Six points for a Touchdown Column

By David McDonnell

I’m trying out a new column format this week to muse about last weekend’s AFC and NFC Championship games. 

  1. Bengals v Chiefs

The Bengals O-line got a lot of credit in the divisional round against the Bills for their ability to run the ball and I expected Cincinnati to take a similar approach last Sunday. But credit must go to the Kansas City rush defence. Even now I can’t remember Joe Mixon or Samaje Perine getting much traction with their ground game and that is simply because they didn’t.

With their run game stifled, we also found out on Sunday that down three starting linemen, the Bengals O-line couldn’t protect Burrow in the pocket against the Chiefs pass rush. I suggest that this was the reason why the three players who came in hadn’t been starting all season and this was evident from the first quarter. The Chiefs had five sacks on Burrow, which hugely influenced the game both at the start and at the end of this contest. 

With less time under centre, Burrow adjusted by getting the ball out quicker and the lack of the rushing game limited the threat of play action for Burrow to hit deep balls down the field.  

2. Chris Jones

Chris Jones beat the banged up Bengal offensive line almost on his own last night.

Credit must go to Steve Spagnuolo for putting his best linemen directly against the backups and Jones was difficult to pick up by coming at Joe Burrow from the right and left Defensive End positions on that last drive when they needed him to make a play.  

In hindsight, Cincinnati will be kicking themselves that Jones wasn’t double teamed on those passing plays, especially in that fourth quarter, and he was the difference that made the difference helping the Chiefs to the conference title.

There will be a huge amount of pressure on Chris Jones to replicate this performance in the Super Bowl and he will need to if Kansas City wants to give themselves a chance to stop this Philly attack. If the Eagles can double team him on passing downs, I don’t see anyone else on the Chiefs D-Line routinely beating a blocker and getting to Hurts on a regular basis.

3. Kansas O-Line

The Chiefs offensive line was outstanding on the night and provided Patrick Mahomes with a clean pocket throughout the game.

Kansas O-line gave Mahomes a clean pocket all night.

The only time the Bengals got a turnover was when Mahomes fumbled the ball in the third quarter, which I believe he would have recovered if his leg sprain wasn’t an issue.

Mahomes was down a number of receiving options but when he couldn’t go to Kelce, he had the time to pick out Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who stepped up in a major way when the team really needed him. 

The Bengals defence is full of top competitors and for the most part they didn’t give up many big plays to the Chiefs rushing attack although Isaiah Pacheco ran angry every time he got the ball. However, the Bengals D-Line didn’t come close to getting a sack on a limping Mahomes throughout the contest. In my opinion, this more than anything else cost them the game and adding pass-rushing talent is an area where Cincinnati should upgrade in the off-season, possibly in free agency while Burrow is still on his rookie contract.

49ers v Eagles 

4. Eagles O-Line

Pregame I was very excited by the prospect of Philly O-Line and the San Fran D-Line going toe-to-toe. The Philly front five have bullied almost all comers this season but I thought that this 49ers defence would really test this dominant Eagles run game.

In the first half, the 49ers conceded three rushing touchdowns. The Eagles O-Line especially in the red zone were supremely dominant and Miles Sanders ran in almost untouched for the first two scores. It showed every what a behemoth this offensive line has become. 

However, upon closer inspection the 49ers defence made a better fist of it as they held all three of the Eagles running backs under four yards per carry throughout the game. Two of the Philly touchdowns came from preventable field positions.

The first was Devonta Smith’s unbelievable one-handed catch that brought play inside the 10-yard line in the first quarter. If Kyle Shanahan had thrown the red flag then that catch would have been negated as he lost control bringing it to the ground. The third touchdown was when Josh Johnson fumbled the snap, which again put the Eagles in the Redzone for a touchdown before half time. 

5. Hurts Hurt

Although Jalen Hurts directed traffic, it looked to me like that shoulder injury is bothering him a lot more than he is letting on. I think you can tell from his demeanor and body language and the fact that he attempted to throw the ball less than he has all season.His only throw of note was that deep ball ‘caught’ spectacularly by Smith and I suspect he was running into traffic late in the game because it hurt him to throw the ball.

With the Chiefs having two rookies playing at corner against the Bengals and the Eagles should have a matchup advantage with the caliber of Smith and AJ Brown at wideout.

However, Hurts shoulder, just like Patrick Mahomes leg, seemed to bother him more later in game. I hope the two weeks are enough for both QBs to rest and rehab their injuries, so we will see the best of them in the Superbowl.

6. QB’s Injury

There is no way of knowing what difference Brock Purdy would have made had he stayed injury free, but the game would certainly have been more of a contest.

If you look at the injury to both Purdy and Josh Johnson, they came off similar plays where the impressive Hassan Reddick blocked down on the throwing arm of the QB.

This kind of play is being coached more in my opinion as a result of flags being thrown when a defensive player gets a proper hit on the quarterback, and I suspect we will see more of these types of injuries going forward. 

This week I’ll go for a two-point conversion:

7. Playing Politics

Being on the Non-American side of the Atlantic, I wasn’t aware that the Mayor of Cincinnati had said anything derogatory about the Chiefs until he was name dropped by Travis Kelce at the trophy presentation for the AFC Championship, where he told the politician to “know your role and shut your mouth.”

This coming from Travis Kelce whose roles include playing tight end and podcasting every week. 

So curiosity got the better of me and I looked it up.

Mayor Aftab Pureval said: “Joseph Lee Burrow, who’s 3-0 against Mahomes, has been asked by officials to take a paternity test confirming whether or not he’s his father.”

Okay as jokes go, it was poorly timed and maybe Kelce had a point.

One thing for certain is that the Chiefs players used every bit of fuel they were fed all week, including Mike Hilton telling the Chiefs fans they would see them in ‘Burrowhead.’ 

I have never seen a group of players taking a joke about the name of a stadium so personally but it goes to show that even at the highest level of sport, players will use every bit of fuel in order to get the best out of themselves. This is true even for the biggest games that you would assume requires no bulletin board motivation.  

It was also interesting that as the week went on, that there was a turning of the tide of public opinion in the bookies.  The Chiefs, having started the week as underdogs became favourites. and I believe it was because people could sense that showing a lack of respect to your opponent would come back to bite you on the ass. As it did.

8. The Kelce Family

Speaking of Travis Kelce, it is an amazing achievement that both he and his older brother Jason are playing each other in the Super Bowl. What a proud moment  for the Kelce family.

The fact that they are both two of the standout players for their respective teams and both coming off their best seasons of their careers makes the story and achievement all the more noteworthy.

I don’t believe it has ever happened before and I doubt we will see this again for a very long time. 

As I mentioned earlier, they have a weekly podcast, @newheightshow, which we often retweet on our twitter feed, @Smingfootball, and it should be worth checking out this week of all weeks as the brothers focus on the Super Bowl and entertain with tales of football and their sibling rivalry.

