The NFL's Super Wild Card Weekend didn't disappoint thanks to the Jacksonville Jaguars' thrilling comeback and exciting fourth quarters in multiple games, setting up arguably the best weekend in football (the divisional round). Only two road teams were able to emerge with victories -- and both came from the NFC East -- setting up a showdown between many of the league's powers this year.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills will get to settle the score on the field, while Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs face a former pupil (quarterback and assistant) in Doug Pederson and the Jaguars. On the NFC side, the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants will meet for the third team this year while the Dallas Cowboys get their long-anticipated rematch with the San Francisco 49ers after a thrilling playoff game last year.
While the divisional round is set, let's take a final look back at what we learned from each team that played in the first round. For the teams that won, these truths will be important to monitor heading into the divisional round.
San Francisco 49ers
Brock Purdy has a weakness: Purdy had a tremendous playoff debut in Saturday's win over the Seahawks, yet he doesn't thrive unless a receiver is wide open as a result of Kyle Shanahan's scheme. Purdy was just 9 of 20 for 153 yards and a 71.5 passer rating when his targets didn't get 5-plus yards of separation. He was also 9 of 10 for 179 yards and three touchdowns when a receiver had separation of 5-plus yards, showcasing the scheme had plenty to do with his impressive performance.
Purdy also went 8 of 13 for 172 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions off play action, finishing with a 145.0 rating. Credit to Shanahan for setting his quarterback up to succeed, but what will happen when Purdy faces a defense that can actually put pressure on the quarterback and is above average in coverage. We'll find out this week.
The run defense needs to be fixed: Seattle's run defense was a major concern all year, ranking 30th in rush yards per game (150.2) allowed and 27th in rush touchdowns allowed (21). Over the final eight games, the Seahawks allowed 145.8 rush yards per game and went 3-5 during the stretch.
In Saturday's loss to the 49ers the run defense allowed 181 yards at 5.5 yards per carry. The 49ers finished with 505 total yards in the contest, as the Seahawks had no answers for the play-action pass as a result of their poor run defense.
Seattle won't make the playoffs in 2023 unless Pete Carroll and the front office improve the run defense.
Trevor Lawrence makes this team dangerous: Lawrence showed how poor he can be when he's off -- but also should how good he can be when he's reading the defense well and making the throws in Doug Pederson's West Coast-based system. This makes the Jaguars a tough out for any team in the playoffs when their franchise quarterback is playing well.
Lawrence completed 23 of 29 passes for 253 yards with four touchdowns to zero interceptions after the two-minute warning in Saturday's win over the Chargers (142.6 rating) as Jacksonville outscored Los Angeles by 28 points. Lawrence threw for four touchdowns for just the second time in his career and threw touchdowns on four consecutive possessions for the first time in his career.
If a defense gives Lawrence the opportunity to take over teh game, the Jaguars can beat any team left in the AFC playoffs.
Los Angeles Chargers
Inability to run the ball does offense in: Justin Herbert dropping back more (75%) than Trevor Lawrence (70%) after the two-minute warning is inexcusable for a team up 27-0. The Chargers may not have had a choice thanks to a run game that wasn't good all year.
Los Angeles had just 19 rush yards after building its 27-0 lead, rushing seven times for 20 yards (2.5 yards per carry) in the second half -- and 13 yards of that came on a run by Herbert. Austin Ekeler had five carries for zero yards in the second half and six total touches for 4 yards.
The Chargers were 30th in rushing yards per game (89.6) and 30th in yards per carry (3.8). Whoever the new offensive coordinator is, they need to design a good zone-run scheme and add a proven veteran back to help out Ekeler. This team is good enough to return to the playoffs.
Josh Allen dictates how far the Bills go: This isn't breaking news, but when Allen isn't turning the football over Buffalo is going to win games with ease. Allen had his third straight postseason game with 300-plus passing yards and three touchdowns, all performances that were good enough to get the Bills 30-plus points and win football games (yes, Buffalo should have won in Kansas City last year).
Allen lives off the big play and Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey isn't shy to call a play to go for chunk yardage, but there's a caveat to that. The Bills quarterback also threw two interceptions and lost a fumble as the Dolphins scored 17 points off Allen's three giveaways, making the game much closer than it needed to be. The Dolphins had just 231 yards of offense and averaged just 3.3 yards per play, yet the Allen mistakes kept Miami in the game until Devin Singletary rushed for the game-sealing first down with 1:16 left.
Allen led the league in giveaways during the regular season (19) and those giveaways were why Buffalo lost consecutive games to the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings. If Allen doesn't protect the football, the Bills will be headed for an early exit.
Mike McDaniel needs to improve in Year Two: McDaniel did some good things in his first season in Miami, like develop Tua Tagovailoa and molding the offense into a juggernaut with a scheme similar to Kyle Shanahan's in San Francisco. However, the Dolphins head coach also struggled to properly handle Tagovailoa's concussion, get the team out of a losing skid, and properly handle clock management in his first year on the job.
The clock-management issues may be McDaniel's biggest concern in terms of in-game adjustments. McDaniel burned three timeouts in the second half to avoid delay-of-game penalties due to the crowd noise in Buffalo and lack of communication in getting to the line. On the crucial delay-of-game penalty on a fourth-and-1, McDaniel said he thought the Dolphins got a first down on the play before.
