NFL Divisional Round Saturday Preview: Jaguars-Chiefs and Giants-Eagles kick off playoff action for each conference’s No. 1 seed

Jan 8, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) passes the ball in front of New York Giants defensive end Ryder Anderson (90) during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Divisional Round Saturday Preview: Jaguars-Chiefs and Giants-Eagles kick off playoff action for each conference’s No. 1 seed

Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)

Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. CT/NBC

The Jacksonville Jaguars will visit the Kansas City Chiefs for Saturday afternoon’s AFC Divisional round matchup at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City enters the game well-rested, beneficiaries of a first-round bye due to their first-place finish in the conference. The Chiefs finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak and won 10 of their final 11 – including a 10-point win over these same Jacksonville Jaguars back on Nov. 13.

Jacksonville, unlike Kansas City, needed to scratch and claw down the stretch to secure its playoff spot – something it accomplished with a Week 18 win over Tennessee. Overall, the Jaguars have won six straight, including their 31-30 wild-card win over the Los Angeles Chargers. The Jaguars’ wild-card win was as thrilling as it was unlikely, a comeback from down 27 points that both showcased Jacksonville’s youth and its resilience. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw four interceptions before halftime while the Chargers built a 27-0 lead, but found a way to turn the night around nonetheless. Lawrence would pass for four touchdowns as Jacksonville stormed back into the game, eventually winning 31-30 on a field goal as time expired.

If nothing else, last weekend’s performance proves to Jacksonville that it is never out of a game. Jacksonville also staged double-digit comebacks during the regular season to defeat the Dallas Cowboys and Las Vegas Raiders, so the team’s resilience is nothing new. All three of these comebacks, though – over Los Angeles, Dallas, and Las Vegas – came at home in Jacksonville. As the Jaguars learned on Nov. 13 after falling behind big to Kansas City, flipping the script is much harder to do on the road in a hostile setting.

Kansas City will be well-rested and hungry, hoping to clinch either a trip to Atlanta for a conference championship battle with Buffalo or an opportunity to host Cincinnati next Sunday. The Chiefs have a ton of playoff experience. Most of their roster has played in two Super Bowls over the past three seasons, and Patrick Mahomes is the oldest quarterback left in the AFC despite being just 27 years old. Many thought the Chiefs’ offense would take a step back in 2022 without star wide receiver Tyreek Hill, but Kansas City quickly put those notions to bed. The Chiefs led the NFL in both scoring and passing yards during the regular season, and Patrick Mahomes is a certainty to win the NFL’s MVP award.

Mahomes was surgical in Kansas City’s 27-17 regular season win over Jacksonville. He finished that game 26-for-35 with 331 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception while the Chiefs built a 20-0 first-half lead. The Jaguars’ defense ranked just 28th in the NFL during the regular season against the pass, so Sunday’s game will be a massive uphill battle for an embattled secondary. One way to ease the burden on that group – and possibly Jacksonville’s only pathway to winning – would be to start faster on offense to build momentum. The Jaguars’ first six possessions came up empty on Nov. 13, including five punts. If the defense has to spend that much time on the field again early on Saturday, Kansas City will win in a blowout.

New York Giants (9-7-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)

Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. CT/FOX

The New York Giants head to Philadelphia for Saturday night’s NFC Divisional showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles, the NFC’s No. 1 seed. New York and Philadelphia met twice this season, most recently just two weeks ago in Week 18 – and the Eagles have done nothing but prepare for the Divisional round since that game. New York, meanwhile, traveled to Minnesota for last weekend’s wild-card game against the Vikings.

The Giants’ 31-24 win over Minnesota was an upset, but not as much of an upset as the teams’ records may have made it appear to be. The Vikings’ 11-0 record entering that game in one-score contests was well-documented, as was that their opponents outscored them during the regular season overall. What surprised many fans was how exceptionally well Giants quarterback Daniel Jones played in his first career playoff start. Jones finished the day with 301 yards passing and 78 yards rushing, leading the Giants in both categories and becoming the first quarterback in NFL postseason history to produce at least 300 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, and 70 rushing yards in a game. Jones also finished the afternoon without committing a turnover.

When the Giants and Eagles met in Week 18, Daniel Jones and most other Giants’ starters were given the week off. New York knew that a trip to Philadelphia was probable with a wild-card win, so sitting starters would rest those players ahead of the wild-card round and keep the Eagles from getting extra reps against them. The Giants lost that game, 22-16, as Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts eased his way back from injury. Philadelphia and New York did meet once this year with both starting quarterbacks in action and at full strength, though – a 48-22 blowout win for the Eagles on the road at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 11. That day, Philadelphia was wholly dominant. The Eagles outgained the Giants 437 yards to 304, earned 27 first downs to New York’s 18, and rushed for 253 yards on 8.2 yards per carry.

If the Giants hope to have any chance at all Saturday night, it starts with not being bullied in the trenches like they were in December. New York’s rush defense ranked 28th in the NFL during the regular season, allowing 144 yards per game. For the Giants to win, it behooves them to stay within striking distance – or jump out to a lead – early in the game. New York’s rushing offense ranks fourth in the NFL, and should succeed against Philadelphia’s middling rush defense. But if Philly jumps into an early lead, controls the line of scrimmage, and forces the Giants into passing downs throughout the night, it is difficult to imagine New York advancing.

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