AFC Championship: Bengals v Chiefs 

By David McDonnell

It’s no great surprise to me that the AFC Championship game has come down once again to the Bengals versus the Chiefs.  (kickoff 11.30 pm GMT)

There are plenty of good teams in the AFC but what separates these two from the rest of the pretenders is their quarterbacks, Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes. Both have the ability to throw the ball accurately and consistently beat the opposition from the pocket when the pressure is greatest, which is where Josh Allen came unstuck last weekend in my opinion.

I cannot wait for this game to begin and I really can’t say with any authority which way this game will go, but I’ll give it a try all the same. 

The Bengals certainly caught the Bills defence off guard last weekend with their ability to run the ball, while down three of their starting linemen and the front office in Cincinnati deserve recognition for their forward thinking in reinforcing their O-Line with talent in addition to the number of costly acquisitions during the off-season. 

The Bills defence struggled all day trying to stop Joe Mixon and it gave Burrow the platform to dictate their offence. This worked especially well as the Bengals had gotten themselves into an early lead with two early touchdowns and they will intend for a similar approach this weekend. If this happens we could have a shootout on our hands.

However, fore-warned is fore-armed and I would expect the Chiefs defence to be ready to defend against the run and try to force the Bengals into longer third downs. Nick Bolton is a hard hitting linebacker in Kansas and it will be interesting if they can take him away from the box on early running downs by making him pick up a slot receiver or Hayden Hurst at tight-end. 

Having a plan in one thing, but the difficulty with these Bengals is that they have an array of weapons to choose from if Burrow is given time in the pocket. 

He has two outstanding receivers in Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins and with it, the Bengals have a match-up advantage in both speed, height and athleticism on both sides of their attack. I expect Burrow will go to both at key stages, especially if and when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter. 

If the Chiefs can’t get pressure on Burrow in the pocket, they are unlikely to win but with an average of 3.2 sacks per game, they are certainly equipped to do so. 

With both their starting tackles, Jonah Williams and La’el Collins, in Cincinnati out, you would presume this pair of starters are better than the current incumbents at pass protection, so maybe Kansas City will be able to get pressure on Burrow on key third downs through Frank Clark, Chris Jones and George Karlaftis.

Chiefs offence v Bengals Defence

On the other side of the ball, I can see the Bengals defence operating very similarly to how they did against the Bills last week, where they had Mike Hilton playing spy to stop Josh Allen taking off on runs and picking up first downs on key plays and third downs. He was also very damaging in breaking down some of the Bills screen plays. 

Similar to Buffalo, Kansas do not have a terrific running game because they haven’t needed one as Mahomes has been majestic at quarterback all season. He has undoubtedly been the best player in the NFL this season and I hope his leg sprain injury from last week has cleared up in the seven days. 

He has the best tight end in the game in Travis Kelce at his disposal and it will be very interesting what plan Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo puts in place to stop Kelce, especially in the red zone, which should be his top priority going into this game. It was very noticeable to me that when Mahomes was carrying the injury last week, he seemed to overly indulge in getting the ball to Kelce in that second half.

Although the Kansas City QB has some excellent receiving options and a lot of speed, he does not have blue chip talents that Burrow enjoys with receivers who can win contested catches. Certainly, no one has the level of trust that he enjoys with Kelce and Cincinnati will do all they can to curb Kelce influence. Logan Wilson is a very smart linebacker and I presume this job will come under his responsibility. 

Although Mahomes doesn’t have receivers that Burrow has at his disposal, he still has a lot of talent and speed and if he is afforded time in the pocket, he will be able to dissect any defence. This could be a big game for Juju Smith-Schuster who has been quiet of late.

There will be a lot of pressure on Sam Hubbard and especially Trey Hendrickson, their best pass rusher to put Mahomes under pressure. Although the Bengals have forced a turnover in every game this season, they are coming up against an excellent O-line at Kansas City as well. 

This is a tough one to call and I expect a high scoring game that will go to the wire. It could very much be one of those where the quarterback who has the ball last, will have the chance to win the game.

If Mahomes is hindered by his injury anywhere close to how he was last week then I don’t see the Chiefs winning. 

But my gut feeling is that the Chiefs are more likely able to provide Mahomes with a cleaner pocket than the visiting Bengals and if Mahomes is operating close to or at 100% capacity, then I’ll tip the balance in favour of a Kansas City victory.

Bengals 27-30 Chiefs 

NFC Championship Preview: 49ers @ Eagles

By Conor Perrett 

The time has come for the NFL Conference Championship games, and in less than 24 hours we will know which two teams will meet in the Superbowl. 

The first game on the schedule is in the NFC as the No. 1 and 2 seeds meet. The Eagles and 49ers have been the two most impressive teams on this side of the bracket, but they’ve both got here with different styles. 

Now only one of these teams can represent the NFC in the main event in two weeks. 

No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia has been the best team in the league for the majority of the season, with them being special on both sides of the ball. 

On offence, Jalen Hurts was in the MVP conversation before his injury, while their defence may just be the second best in the league to the team they will be facing at 8.00 pm tonight (GMT). 

What this game might be influenced by is the health of these players. 

Towards the end of the year injuries were starting to add up and it was getting a bit worrying after Hurts and left-tackle Lane Johnson both went down. They’ve had a few weeks to rest, but we don’t really know where Philly stands currently. 

The Eagles dispatched of the Giants easily last week with a highly- impressive performance, but it was against a team they had beaten twice already and the weakest remaining team in the playoffs.

What we do know is this team will look to come out the blocks fast and if they can play anywhere near to how they were in the first half of the season, Philadelphia may well find themselves in the Super Bowl.

Matchup to keep an eye on – Stopping the 49ers’ run game: If there has been one weakness to the Eagles all year it’s been their run defence. Their defensive-line is stacked with talent, but stopping interior runs has been a problem. It just so happens that this is the Niners strength, with them taking a focus to the run game. While on paper Philly has more talent on that side of the trenches, stopping the run and forcing Brock Purdy to throw into a tough secondary will be the game plan for this Eagles’ defence.

No. 2 San Francisco 49ers 

Kyle Shanahan has come from a family famous for its NFL coaching and it’s led to him being one of the best offensive play-callers in the league. 

Alongside General Manager John Lynch, they have built a team in San Francisco that is strong of both sides of the ball. But on the offence side where Shanahan specialises, his style has allowed for them to get this far despite starting a quarterback that was taken last at pick 262 in the NFL Draft just nine months ago.

Brock Purdy stepped into this offence when previous starters Trey Lance and Jimmy G went down with injuries and hasn’t looked back since. With an array of weapons that includes Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Christian McCaffrey and many more, the Niners play-action focused playing style makes them a tough team to stop. 

Last week against the Cowboys we saw this team take on a top defence and still come through unscathed. Now, they will have to do it again, but they won’t have the luxury of facing an inconsistent offence this time round.

Matchup to keep an eye on – 49ers’D-Line vs Philly’s O-Line: Both of these positioned groups are regarded as their best respected positional groups in the league. San Fran has talent all over the line including potential DPOY Nick Bosa, while the Eagles have two players in Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson who may just be the two best offensive linemen in the league. This battle in the trenches will be a brawl all night long in the run and passing game, and the winner may just determine the outcome of the game.

