensive scheme without Tyreek Hill. Patrick Mahomes excelled beyond doubt, throwing for 5,250 yards on the season with 41 touchdown passes. 

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Widely considered to be this season’s MVP, Mahomes enters the game on two weeks’ rest and will now attempt to facilitate akin to his season production against a Jaguars defense led by linebacker Josh Allen. Although the Chiefs are formidable to many, the Jaguars are ferocious and will do anything to be the stumbling block in the Chiefs’ path to lifting the Vince Lombardi trophy. 

After allocating $175.3 million in guaranteed money this off-season, the most by any franchise in NFL history, Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence has the weapons in wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram to cause trouble for the Chiefs’ defense. Their defense gave up 37 red zone touchdowns in the regular season, the fourth worst in the league. However, the Jaguars must not go into a 27-0 deficit against the Chiefs. 

Their comeback against the Chargers sealed a trip to the divisional round. If momentum is the winning factor, Jags win. Each team will be well prepared with film from their week 10 matchup, where Mahomes put up 331 yards for four touchdowns giving the Chiefs a 27-17 edge over the Jaguars. 

Where & When To Watch: Saturday, Jan. 21 at 4:30 p.m. on NBC

Hilltop’s Prediction: Jacksonville 27 @ Chiefs 21

Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants: Resurrection Occurs On The Third

The Giants will face off against the Eagles for the third time this season after suffering a 48-22 defeat in week 14. For motivation purposes, Big Blue’s second and third stringers nearly prevented the birds from celebrating the NFC’s number one seed in a narrow 16-22 loss in the regular season finale.

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The Eagles secured the seed with 14 wins on the season, even though Jalen Hurts missed two weeks due to a shoulder injury against the Chicago Bears in week 15. Injury is a lingering bug in the Eagles facility heading into this divisional matchup. Hurts is not 100 percent, in addition to wideout A.J. Brown, running back Miles Sanders and defensive menaces Robert Quinn and Josh Sweat. 

The Giants can capitalize off a depleted Eagles squad, but history is to their advantage too. Since 1970, teams that swept an opponent in the regular season are 15-8 in the third matchup. A loss is still a loss, and with Jalen Hurts, who threw for over 3,700 yards this season, rested and at somewhat full strength with an electrifying receiving core featuring A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith. Adoree Jackson, who returned from injury last week against the Vikings and held star Vikings wideout Justin Jefferson to 37 yards, will most likely have the task of covering A.J. Brown. 

Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will have to execute his best schemes for the Giants to have hope in their third matchup.

Hurts was held to zero touchdowns and an interception in week 18. If the Giants’ defense displays the same effort, the ball game will lay in the hands of quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley. 

Expect the two to use their legs in this matchup. The pair rushed for 131 yards in their 31-24 wild-card victory over the Minnesota Vikings. 

Daniel has 708 regular season rushing yards, and his usage in the run department is inevitable against the Eagles. The most conspicuous emblem of Jones’ growth at the quarterback position is his productivity without Sterling Shepard and Wan’Dale Robinson as his primary targets. He is making unlikely heroes shine. The Giants claimed 2020 sixth-round draft pick Isaiah Hodgins off waivers on Nov. 2. Richie James, a return specialist, has become a reliable target for Jones. Not to mention the emergence of rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger.

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All success is contingent on the offensive line giving Jones time in the pocket as they did against the Vikings; the Giants can walk out of Philadelphia living the dream. However, the Eagles’ defensive line has four members with over 10 sacks. Hassan Reddick, Javon Hargrove, Brandon Graham and Josh Sweat will be a nightmare to the Giants if the offensive line doesn’t stand firm. Don’t forget Fletcher Cox, who tallied seven sacks on the year.

The Giants need a miracle, but the significance of number three is on their side. History reveals that one significant resurrection already has ties to the number three; could another be imminent in favor of the Giants? 

For all its worth, the last three times the Giants won their opening round, a Super Bowl appearance followed. 

