Sports

NFL Divisional Round game picks: Eagles’ talent overwhelms Giants; Bengals upset Bills in Buffalo

Published: Jan 19, 2023 at 12:12 PM

The lines provided by Caesars Sportsbook are current as of noon ET on Thursday, Jan. 19 unless otherwise noted below.

Saturday, Jan. 21

Jacksonville Jaguars

Each team spent the early part of the season hoping its defense would improve to average. Both units have been better than that down the stretch. The Jaguars rank sixth in defensive efficiency since Week 15, according to Football Outsiders, while the Chiefs are eighth over that span, buoyed by an improved pass rush. Both teams are healthy for this late in the season, and Jacksonville’s penchant for bold comebacks is reminiscent of Kansas City’s 2019 title team.

The similarities don’t stop there. Both have a group of weapons greater than the sum of its parts, lifted by brilliant play-callers and savvy quarterbacks who win before the snap more than they are given credit for. But let’s not get carried away with Trevor Lawrence‘s development here. He’s great, but he’s not Patrick Mahomes-in-2018 great, much less Patrick Mahomes-in-’23.

If all things are similar outside of the quarterback, Mahomes is better at creating angles and firing on-target throws that defy expected completion percentage. It should be a fun one — eight points feels like too big a point spread — but the Jags’ run ends here because this Jags defense hasn’t improved that much.

New York Giants

What matters more: The body of work from the whole season or the last month?

The Giants are peaking at the right time, able to blitz less on defense because of a healthier defensive line. They are also willing to trust Daniel Jones to do more. The receiver group is established and underrated. The coaching staff is on a roll. Like the Eagles, their running quarterback makes them dangerous in short-yardage and red-zone situations. They deserve to be here.

Meanwhile, the Eagles stumbled to the finish line and now face injury questions to some of their best players. Lane Johnson and Jalen Hurts are back, but will they be the same?

That said, the Eagles’ ability to win every type of game should serve them well here. They won’t need Hurts to handle the blitz in passing situations if they are rarely in them. Perhaps the most critical team-building strategy of Philadelphia’s analytical front office is the belief in paying for quality and quantity up front. The Eagles are tougher and deeper than the Giants on both lines. They can run the ball better and rush the passer way better, harassing Jones and letting their superior overall talent take over.

Sunday, Jan. 22

Buffalo Bills
  • WHERE: Highmark Stadium (Orchard Park, N.Y.)
  • WHEN: 3 p.m. ET | CBS, Paramount+
  • MONEYLINE: Bengals: +196 | Bills: -240
  • SPREAD: Bengals + 5.5 | O/U: 48.5

These could be the NFL’s two best teams — with full health. But that’s not the status quo. Cincinnati lost 3/5 of its offensive line over the past month, while Buffalo’s pass rush hasn’t been nearly as fearsome without Von Miller.

Even if the Bills sit in a two-deep safety shell all game like the Ravens did last week in Cincy, they will do so without Micah Hyde. No matter how Buffalo lines up, Joe Burrow needs to take more chances on the outside against the Bills’ cornerbacks.

The Bengals’ injuries make this a tougher upset to call, but Cincinnati’s a more complete team overall. The Bills’ lack of receiver depth forces Josh Allen to do too much, and the Bengals — strong at all three levels of defense — have played better football over the last two months.

Dallas Cowboys

It’s not just that the 49ers have two extra days of rest. Nick Bosa, for example, has played fewer snaps in the past two games combined (65) than Micah Parsons did on Monday night (79).

Dallas has a big edge at quarterback and is the rare team that can match San Francisco’s top-end talent, player for player. The Cowboys’ talent, however, isn’t as deep. Kyle Shanahan will put a target on Cowboys linebacker Anthony Barr, as well as cornerbacks DaRon Bland and Xavier Rhodes. Putting Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey together unlocks another level of this offense that even Parsons can’t erase.

I’ve believed all season that six teams have a chance to win Super Bowl LVII. All six made the Divisional Round and four of them are playing on Sunday. An upset in this game wouldn’t be shocking, but the 49ers’ coaching staff, playoff experience, rest and home-field advantage is enough for me to lean to the No. 2 seed. The Niners just have more ways to win.

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