Hurts’ mobility is what makes his offence so electric and if the 49ers’ feisty defensive-line can pressure him, it could be a recipe to success.

Previous Matchups

2021 Season:

Week 2 – 49ers @ Eagles, 17-11 49ers Win

These two teams last met during Week 2 of last season, in the exact same destination of the Conference Championship. Despite this, both teams looked a lot different with this being the start of a three-game losing streak for Philadelphia. They were in their first year under head-coach Nick Sirianni, while the Niners had Jimmy Garoppolo as the starting QB.

NFC Championship Game Prediction

As you can see I have laid out why both of these teams have gotten this far and why this matchup is so close.

The Eagles have been the most dominant team all year long, while on the other hand the Niners are the hottest team down the stretch. With the game being in Philadelphia I think the crowd will play a part with its noise and is a reason why the Eagles are considered 2.5 points favourites.

I feel this game could be a bit like the Niners and Cowboys game last week with it being a battle of the defences and fairly low scoring. Both teams have very few weaknesses, but if I had to look at where something could be taken advantage of, it’s Philly’s run defence. I fear this may be the game where Purdy will look like the seventh-round rookie he is, but the Niners run the ball so well.

In the end I’m going to back the Niners who I predicted to win the Super Bowl, but Philly will take this to over-time where it will be a classic of a game. 

49ers 21-18 Eagles

Playoff Preview: Giants v Eagles 

By David McDonnell

I’ll keep this preview short and get straight into it. 

The best of the action in this game will be between the Giants defensive front against the Eagles O-Line and whoever wins this contest over the 60 minutes will be in the NFC Championship game next week. 

That’s how I see it and for me, it’s advantage Philly. 

Throughout the season, the Eagles offensive line have bullied most of the teams they have come up against. It has been the bedrock of their success and they have found it relatively easy to clock up yardage on the ground all season. Routinely they have taken a lead in the opening half and closed it out in the second half of matches.  

At the end of the season we had right-tackle Lane Johnson, guard Landon Dickerson and centre Jason Kelce picked on our All-Pro team.

This dominant line has helped the run game and given quarterback Jalen Hurts the time and space to dictate the Eagles offence and also opened up play-action to hit deep shots down the field. That Hurts is very dangerous with ball in hand adds another layer to what has become a very difficult team to play against as they can change how they decide to attack based on their opposition.

The strength of the Giants defence is their D-line, led by Dexter Lawrence and assisted in the middle by Leonard Williams and Jihad Ward. Although Lane Johnson is named to start for the Eagles, he will not be operating at 100% by any means and it will be interesting if the Giants can get some change out of impressive rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux attacking from the left side. 

Another interesting thing to watch out for is how healthy Hurts looks at QB as two weeks ago against the same opposition, it was clear he was minding an injured shoulder and only ran for 13 yards. If Hurts is not operating at 100% either, then the Eagles could be vulnerable to an upset. 

I know I am projecting here but I can’t see this Giants team, even coming off their best performance of the season in last week’s win against the Vikings in Minnesota, stopping this Eagles side. 

Last week was in my opinion Daniel Jones’ best game of his career for the New York franchise and this will certainly give them hope, but my gut feeling is their limited receiving core led by Darius Slayton and Isaiah Hodgins will find themselves outmatched by cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry. On the contrary, I expect the Eagles pair of AJ Brown and Devonta Smith will expose the Giants defensive backs. 

So much of the Giants success this season has come from the rushing talents of Sequon Barkley but tonight I believe it is more likely in my opinion that the Eagles defence will wear down the Giants rushing attack rather than the other way around. 

The Eagles have a terrific rotating cast on their defensive line with starters Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave and Josh Sweat, backed up with the talents of rookie behemoth Jordan Davis and veterans Ndamukong Suh, Linval Joseph and Robert Quinn. 

I’ll put my hands up, I can’t see the Giants beating the Eagles tonight. I haven’t seen many teams being able to compete upfront with that Eagles O-line yet this season and I suspect only the 49ers have the capability to overpower them consistently for four quarters in the NFC side of the draw. 

I have been wrong many times before but I don’t believe I’ll be wrong tonight. 

Eagles to win.

NFL Playoff Team MVP and Rookie Awards

By Conor Perrett

With the NFL Divisional Rounds soon upon us, only eight teams are coming round for corner for the final stretch, so let’s look at the players that have got them in contention for the Super Bowl.

In this piece we’re looking at the Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year for each remaining franchise. 

These players have played an important part in getting their team to compete and now stand just three wins away from lifting the Lombardi Trophy. 

Kansas City Chiefs

MVP – QB Patrick Mahomes: When it comes to MVP’s, there is no doubting that Mahomes may just be the best player on not only his team, but in the National Football League. He currently has the best odds to lift the award in three weeks time after his spectacular season, where he finished first in passing yards, passing touchdowns and QB rating. All the while commanding his offence to first in DVOA and EPA per drive.

With the way the offence runs with Mahomes at the helm and the average defence he has to deal with, there is no more important piece to this Chiefs side and it seems he won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. 

ROTY –  RB Isaiah Pacheco (7th Round): When Pacheco was selected with the 251st pick in the draft, there was probably no intention for him to make the impact he did in his rookie season. With 4.3 40-yard speed, Pacheco looked to be a return specialist that could also be a speedy piece in the backfield. 

That speedy piece has proved his worth and it was Week 1 when he started to make impacts with a rushing touchdown. It wasn’t soon after that Pacheco had beaten out the likes of Clyde Edwards-Helaire and was announced the starter by Week 7. From there, Pacheco grew into his role with 960 scrimmage yards on the season, leading NFL rookies and the most yards in NFL history from a seventh-round pick in his rookie year.

Philadelphia Eagles

MVP – CB Darius Slay / James Bradberry:  The Eagles have had a fantastic season on both sides of the ball, as it was hard to pick a standout. QB Jalen Hurts stepped up to be a franchise quarterback behind his impressive offensive line, but cornerback duo Slay and Bradberry, have shutdown opposing receivers all year to turn around Philly’s defence.

Having a lockdown corner is always important to defences, but the luxury of two is rare. In the Eagles’ case they did, with both defensive backs nabbing three interceptions on the season. Interceptions were only a small part of the story, as both corners ranked in the top-7 for passer-rating allowed and finished 1st and 2nd in NFL’s Next Gen stats for production score.

ROTY – S Reed Blankenship (UDFA): When you are as successful as Philly, it’s hard for rookies to make an immediate impact on the team. In Blankenship’s case he was the next man to step up when C.J. Gardner-Johnson went down mid-season and paved a way onto the starting defence.

Blankenship is the only rookie on this list to go undrafted, but that shouldn’t qualify how talented he is. Collecting 34 tackles, two pass breakups, and one INT, he started the season as No. 4 safety, but soon earned the right to No. 3 and got starting thanks to injuries. Gardner-Johnson soon returned but coaches still wanted the undrafted rookie on the field. Blankenship now comes into the lineup when the Eagles move into nickel, and will likely still play a key role in Philly’s playoff run. 