Where & When To Watch: Saturday, Jan. 21 at 8:15 p.m. on FOX.

Hilltop’s Prediction: Giants 16 @ Eagles 13

Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Peace and Trauma 

Nearly three weeks after Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed in a week 17 matchup against the Bengals, the two will meet again. Trauma will be present, but a sense of peace and echo of thanksgiving will permeate throughout Highmark Stadium. 

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The Bengals enter unfamiliar territory. They are an underdog. However, the margin of error for Buffalo is slim. The Bills will benefit from Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams potentially being sidelined with a dislocated kneecap that made him miss the entire second half of the wild-card game against the Ravens. Right guard La’el Collins and right guard Alex Cappa are injured as well. The Bengals are 13-1 this season when Burrow is sacked fewer than five times but 0-3 when he is sacked five or more times. Keep watch of how many times Burrow hits the ground. Bills defensive end Von Miller being out alleviates some of the anxious thoughts for Burrow.

Speaking of the defensive end, Bills quarterback Josh Allen will feast if the Bengals’ defense from the Ravens game appears. Needless to say, it was the Bengals’ defense that propelled them to this round. However, concern remains for Buffalo’s offense. 

Allen gave up 18 points off three turnovers against the Dolphins. Buffalo’s offense could have been more exceptional, having played only three games this season flawless of a turnover. Allen has the most turnovers this year, with 22. The Bengals can be perceived as bound to extend their winning streak to 10-0 if awarded any extra possessions. The perception here is not reality, as Allen is 11-3 this season when a turnover appears on his stat sheet. But, reality may receive a check when up against arguably the best wide receiver trio in the league, consisting of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.

Burrow has favorable records on his resume as well. Against non-AFC North teams, he is 9-1 with 23 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Additionally, the third-year quarterback and college football national champion has a perfect career record in January. 

Expect a down-to-the-wire matchup. That category also favors Joe Burrow, whose productivity in the fourth quarter this season vastly outweighs Josh Allen’s. 

Neither of these AFC powerhouses can’t play as they did in the wild-card round if they expect to beat the other. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Bills head coach Sean McDermott impress a proclivity for grit on both ends of the sticks, assuring this will be a matchup America will cling to their couches to witness. 

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Where & When To Watch: Sunday, Jan. 22 at 3 p.m. on CBS 

Hilltop’s Bold Prediction: Bengals 38 @ Bills 35 

San Francisco 49ers vs. Dallas Cowboys: Don’t Block The Referee This Year 

A rematch of last year’s wild-card round, America can fondly remember their “favorite team’s” decision to run a QB draw with 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter without any timeouts. The ensuing play failed to execute and time expired as Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ offensive line blocked the referee from placing the ball. 

Both teams present an exquisite offense but also a splendid defense. The 49ers allowed the fewest points by a team this season, while the Cowboys ranked fifth in that category. 

With offensive mastermind Kyle Shannahan as their head coach, the 49ers eat, sleep and breathe touchdowns. However, renowned Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn dreams about defensive strategies in his sleep. 

San Francisco quarterback, Brock Purdy, has awakened seemingly out of nowhere and will indeed cause problems for Quinn in the backfield. Containing one hybrid force in Deebo Samuel fosters fret for any defensive, but to contain two is a towering responsibility. 

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Purdy, akin to Prescott, has the weapons necessary to stamp himself as a 49ers legend in his first season and lead his team to the NFC championship. He would be the fifth quarterback ever to do so. 

As for Prescott, limiting turnovers against this defense is a must. The Dallas quarterback has 15 interceptions this year, tied for second-most this season. The Niners are tied with the Steelers for the most defensive interceptions this year at 20. 

Every point will count, including kicker Brett Maher nailing his extra points against a 49ers team who comes in on an eleven-game win streak.

Where & When To Watch: Sunday, Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m. on FOX 

Hilltop’s Prediction: Cowboys 21 @ Niners 35 

Copy edited by N’dia Webb

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