The divisional round of the playoffs certainly disproved some narratives that lasted in the NFL throughout the year. Perhaps the Dallas Cowboys weren't the Super Bowl contender they were originally believed to be over the last several months or the Cincinnati Bengals really are the best team in the AFC (despite their 2-3 start to the season).
Where do the Buffalo Bills go from here after a tough loss to the Bengals? What about the Cowboys going forward? Both those teams can't view their seasons the same way as the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars, two teams that surprisingly made the divisional round after being two of the worst teams in football for several seasons. There's a reason to be optimistic in Jacksonville and New York.
As for the teams that made it to conference championship weekend? Can Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs finally defeat their kryptonite of Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals? Can the San Francisco 49ers and the No. 1 defense continue the "defense wins championships" mantra and beat the NFC's No. 1 offense in the Philadelphia Eagles?
Divisional weekend certainly provided a lot of answers, especially with the conference championship games next week. Here's what we learned in the divisional round of the playoffs from each team.
Defense rose to the occasion with Patrick Mahomes injured: The Chiefs are 54-3 when they hold their opponents to less than 27 points, including postseason play. The defense took that statistic to merit, doing a very good job at limiting Jacksonville to 20 points in the 27-20 victory.
Was it a perfect performance? No, but it was good enough. The Jaguars had 144 rushing yards and averaged 7.6 yards per carry while going 7 of 13 on third down, but the Chiefs forced a Trevor Lawrence interception up 27-20 late in the fourth quarter and hit him seven times.
The defense stepped up during the second quarter when Mahomes was in the locker room, holding Jacksonville to three points in the second quarter and keeping the lead at the break before Mahomes returned.
Is the Chiefs defense great? No, but this is Steve Spagnuolo's best unit since he arrived in Kansas City. Less than 27 points seems to be the magic number for a victory, whether Mahomes is healthy or not.
Drops cost team chance at an upset: The Jaguars were able to hang around with the Chiefs throughout the game, but Jacksonville may have been going to the AFC Championship Game if it wasn't for a few key drops. Trevor Lawrence found Christian Kirk on a deep pass that would have gone for 55 yards in the second quarter, but Kirk dropped the pass and the Jaguars rallied for a field goal.
In a 17-7 game, Kirk needed that reception to get Jacksonville in the red zone and put some pressure on Kansas City. The Jaguars had another drop in the second quarter, as JaMycal Hasty had a drop on third-and-19 that forced the Jaguars to punt.
The drops had an effect on Lawrence in the third quarter, as he was 5 of 8 for 10 yards on two possessions as Jacksonville couldn't gain any ground. The Jaguars offense just seemed out of sync after the Kirk drop -- and never recovered.
Jacksonville will be back next year with a franchise quarterback in Lawrence and a roster that should improve. The Jaguars will learn from these miscues as the young team continues to develop.
Lane Johnson returned in a big way: Johnson spent the past three weeks rehabbing and prepping for the opportunity to play in the postseason after delaying surgery for a torn adductor in his groin. How effective the best right tackle would be was anyone's guess.
Turns out, Johnson was his typical dominant self. He allowed no sacks, pressures, quarterback hits, and had a 0.0% pressure rate in 26 pass-blocking snaps. His impact was felt against Giants pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, who didn't have a pressure facing Johnson in the divisional round. The Eagles also ran for 268 yards, the second most in a postseason game in franchise history.
The Eagles offensive line is the best in football. With Johnson on the field, they're dominant.
The offensive line needs improvements this offseason: In each of the Giants' three meetings with the Eagles, the offensive line was no match for a front that had 70 sacks this season. The Giants allowed 60 pressures and 14 sacks in three games against the Eagles, 16 pressures and five sacks came in Saturday's loss.
New York allowed 49 sacks on the year, which was tied for the fifth most in the NFL. The 272 pressures allowed was the second most and the 43.4% pressure rate was the highest. This simply isn't good enough.
New York needs to further develop Evan Neal to give Andrew Thomas a battery mate at tackle. The interior of the line needs to be reworked as Jon Feliciano, Mark Glowinski, and Nick Gates struggled against the elite pass-rushing teams. Ben Bredeson wasn't much better either.