Buffalo Bills

MVP – QB Josh Allen: It’s no secret that Josh Allen is the engine to this high explosive offence. Allen isn’t afraid to take risks and is a reason why the Bills finished the season 2nd in offensive DVOA, as his passing touchdowns and QB rating were 2nd in the league, behind only Mahomes.

Allen brings a different style of play to the table though and is a force on the ground. At 6’4, 235 pounds, he’s a big fella to bring and loves to make contact with defenders. His erratic playstyle comes with its downside such as injuries and turnovers, but it’s the risk you take with Allen and the rewards have so far outweighed the consequences.

ROTY – RB James Cook (2nd Round): We’ve already spoken about the Bills’ offence under Allen, but the run-game has always been a weakness. The younger brother of Pro-Bowler Dalvin Cook, James exploded onto the scene in college thanks to his receiving ability out of the backfield. It got him drafted in the second round, but he was never able to be an outright starter.

Cook might have not had the season that was expected out of him, but he was far more successful on the ground. With 687 scrimmage yards, 507 of them have come on the ground at a fantastic 5.7 yards per carry. Though he shares the backfield in a committee, averaging the amount of yards he does, on limited carries is a great way to stand out from the rest.

San Francisco 49ers

MVP – RB Christian McCaffrey : The Niners look like one of the strongest teams in the playoffs right now, but their season didn’t start with great success. At the start it was a bumpy ride with a 3-4 record before a 10-game win streak to finish the year, making them the team they are today.

There are many factors on why this turnaround happened, but the trade in Week 7 for McCaffrey was a major turning point. The 49ers had weapons all over the team, but the superstar running back was the missing piece. Since landing CMC, the 49ers have scored 31 or more points in seven of 11 games with McCaffrey personally having 100+ scrimmage yards or a touchdown in every game but one. He fits like a glove in Kyle Shanahan’s offence and despite starting a seventh-round rookie at QB in Brock Purdy, McCaffrey’s presence on the field had tipped the Niners over the edge. 

ROTY – QB Brock Purdy (7th Round): That seventh-round rookie I just mentioned shouldn’t be taken as a negative and despite starting the season as the third-string QB, Purdy is the man of the hour in San Francisco right now. Being the last pick in the draft can be embarrassing when the title ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ comes into play, but Purdy has almost won it as a badge of honour.

Making his first appearance for San Fran, during their massive ‘Master vs Student’ game against Miami in Week 13, Purdy came in to replace Jimmy G mid-game and hasn’t looked back since. Brock has a sense of confidence you rarely see in a rookie QB, let alone one taken at pick 262 in the NFL Draft. His passer rating of 107.3 is the best amongst quarterbacks in the span of his first snap and he caused serious confusion on what the 49ers might do at the QB position next season,  which will have the third overall pick from 2021 Draft Trey Lance vying to start. 

Cincinnati Bengals

MVP – QB Joe Burrow: Mahomes and Allen are regarded as the best two quarterbacks in the NFL, but if there’s one man who can compete with them; it’s Joe Burrow. 

Burrow struggled to get playing time at Ohio State in college, but since his senior year at LSU, Burrow may be the most impressive and coolest quarterback out there. Shattering all the college records and then getting drafted to the Bengals, has led Burrow to this moment.

On Cincinnati’s’ run to the Super Bowl last year, Burrow showed he could get out of the AFC  and a year on it still feels the same. Finishing the season 5th in passing yards and 2nd in passing touchdowns, Burrow can conduct an offence and hit his receivers better than anybody. The confidence that surrounds him must be intimidating for opposing defences and to think he’s still on his rookie contract.

ROTY – OG Cordell Volson (4th Round): Much like the best teams in the NFL, the Bengals didn’t have too many rookies contributors on the team. Their first-round pick Dax Hill didn’t see the field too often, but left-guard Volson played in every offensive snap.

The Bengals’ offensive-line has been a problem over the years, but it gradually improved over the course of the season. For a Day 3 pick to make the contribution he has on a Super Bowl contender, should be seen as an enormous achievement, and his confidence should keep growing.

Dallas Cowboys

MVP – EDGE Micah Parsons: Parsons hit the scene when he was in contention for Defensive Player of the Year in his rookie season last year, and this past season was no different. Parsons is up for that same award again, with the versatility he brings to the linebacker and edge-rusher position. His 13.5 sacks on the season put him in 7th for that statistic, on a Cowboys’ defence that ranked 2nd in defensive DVOA.

The ability of Parsons makes him one of the most feared players on the defensive side of the ball and as he’s one of the main reasons why Dallas were able to get 12 wins on the season.

ROTY – OL Tyler Smith (1st Round): The pick of Tyler Smith back in the Draft was highly criticised as it was seen as a reach. These criticisms should get put to bed, as he’s had the best season of all the rookie offensive linemen. 

Smith was thrown straight into the action during training camp when star left-tackle Tyron Smith went down. Having spent the off-season training at guard, it caused him to have to switch to the tackle position. The transition hasn’t been perfect but better than expected. 

Smith was seen as a great run blocker which he has been and it was his pass blocking that was seen as a weakness. He’s had his ups and downs with penalties, but shutting down the likes of Trey Hendrickson early in the season was particularly impressive.

Jacksonville Jaguars

MVP – QB Trevor Lawrence: Lawrence didn’t quite have the start to his career that many expected from the ‘generational talent’, but his second half of the season was just what people hoped to see.

Lawrence struggled with interceptions but his decision-making has improved over Year 2. His completion percentage, yards-per-attempt, and TD-to-INT ratio have improved significantly, which led the Jaguars to the playoffs. In that first half to the Chargers, it wasn’t pretty with four interceptions but he didn’t let that affect him or the team. He triumphed back in the second half, making the right reads and completing passes that helped score Jacksonville a win for the ages and a place in the Divisional Rounds.

ROTY – C Luke Fortner (3rd Round): Jacksonville had many rookies thrown into the lineup and make contributions, but the third-round pick was the most valuable. Fortner went directly into the starting lineup during training camp and has played in all 17 games. He allowed just one sack all season from the centre position and has regularly received praise from head-coach Doug Pederson.

New York Giants

MVP – HC Brian Daboll: It may feel like cheating not choosing a player for this Giants team, but no person was more valuable to the organisation than the head-coach. Expectations for the season in the first year of a rebuild, was to build an identity and get a few wins. New York exceeded these and then some and now find themselves as one of the last eight remaining teams in the playoffs.

Daboll came from an offensive background and has turned round the career of Daniel Jones. In Jones’ first three seasons, it was looking like he may not have a future in the league, but Daboll has slowed things down for him at the quarterback position. It started with Daboll relying on the run-game and getting Jones to cut down on the turnovers that had haunted him up to that point in his career. It meant this offence relied on the run more, while Jones made the simple safe throws. 