Next season, McDaniel must improve on clock management and situational awareness. He might have cost Miami a remarkable playoff win with a third-string quarterback.
New York Giants
Daniel Jones ran the ball too much: With the playoffs, teams need to do whatever they can to win a football game -- which Brian Daboll did. However, did Jones really need his number called on runs 14 times?
The Vikings couldn't stop the mobile Jones throughout Sunday's game, as Jones finished with 14 carries for 80 yards (not counting kneeldowns). Jones's mobility paved the way for him completing 24 of 35 passes for 301 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions (115.7 rating) -- as New York put up a road season-high 31 points.
The Giants averaged 4.7 yards per carry, yet Saquon Barkley only had nine carries. Guess Barkley is fresh for a short week on Saturday against the Eagles, but the Giants' best offensive player needs the ball more if New York is going to beat Philadelphia.
As for Jones, he can't be rushing the ball as much as he did Sunday. The Giants quarterback doesn't have an extra week of rest heading into this matchup.
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Shutting down Justin Jefferson is inexcusable: Jefferson was held off the score sheet in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Giants -- and didn't have a single target come his way! For the league leader in catches and receiving yards to not get a ball thrown his way is coaching malpractice.
Jefferson had four targets on Minnesota's first drive, having four catches for 30 yards. The rest of the game? Jefferson had three catches for 17 yards on five targets, and the Vikings scored just 17 points on those final seven possessions.
Jefferson was held under 50 yards receiving in four of the Vikings' five losses this season. When he gets held in check, the Vikings lose. Who would have thought his own team would be the culprit?
Minnesota needs a more dynamic No. 2 receiver to help out Jefferson next year, but the Vikings also have to make sure their best player gets the ball in big games.
Offensive line injuries are starting to pile up: Cincinnati could only muster 234 offensive yards and averaged 4.3 yards per play in hanging on to beat the Ravens on Sunday night. There's a reason why Cincinnati wasn't as productive against an aggressive Baltimore defense.
Cincinnati lost left tackle Jonah Williams with a knee injury, the third starting offensive lineman to go down in the last three weeks. Right tackle La'El Collins is out for the season with a knee injury suffered in Week 17 and right guard Alex Cappa went down with an ankle injury in Week 18. The Bengals are likely going to be without Williams Sunday, starting two backup tackles against the Bills.
Joe Burrow was sacked four times, hit eight, and pressured eight. The Bengals offensive line was beat on a total of 15 pass-blocking snaps. Burrow has survived poor pass-blocking before, but with his offensive line intact.
This situation is much different.
The Lamar Jackson situation has to be fixed: Jackson wasn't healthy enough to play in Baltimore's wild-card loss to Cincinnati -- and him not playing was the smart decision. There is frustration between Jackson and the Ravens, based on the team not signing him to a long-term deal before the season and how the coaching staff managed his injury over the past six weeks.
Jackson has missed 11 games over the last two years and the Ravens haven't won a playoff game. While his availability is a concern, the Ravens have done little to help Jackson maximize his potential with little to work with in the pass-catching department and an offense designed to utilize his skill set running the ball -- making him prone to injury.
Will Baltimore franchise Jackson and then try to trade him? Can Jackson and the Ravens mend fences and reach a contract extension? Do the Ravens really want to start over after having a team that went 13-3 three years ago?
This team isn't far off and Jackson gives them a chance to win a Super Bowl, especially since he's only 26. If Baltimore rebuilds, the Ravens won't contend for a few years in a loaded AFC. Jackson gives them their best opportunity at a Super Bowl with that defense.
This is the best opportunity for Dak Prescott to get to the Super Bowl: Prescott has as many playoff victories as the rest of the quarterbacks remaining in the NFC playoff field combined (two). He's the oldest quarterback remaining in the entire NFL playoff field and has enough experience to make a deep playoff run of his own -- even if the Cowboys haven't been past the divisional round in the Prescott era.
With an inexperienced Daniel Jones and Brock Purdy, along with Jalen Hurts not winning a playoff game to date, this is Prescott's best opportunity to take the Cowboys to the Super Bowl. He showcased how good he can be in Monday's victory over the Buccaneers, becoming just one of five players with four-plus passing touchdowns and at least one rushing touchdown in a playoff game.
The Cowboys won their first road playoff game in 30 years, so that hex is gone. The next hurdle is getting out of the divisional round. If Prescott can't accomplish that this year, he may never will.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This team is old -- and needs to rebuild: The championship window for the Tom Brady Buccaneers era has officially closed, thanks to Todd Bowles helping turn this Super Bowl contender to a below-.500 team seemingly overnight. The Buccaneers need to get younger this offseason, as Brady (45), Julio Jones (33), Kyle Rudolph (33), Cameron Brate (31), Ryan Jensen (31), Akiem Hicks (33), Lavonte David (32), Logan Ryan (31), and Shaquil Barrett (30) are the notable players over 30 on this team.
The Buccaneers had a poor offensive line (specifically on the interior) all season and Leonard Fournette looked like he had no tread left on his tires. Brady will either retire or go somewhere else for his age-46 season, but his inevitable departure signals a rebuild for a franchise that severely needs one.
This isn't about Brady, but the future of the Buccaneers. Bowles may need to be ousted as part of the rebuild too.