The Giants have cap space to improve the offensive line. If New York keeps Daniel Jones, the Giants need to protect him and give him a chance to throw the ball downfield.
So much for having three offensive linemen out: The Bengals didn't have left tackle Jonah Williams, right tackle La'El Collins, and right guard Alex Cappa against the Bills. Three-fifths of the offensive line out? Didn't matter.
Jackson Carman made his first start at left tackle, Hakeem Adeniji made his third start at right tackle, and Max Scharping made his second start at right guard. The inexperience didn't matter as the three were part of a dismantling of Buffalo's defensive front, pacing Cincinnati to 172 rushing yards and 5.1 yards per carry. This is the same Cincinnati run offense that was 29th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry during the regular season.
The trio of Carman, Adeniji, and Scharping didn't allow a sack in the game. They allowed just two quarterback hits, but did allow 11 pressures. Regardless of the high pressure rate, they protected Joe Burrow and set up the run game for arguably its best performance of the year.
The Bengals offensive line answered all the questions it needed to.
The run game was a farce: No team had more deceiving rushing numbers than the Bills this season, yet the rushing yards per game and yards per carry didn't rear its ugly head until Sunday. Buffalo had just 63 rush yards and averaged 3.3 yards per carry against Cincinnati, their lowest yards per carry average in a game all season.
Devin Singletary was a nonfactor with six carries for 24 yards. The Bills didn't trust rookie James Cook enough to give him the ball late in the year either (he finished with five carries for 13 yards). Josh Allen was their leading rusher with 26 yards, and he had just 3.3 yards per carry (averaged 6.1 on the season).
Neither Singletary nor Cook appeared to be go-to backs late, as the Bills averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in the fourth quarter on the year. Singletary averaged just 4.0 yards per carry as defenses keyed in on Allen (3.2 yards per carry).
Buffalo needs a go-to back in 2023 if the Bills want to go to the Super Bowl. Of course, having a better offensive line won't hurt either. They just can't depend on Allen as much to carry the run game.
Brock Purdy struggled against Cowboys pressure: Purdy did his job for the seventh straight start -- leading the 49ers to a win. He didn't turn the football over in a game in which the defense played a major role and getting him off his spot, which was crucial toward the 49ers advancing.
There is a cause for concern, especially with who the 49ers are facing next week. Purdy was just 3 of 11 for 24 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions while being sacked twice (39.6 rating). The Cowboys were able to not make Purdy's life easy, something other defenses couldn't do in his six previous starts.
Purdy completed 51.1% of his passes for 264 yards with three touchdowns to one interception under pressure in the regular season (82.1 rating). In the playoffs, 36.8% of his passes (7 of 19) for 157 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions (102.3 rating).
Are the numbers better? The Seattle game inflated how Purdy has been performing when a defense gets near him, but the Dallas game may be an indication of how things could go next week. Of course, the Eagles and their 75 sacks (regular season and playoffs) have to actually get to Purdy too.
Dak Prescott needed to be good -- and wasn't: The Dak Prescott who showed up the majority of the season reappeared in Sunday's loss to the 49ers. Prescott was 23 of 37 for 206 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, his sixth multi-interception game of the year.
Prescott missed several open receivers and made questionable decisions, becoming a liability for the offense instead of a strength. When pressured, Prescott was a putrid 4 of 11 for 14 yards and an interception for a 7.0 rating. In the second half (the half without Tony Pollard), Prescott was 11 of 21 for 125 yards with no touchdowns and a 70.5 rating.
Those numbers simply aren't good enough for a $40 million quarterback who needed to carry the offense to scoring drives. Prescott looked like the player who led the NFL in interceptions since he returned in Week 7 with his questionable decision-making -- instead of the quarterback who had huge games against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay over the last month.
Prescott is simply too inconsistent to help the Cowboys make a Super Bowl run. He is what he is at this point -- and it's up to Dallas to attempt to correct his issues as he approaches 30.