When that started to work, he slowly amped Jones’ production up, letting him be more loose until in the Wild-Card round where he was the first QB in Playoff history to record 300+ passing yards, 70+ rushing yards, two touchdowns with zero interceptions. With the turn around Daboll has conducted with this team, his name is leading the way for Coach of the Year. 

ROTY – EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux (1st Round): Thibodeaux was seen as the No. 1 prospect entering his Junior year in Oregon, but injuries and a down year found him to go fifth in the NFL Draft to the Giants.

He had a fairly slow start to the season and his stats didn’t jump out to you with four sacks, but his overall game looked good. His speed to power made him a force in the run-game with his Week 16 game vs the Commanders being a standout. Exploding in that NFC East divisional game with 12 total tackles, one sack and three tackles for loss and a touchdown, Thibodeaux finished the regular season second in total pressures among rookie edge-rushers.

NFL Playoffs Cowboys @ Buccaneers

By Conor Perrett

It’s Monday Night Football and we close out the Wild-Card round with a historic player facing up against a historic team. 

Despite finishing below .500 for the first time in his career, Tom Brady gets the chance to host a playoff game, against a hot and cold Cowboys team, in what might be his last game in a Buccaneers uniform.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9)

Power Rankings – 13th

DVOA Rankings: Offence – 16th, Defence – 13th, ST – 31st: Overall – 17th 

Making the playoffs without having a winning record is not a regular occurrence, as the Buccaneers are the latest team to do so. In a weak division, Tampa Bay now has the privilege of hosting the Dallas Cowboys, who will be favourites.

The Bucs look like a shadow of the team that won the Super Bowl two years ago, with a new head coach in place. By the sounds of things Todd Bowles will remain as head-coach no matter the result of tonight’s game, but it goes without saying the decline the Buccaneers has been on. 

Specialising on the defensive side, with a banged up secondary, things have been very inconsistent on that side of the ball.

While on the offence, the big issue has been the loss of former head-coach Bruce Arians. On a whole, the offence has been poor considering they have a seven-time Super Bowl winner at QB. The offensive line hasn’t played well because of injuries, the running game is non-existent at times and the tight ends and receivers seem to have lost a step.

Matchup to keep an eye on – Explosive plays on offence

One of the main issues for the Bucs has been moving the ball downfield. Moving the chains has been difficult by their standards, as it comes much easier when they can pick up big yards on the ground or through the air. The Cowboys’ defence has been susceptible recently to deep vertical routes, so keep an eye out for Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to use their speed to get over the top. 

Dallas Cowboys (12-5)

Power Rankings – 6th

DVOA Rankings: Offence – 15th, Defence – 2nd, ST – 10th: Overall – 6th 

A lot has changed since Dallas’ Week 1 loss to the Buccaneers, but the Cowboys are still too inconsistent to be considered a major contender. They looked great when they took down the Eagles on Christmas Eve to keep the race for the top spot in the NFC East, but sloppy losses to the Jaguars and Commanders added doubt to their credentials. 

The defence has been solid throughout the season, despite picking up injuries in the secondary on the back end. Micah Parsons has earned his first All-Pro honours at the EDGE position, but has started to be schemed out of games. In the bright lights though, expect him to step up to the challenge.

Success has depended on the play of quarterback Prescott. Dak led the league in interceptions despite missing four games of play.  It’s been unlike himself to make this many mistakes, as the Cowboys need him to connect with CeeDee Lamb to be the explosive offence they know they can be.

Matchup to keep an eye on – Dallas’s run game

Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard may be one of the best one-two punch running-back combos in the league. They both work incredibly well when in rhythm and can be a nuisance to stop when running rampant. Things have slowed down a little since offensive tackle Terence Steele got sidelined with an injury, but it’s difficult to see Dallas winning this game without a big performances from either of the backs.

Previous Matchups

2022 Season:

Week 1 – Buccaneers @ Cowboys 19-3, Buccaneers win

We saw this Wild-Card matchup back in the first week of this season and to the surprise of everyone Tampa Bay blew away the Cowboys. Dallas QB Dak Prescott suffered an injury in this game that would hold him out for a month, and the Cowboys offence has significantly grown since then.

It should also be known in a personal statistic, the Dallas Cowboys have never beaten Tom Brady before.  In Brady’s 20+ year career he’s faced the Cowboys seven times, winning every one of those games.


If you asked who would win this matchup a few weeks ago, I would have leaned heavily with the Cowboys. But since then, Dallas has looked shaky at times with both their offence and defence showing weaknesses .

It’s also hard to doubt the post-season experience Tom Brady brings to the table. There’s a reason why he has won more Super Bowls than every other franchise, as he shows up in the big games when he’s needed.

The Bucs have many reasons why they could win. They game-plan well, are at home and Dallas struggle in the outdoors. The result may matter on how they attack though. If they come out pass heavy, I think Dallas will be able to slow that down. On the other hand if they commit to the run I can see them winning the game in that style.

The problem is their run game has disappeared at times, so that is what I have to go off of. I’ll side with the Cowboys because of this. 

Cowboys 20-17 Buccaneers

NFL Playoff Preview: Dolphins @ Bills

By Conor Perrett

With the NFL playoffs underway, Sunday’s Wild-Card matchups kicks off with two divisional opponents, whose games this year were exhilarating. 

The Dolphins and Bills are no strangers with each other, but one important thing will be missing in this matchup:  Tua Tagovailoa. The Miami QB is set to miss the game with a concussion leading Buffalo entering the game as -13.5 point favourites in the bookies. 

This is the largest point spread in playoff history. 

Buffalo Bills (13-3)

Playoff Power Rankings – 2nd

DVOA Rankings: Offence – 2nd, Defence – 4th, ST – 1st: Overall – 1st

The Bills enter the playoffs having won seven consecutive games and ranking second in both points scored and allowed this season. They are viewed as one of the most complete teams in the league, with star quarterback Josh Allen once again having a dominant season.

Allen finished the regular season with a total of 5,045 passing and rushing yards and 42 touchdowns. The offence can go toe-to-toe with anyone but some sloppy interceptions does not make this team perfect. With 14 interceptions on the year, Allen’s play style is always going to be reckless but it has especially been a problem in the red-zone. 

Nevertheless, Miami have only intercepted eight passes all season, with only the Giants causing less among the 14 playoff teams. Buffalo’s run game has also started to get some spotlight with backs Devin Singletary and James Cook sounding out the run game and completing the offence. 

Matchup to keep an eye on – Bills’ run defence.

It’s no secret Miami will look to run the ball when they’re down to their third-string QB, Spencer Thompson. They’ve also had a lot of success doing it in their previous two matchups this season as well and will need it more than ever for this game. If Buffalo is able to shut it down, it could be a long night for the Dolphins.

Miami Dolphins (9-8)

Power Rankings – 14th

DVOA Rankings: Offence – 7th, Defence – 15th, ST – 28th: Overall – 8th 

Miami entered this game as the biggest underdogs in the Wild-Card round, mostly due to their injuries on offence but also one win in their last six games. The season had its ups and downs but at points this Dolphins team looked like one of the best in the year.

