John McClain: Home teams picked to win divisional round games

Dec 5, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) celebrates after catching a touchdown pass against the Seattle Seahawks during the first quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

John McClain: Home teams picked to win divisional round games

Traditionally, the divisional round produces the best and most exciting games in the playoffs. But it’s going to be difficult to equal the excitement of the wild card round that featured four games decided by seven or fewer points. There were terrific individual performances, clutch plays, head-scratching decisions, inexcusable clock management problems, and a colossal choke job.

Some of the losing teams couldn’t wait to show the door to coordinators who played the scapegoat role. The Chargers, Dolphins, Ravens, Vikings, and Buccaneers were losers who dumped coordinators this week.

The first weekend of the playoffs included four quarterbacks who put on tremendous performances – Dak Prescott (Cowboys), Daniel Jones (Giants), Brock Purdy (49ers), and Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars). Now the four quarterbacks have to do it again if they’re going to advance beyond the divisional round.

No player performed better under pressure than Prescott. He threw four touchdown passes and ran for another in the 31-14 victory over Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. He torched the Bucs’ defense for 305 yards and a wild card round-best 143.3 rating. The Cowboys put on an impressive performance, and their reward is to visit the 49ers, who have an 11-game winning streak and the best defense in the NFL.

It’s a wonder Brady’s 45-year-old right arm didn’t fall off after the Dallas game considering he threw 66 passes and completed 35 for 351 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. His contract is up in March, and there’s lots of speculation about his next destination – Las Vegas, Carolina, or retirement.

Purdy, the 49ers’ seventh-round draft choice, had the most surprising performance of the weekend. He continued his amazing rookie season by elevating his record to 6-0 as a starter. He threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns in the 41-23 decimation of Seattle. He’s starting in a rivalry between the 49ers and Cowboys, who’ve played nine times in the playoffs.

The Giants upset the Vikings on the road, winning 31-24, thanks to Jones’ exceptional performance. He finished with 301 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 114.1 rating. Jones will have to lead the Giants to a bigger upset at the Eagles, who have home-field advantage in the NFC and are coming off a bye. The Giants won when Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins made the inexplicable decision on fourth-and-8 at his 48 to throw a 3-yard completion that ended the Vikings’ season.

The most astonishing performance of wild card weekend happened at Jacksonville, where Lawrence threw four first-half interceptions, and the Jaguars fell behind the Chargers 27-0. Then Lawrence threw four touchdown passes, and thanks to a couple of gutsy calls by coach Doug Pederson, the Jaguars escaped with a 31-30 victory. The Jaguars take a six-game winning streak to Kansas City. The Chiefs earned home-field advantage in the AFC and a bye in the wild-card round.

We’d be remiss not to mention the best performance by a player on a losing team. Chargers’ cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. intercepted three of Lawrence’s passes in the first half, and despite his gargantuan effort, they were eliminated with one of the biggest collapses in playoff history.

The same kind of collapse almost happened in Buffalo. The Bills were favored by 13½ points over the Dolphins. Buffalo jumped out to a 17-0 lead against rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson, a seventh-round pick. Then quarterback Josh Allen threw two interceptions and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Allen, who finished with 352 yards and three touchdowns, has become a turnover machine, but the Bills avoided the monstrous upset by beating the Dolphins 34-31 to take an eight-game winning streak into the Cincinnati game.

Speaking of the Bengals, they easily could have lost at home to the Ravens, but Baltimore quarterback Tyler Huntley tried to stretch the ball across the goal line on a quarterback sneak and lost a fumble that end Sam Hubbard returned 98 yards for the winning touchdown. Now the Bengals are headed back to Buffalo, where they led the Bills 7-3 in Cincinnati when Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest, causing the game to be cancelled.

If Buffalo and Kansas City win to advance to the AFC Championship Game, it’s going to be played at Atlanta, a neutral site.

And don’t forget questionable play calling and clock management by head coaches Mike McDaniel (Dolphins), Brandon Staley (Chargers), and John Harbaugh (Ravens). Each fired a coordinator after being eliminated.

Now, let’s make predictions for this weekend’s games:

Jacksonville (10-8) plus-9 at Kansas City (14-3): Chiefs 30-23

The Jaguars’ unbelievable comeback against the Chargers made Jacksonville the first team in history to go from last place to first place and win a playoff game. Can they do it again at Kansas City against the top-seeded Chiefs with quarterback Patrick Mahomes and coach Andy Reid, who’s going for his 20th playoff victory, which would tie Tom Landry but leave him 11 behind Bill Belichick? The Chiefs have a six-game winning streak against the Jaguars, including a 27-17 victory this season. Jacksonville’s dream dies at Arrowhead Stadium.

NY Giants (10-7-1) plus-7½ at Philadelphia (14-3): Eagles 23-17

It’s been a while since the Eagles played like the best team in the NFC because quarterback Jalen Hurts missed two games with a shoulder injury. He’s back, and healthy, and ready to establish the Eagles as the conference’s superior team again. They swept the Giants in the regular season. The Eagles have great balance between the run and pass. Their defense led the NFL with 70 sacks, including four players in double digits. Expect them to shut down running back Saquon Barkley, put a lot of pressure on quarterback Daniel Jones and advance to the NFC Championship Game.

Cincinnati (13-4) plus-5½ at Buffalo (13-3): Bills 30-27

Both teams struggled to win wild card games, and neither played great during the stretch drive. The Bengals have a nine-game winning streak. The Bills have won eight in a row. Buffalo is the highest-scoring team in the playoffs, averaging 28.4 points a game. Only the 49ers allow fewer points a game than the Bills’ 17.9. Which team wins this game depends on what quarterback plays best and avoids turnovers – Joe Burrow or Josh Allen. Expect the defenses to clamp down on the running games and try to contain the quarterbacks. Burrow is missing three starters in his offensive line.

Cowboys (13-5) plus-4 at San Francisco (18-4): 49ers 24-21

This is the marquee matchup of the divisional round. The 49ers and Cowboys renew a playoff rivalry that dates back to the 1970s when Dallas ruled San Francisco. The 49ers bounced back to win their first Super Bowl after Joe Montana, and Dwight Clark collaborated on “The Catch” at Candlestick Park. The 49ers and Cowboys have combined to win the Lombardi Trophy 10 times. The 49ers have an 11-game winning streak and allowed the fewest points (16.3) per game. The Cowboys are now 6-3 against playoff teams. Dallas has defeated the 49ers three consecutive times in the regular season, and San Francisco has won the last two playoff games.

Last week: Straight up 4-2, against the spread 4-2.

(John McClain writes four columns a week for He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on

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