The offence was a force through the month of October and November, with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle speed being too much for opposing defences. They were then buyers at the trade deadline as deals for Bradley Chubb and Jeff Wilson came to fruition. 

Then the month of December hit with a tough run of games and the third concussion of the season for Tua and their form started to fall apart. The Dolphins also managed to scrape their way into the playoffs with a 9-6 win against the Jets on the last day of the regular season, but it seems it only delayed their end to the season by a week.  

Matchup to keep an eye on – Blitzing against Josh Allen

One of Miami’s identities on defence is rushing the passer with an extra man. 

The Dolphins send at least five pass rushers on 36.4 percent of their pass-rushing opportunities, the third highest rate in the NFL this season. It just so happens through advanced metrics, Allen has had some of the least success against the blitz this year. This could be the way to slow Allen down, but they must be careful or he could make Miami pay with his arm or legs.

Previous Matchups

2022 Season:

Week 3 – Bills @ Dolphins – 19-21, Dolphins Win

Week 15 –  Dolphins @ Bills, 29-32, Bills Win

Being in the same division, both these teams played twice this year and their games were electric. In Week 3 we saw a close event that saw Buffalo dominate the time of possession. Miami fought hard in the fourth quarter though and scored a touchdown to take the lead and a 4th down stop on their two-yard line closed out the game.

Their next matchup in Week 15 was a snowstorm, where Allen and Tagovailoa dualed it out. After trading touchdowns all game, Buffalo got the ball last and in a scramble to clear the snow, kicker Tyler Bass was good on his 25 yard field goal in a walk-off win. 


Missing their starting quarterback in Tua and running back in Raheem Mostert, while being on the road in Buffalo, nothing is in Miami’s favour.

Starting seventh-round rookie Skyler Thompson at QB, he made some appearances during the season but when faced with an elite defence, he’s looked like a seventh-round rookie. The Bills just so happen to have an elite defence and will be aggressive in their approach to cause panic.

This could open up a few shots for speedy receivers Hill and Waddle, as Mike McDaniel will surely have some things up his sleeve. But to keep that up for four quarters with the talent differential on display feels like an huge up-hill battle for Miami.

Dolphins 10-31 Bills

The Play-offs Start Tonight

By David McDonnell 

Tonight, the football gets ramped up as we start the much anticipated playoffs. 

It’s knockout football, ladies and gentleman, from here until we get to the Superbowl in Glendale, Arizona in the middle of February. 

At 9.30 pm, we have a grudge match as the San Francisco 49ers come up against divisional rival Seattle Seahawks on the NFC side of the draw.

On the AFC side of Super Wildcard Weekend, I expect a very exciting game between two emerging superstar quarterbacks when Justin Herbert and his Chargers travel to Jacksonville to take on the Trevor Laurence led Jaguars at 1.30am GMT.

Seahawks v 49ers

The Niners are strong favourites having won their last 10 games in a row. Right now they look like the best team in football in many areas but there is still one big question mark over rookie sensation Brock Purdy, at quarterback after the two previous incumbents got put on injured reserve during the season. More on him in a bit. 

The Niners’ defence, banged up throughout the season, are fitter and healthier now than they have been all year.  Currently, San Francisco has the best defence in football, with All-Pro players at all three levels. They boast the NFL sack leader in Nick Bosa, who continuously wins at the line of scrimmage and looks to me as a shoe-in for Defensive Player of the Year. 

On the offensive side of the ball, the 49ers have in my opinion one of the top three O-lines in football, which helps with their zone running attack. They also possess an array of weapons that allows head coach Kyle Shanahan to scheme up attacks in a  variety of ways. It makes the Niners very difficult to stop as they can attack your defence in a multitude of ways. 

For example: Christian McCaffery is a top class running-back who is terrific catching the ball out the back field, while Deebo Samuel is a top wide receiver who is also used as a lethal threat rushing the ball. They have other receiving options with tight-end George Kittle, who has scored seven touchdowns in his last four games. One trait they all have in common is that they all make yardage after the catch with their athleticism. 

Add in receiving duo Jauen Jennings and Brandon Aiyuk who have made big plays on third downs all season and Pro Bowl selected full-back Kyle Juszczyk, and you have an offence with options. 

So, there is a lot of expectation in San Fran to get the the Superbowl this year and a lot of pressure on their rookie quarterback Brock Purdy who was Mr. Irrelevant in last year’s draft, after he was the last and 262nd player selected.  

Tonight he Purdy will become the lowest-ranked QB to ever start a play-off game. 

So far he has answered all the doubts and then some. In the games he has played, he has scored 13 touchdowns and thrown four interceptions. He has shown himself to be very calm in the pocket when there is a defensive tackle bearing down on him and also in the face of a lot of media attention and public scrutiny. So far he has been unruffled, but can Seattle turn up the pressure on his young shoulders?

The Seahawks are 6.5 point underdogs but they have a chance. They have two rookie tackles in Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, who have impressed this year but they will have their hands full tonight. They also have a good corp of defensive backs but where they have struggled at times on defence is getting after the opposition quarterback. 

They have a Pro Bowl caliber QB in Geno Smith, two good receivers in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf and an excellent running back in rookie Kenneth Walker. However, where this team has been especially inconsistent on offence is running the ball especially in the back half of the season. Should they struggle tonight with their rushing attack, then the 49ers will have a massive advantage in the trenches. 

However, if they can establish a run game, then this contest could be closer than expected. What the Seahawks have in abundance is knowledge of San Francisco, and a serious chip on their shoulder having lost to them twice already this season.

To put my cards on the table, I expect a 49ers victory and I would be shocked if Seattle pulled off a famous win. 

Chargers v Jaguars 

Of the two playoff games tonight, I am most looking forward to this contest as we get to see two of the emerging superstars in the NFL. 

I would put Justin Herbert in my Top 5 quarterbacks in the NFL, and he has the arm talent, size, strength and know how to keep his team in the game when they are struggling. He can also make the big throws when they need him to. If anything, I would like to see Herbert use his legs more in the postseason as he has it in his locker and it was a skill he was quite adept at using at Oregon in college. 

Herbert played  through a rib injury for most of the season and his form has increased as he has gotten better, especially after the Bolts mid-season bye week. In December, the Chargers’ offence was looking electric with the return of Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, and it is unfortunate that the former will be missing for a few weeks with a fracture on his back. 

It means that the Jags will be able to pay more attention to Allen and you might see Joshua Palmer see more targets. He is a good third option but does not have the size or big-play ability that Williams brings to the table. On the upside, their offensive line is going better than it had been with a number of players back from injury but unfortunately they are still missing Rashawn Slater.

The Chargers main source of scores this season has come from Austin Ekeler and he will be involved heavily throughout the game. 

Jacksonville are soaring right now and Trevor Laurence is balling out on a week-to-week basis and he has drummed up a great relationship with all his receivers, but especially with tight-end Evan Engram and duo Zay Jones and Christian Kirk. The LAC pass rush will need to slow down Laurence to give themselves the best shot at winning this game. With Joey Bosa back in the fray, that will help in a big way.

Jacksonville have a strong offensive line, especially on the right side with Jawaan Taylor and Brandon Scherff and an excellent running back in Etienne. 

The Jaguars defence is also playing well. Josh Allen and Trevon Walker give them pass rushing options from the edge and there is a terrific partnership at safety between Andre Cisco and Rayshawn Jenkins, while Tyson Campbell has done well in pass defence.

The Jags defence came up big in the final quarter in their last game of the season against the Titans, and I think they will need to do so again, in what I expect to be a contest that goes to the wire. 

Earlier on in the week, I was pulling for the Chargers and although Williams is a big loss, I would back Herbert to somehow make it happen on the road with the form that he is in right now. 

Our Analysts NFL Playoff Predictions

By Conor Perrett, Tom Green and David McDonnell 

The NFL Playoffs are a time of chaos and upsets and with them right round the corner, here at Smashmouthing football we’ve created brackets to what we think will happen. 

Using a bracket predictor, starting with the wild-card matchups, each one of us has predicted the outcome to each game until there’s one team left to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

Please keep in mind, we are predicting the future here, which will always look terrible in retrospect unless one of us manages to get it right. 

David: “To quickly guide you through my bracket, I think the three best teams are in the AFC. What sets them apart in my book, compared to say the 49ers, is at quarterback and I can see Joe Burrow and the Bengals beating the Chiefs as they did earlier in the season.

What I like about the Bengals is the high level consistency of Burrow with an array of weapons, coupled with a competitive and smart defence. 

On the NFC side of the draw, I expect the 49ers and Eagles to make the NFC championship game and I believe the 49ers have the D-line that can stand up and stop the Eagles’ O-line, the best in football. 

Looking at Jalen Hurts last weekend, I believe his injury could be worse than Philadelphia are letting on and it was notable that he didn’t run into contact against the Giants in Week 18.

I do worry about the recent loss of two offensive linemen in Cincinnati, especially if they were to face a 49ers defence in the big show. But saying that, I’ll go with the Bengals because they are the most balanced team with a top-three QB in the league.”

Conor: “The NFL playoffs are always difficult to predict and I find that’s because of the uncertainty that happens when it gets to the month of January. For that reason I’ve gone a bit outside of the box and selected the 49ers to win the Super Bowl. 

Currently the Niners have the fourth best odds to be victorious, but I think there’s many reasons why they will overcome these odds.  

For starters San Francisco has the best defence out of everybody. There’s an old saying that goes “offence wins you games but defence wins you championships.” 

What that entails is when you get to the final stages, everyone is going to have great offences, but the ones with the better defences will stop them. There are things that worry me about this team – mainly seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy at QB – but so far he’s looked calm and collective and I trust Kyle Shanahan to put him in the right situations.

That leaves me to my last point, the 49ers have made the long journey to the Super Bowl before, but fell short. When you taste defeat at the last hurdle, it makes certain characters want that success even more. To me, San Fran has those characters all over the team and won’t stop at nothing in order to achieve them.

For the rest of my bracket, I have the Bills getting out of the stacked AFC. The three best teams in the league right now may be on that AFC side, and when they are all so closely matched it feels like a coin toss. Buffalo will need to use everything they’ve got to get past the Bengals and Chiefs, but I think they’re talented enough to do so.

To finish things off, yes I have the No. 5 seed Dallas Cowboys making the NFC Championship. Like I said, there’s always upsets and I think Dallas will surprise a few. Philly have regressed over the last month due to injuries and that will hurt them in an NFC East clash.”

Tom: “So I’ve got the Cincinnati Bengals going one step better this year, taking home the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy with a victory over Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles.

On the AFC side, it was a hard exercise to pick between the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and the aforementioned Cincinnati. Based on their regular season performances, all would be worthy Super Bowl champions, but titles aren’t won from Week 1 to 18.

It’s a likely scenario that the winner of the conference will have to beat at least one of these teams. Well in my prediction, I have Cincinnati beating both, and on the road in back-to-back weeks. Maybe it’s the confidence in which they carry themselves that has influenced my guesses, but when the lights are brightest this postseason, I think we will see Joe Burrow shine just as bright. 

The Bengals are built for playoff football and 2022 will be their year.

The NFC in itself is entirely more open to me, while I have the Philadelphia Eagles making the Super Bowl. I can’t say a one and done loss at home in the Divisional round would be a shocking turn of events.

But in my prediction I have Philly going to the dance, narrowly beating the San Francisco 49ers at home in the NFC Championship game.

I feel like we are more likely to encounter upsets on the NFC side and look out for the Giants @ Vikings being an example of this.”

Interesting side note

Interesting side note, every game of Super Wildcard Weekend is a rematch from the 2022 regular season.

49ers def. Seahawks 27-7 & 21-13 in Week 2 & 15

Jaguars def. Chargers 38-10 in Week 3

Vikings def. Giants 27-24 in Week 16

Buccaneers def. Cowboys 19-3 in Week 1

Dolphins & Bills split wins 21-9 & 32-29 in Week 3 & 15

Ravens & Bengals split wins 19-17 & 27-16 in Week 5 & 18

As you can see all of our predictions are set as we get ever closer to the Playoffs. In the end, none of us chose either No. 1 seed to be Super Bowl Champions, as it shows how competitive the league is right now. 

May the best man win in their bracket predictions, and let us know who you think is going to be the Super Bowl winner in a month’s time. 

NFL Playoff Power Rankings

By Conor Perrett  

After 18 weeks of football, the regular season of the NFL season may be finished, but that only means the playoff field has been set. In four and a half weeks time the Lombardi Trophy will be lifted, but before then, 14 teams must be squeezed down to two.`

So with the Wild-Card round starting this weekend, let’s look at all the teams in the play-offs and rank them.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)

The Chiefs finished another season as the No. 1 seed in the AFC and currently have an offence that is better than every other team left in the playoffs. Patrick Mahomes looks set to win another MVP award, as his 5,377 combined passing and rushing yards this season, is the most of any player in NFL history. 

It feels we have taken Mahomes for granted over the years and if he can keep this up, this superstar pairing of him and Andy Reid may have the potential to one day be mentioned in the same sentence of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. 

Up next: Bye

  1. Buffalo Bills (13-3)

Josh Allen and the Bills will one day make a Super Bowl, but it won’t be easy given how stacked the AFC conference currently is. Despite only losing three games on the season to a combined eight points, Buffalo won’t be getting a bye, but will play at a neutral site if they meet the Chiefs in the Conference Championship.

The Bills feel like the most complete team in the league, but they will be missing a few key players particularly Von Miller. Such a loss hasn’t stopped them yet though, as Buffalo finished as DVOA’s No. 1 team in the regular season. To one up on that, on offence, defence and special teams, no other team is ranked top-10 in each phase, while the Bills on the other hand finished Top-4 in all three phases.

Up next: vs. Miami, Sunday 6 p.m. GMT

  1. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)

The Bengals are among the league’s hottest teams entering the playoffs and it would be difficult to find a more confident player in the NFL right now than Bengals’ QB Joe Burrow. “The window is my whole career,” Burrow replied when asked about the Bengals’ championship window. He’ll need all that confidence if he wants to return to the Super Bowl.

Cincinnati’s path to Arizona may be the most difficult road, as they will have to beat a potential returning Lamar Jackson, then the Bills and possibly finish off the Chiefs again, and that is to only make the Superbowl. 

Up next: vs. Baltimore, Monday 1:15 a.m. GMT

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)

The Eagles got a much needed bye, by beating the Giants’ B team to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC. No team feels more in need of a week to recover than Philly, as Jalen Hurts was extremely cautious in his return from an injured shoulder. For the first time in his career, Hurts went the entire game without scrambling for a run as he heals up.  

If Hurts, Lane Johnson, Josh Sweat and Avonte Maddox can regain some health over the course of the playoffs, and get back to how they were in the first half of the season, the Eagles should be considered NFC favourites with back-to-back games at home.

Up next: Bye

  1. San Francisco 49ers (13-4)

The Niners closed out the regular season on a 10-game winning streak, with only two of those games decided by six points or fewer. That alone is a fair shout for them to be the best team in the NFC, if Hurts isn’t 100%.

They also happen to have the best point differential in the league and the No 1 ranked defence by DVOA and EPA per drive. All of those statistics look great, but the only thing that could be holding them back is the fact they are starting a seventh-round rookie at quarterback. 

Brock Purdy has been awesome, filling in for Jimmy G towards the end of the season, but he’s Mr. Irrelevant for a reason. The playoffs are a different kind of game and in the crucial moments, Purdy will be put in situations he may not be familiar or comfortable with. The key is how he responds to that.

Up next: vs. Seattle, Saturday 9:30 p.m. GMT

  1. Dallas Cowboys (12-5)

Since Mike McCarthy was hired as head-coach of the Cowboys, the expectation was to win playoff games. Dallas won’t get a better shot at one when they head to Tampa on Monday night.

In the end, nothing was lost in their regular season finale loss to the Commanders, but the pressure did heat up. Dak Prescott played one of his worst games of the season and led the Cowboys’ offence to a season-low 182 yards. Before that blowout loss, the offence was red-hot, but if they have another bad day at the office, fingers will start to be pointed at individuals within the organisation.

Up next: at Tampa Bay, Tuesday 1:15 a.m. GMT

  1. Los Angeles Chargers (10-7)

Head-coach Brandon Staley has the potential to be an amazing defensive genius, but the Chargers are far too inconsistent. With only one win on the season against a playoff team in Week 14 against Miami, it was by far their most impressive performance, but those kind of performances happen too little. 

The Bolts are 0-5 in every other game against a playoff contender and just played its starters deep into a meaningless game against the lowly Broncos, which they ultimately lost. They have the star-power in Justin Hebert, but it’s anyone’s guess which Chargers team will show up on the day.

Up next: at Jacksonville, Sunday 1:15 a.m. GMT

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8)

The Jaguars are 7-2 in their last nine games and their wild-card opponent is a team they have beaten already. Respectively it was all the way back in Week 3 and the Chargers were a lot more beaten up back then, but it should be noted down. Doug Pederson put on a masterclass in offensive play-calling that day and Trevor Lawrence has only gotten better since.

There will be holes in their game that Justin Herbert may take advantage of, but the confidence should be at full flow in Jacksonville. Whatever happens, the Jaguars should be delighted with their 2022 season. 

Up next: vs. Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday 1:15 a.m. GMT

  1. Baltimore Ravens (10-7)

It’s hard to rank this Baltimore team with the status of Lamar Jackson in the air. With a healthy Jackson this team could push for a top-6 spot, but we don’t know what is going on with him. There’s a presumption Jackson will return for the trip to Cincinnati, but it’s been reported that would happen for the last few weeks now. 

By weighted DVOA, the Ravens Defence is the second best in the playoffs, but without Jackson it’s hard to see any way they walk out with a win against the Bengals.  

Up next: at Cincinnati, Monday 1:15 a.m. GMT

  1. Minnesota Vikings (13-4)

The Vikings worked their dark-magic to win 11 straight one-score games, but that doesn’t make them a good team. Their defence is probably the worst defence in the playoffs, as they finished the season 29th in points allowed and 31st in yards allowed. They have Justin Jefferson who looks likely to win Offensive Player of the Year, but even then this offence is ranked 20th in offensive DVOA. 

The Vikings have already beat the Giants before in a close event back in Week 16, but that doesn’t change the fact this is probably one of the worst 13 wins and third seed team in recent memory. 

Up next: vs. New York Giants, Sunday 9:30 p.m. GMT

  1. New York Giants (9-7-1)

No one can take away the fact that the Giants have had a spectacular and surprising season. First-year head coach Brian Daboll should be in the conversation for Coach of the Year honours, and both offensive pieces Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley have had great success in contract years. 

Yes, this team has had some luck along the way and there are probably better teams that missed out on the playoffs, but New York played good football late in games that has gotten them to this point. The only worry is how far they can go. The Giants are 2-6 against playoff teams and the only team they beat by more than eight points this season was the helpless Colts. They drew the easy straw in Minnesota, as there’s certainly a chance they can get revenge this weekend.

Up next: at Minnesota, Sunday 9:30 p.m. GMT

  1. Seattle Seahawks (9-8)

It certainly wasn’t pretty, and despite entering the week with a 16% chance to make the playoffs, the Seahawks got it done. The majority of their thanks can go towards the Lions, who had no hard feelings with Seattle who eliminated Detroit an hour before their win in Green Bay. 

Now the Seahawks set up a NFC West rivalry matchup with the Niners, that has playoff history in its roots. The two teams last met in Week 15 on a Thursday night game that was not as close as the 21-13 score indicated. Crazier things have happened in the past but Seattle must play the game of their life if they intend to get the last laugh this season with San Francisco.

Up next: at San Francisco, Saturday 9:30 p.m. GMT

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9)

If every one of these teams had their starting QB healthy, Tampa would then rank last on this list. Luckily that’s not the case, so they can at least rank one spot higher. In fact their QB, Tom Brady is the Bucs’ only hope of progressing any further in what might be his last game for the team.

Never count out Tom Brady, especially in the playoffs, but this is an offence that has scored more than 23 points just twice all season and a defence that is mightily inconsistent. When you then also put a head coach in charge who looks lost at times, it’s fair to think why Brady may be done with this team. 

Up next: vs. Dallas, Tuesday 1:15 a.m. GMT

  1. Miami Dolphins (9-8)

It’s a shame Tua Tagovailoa has had the concussions he has withstood this season, as a rematch against the Bills would have been electric. But for the player’s safety, it’s the right choice to sit him. 

Unfortunately without him, rookie QB Skyler Thompson can’t keep up with Mike McDaniel’s fast playing style and the defence is far too weak to win games for them. The rollercoaster of the Dolphins’ season finished on a high in the regular season, but it’s hard to see anything other than it going back down for the playoffs.

Up next: at Buffalo, Sunday 6 p.m. GMT