The next wave of NFL playoff football is in full swing. The division round kicked off Saturday with a few regular season rematches, and, boy, we got a lot of ground to cover just after that action. The Chiefs move back into the AFC Championship, thanks to a 27-20 victory over the upstart Jaguars. And the Eagles will host the NFC Championship for the second time in five years after defeating the Giants, 38-7.
Here are some instant and big shots from the opening day of the division round:
Hurts and the Eagles are back
We say “back” because, honestly, it felt a lot like they had “gone” in the past month. Ever since Jalen Hurts, once a virtual slot to face Patrick Mahomes for this year’s MVP award, went down with a shoulder injury, Philly has lost something of a plateau, if not backwards, heading into the postseason. But on Saturday night against a Giants team fresh off an impressive Minnesota upset, they looked back to top form. First, Hurts seemingly had no limitations, as he excelled early on as a passer and, perhaps more particularly, on the ground. And the Haason Reddick-led defense trailed Daniel Jones and Co. all night. and gave New York what Brian Daboll later called an “emergency landing.” It’s time to see the Birds as real title contenders again.
The Giants need more help than we thought
This year was still a success for New York. The G-Men weren’t even supposed to make the playoffs, given the broken roster Brian Daboll inherited. Daniel Jones certainly registers as a different prospect than even months ago. But unlike even Jacksonville, which brought Kansas City to the wire under a freshman coach (more on that below), the Giants had hardly any fighting or urgency in Philadelphia. That’s not primarily Jones’s or Daboll’s fault, but rather a lineup that’s still seriously understaffed in premium spots. General manager Joe Schoen must urgently prioritize upgrades along the offensive line, including the flanks and linebacker.
Mahomes’ ankle is a valid concern
The big story of the Chiefs earning a fifth straight AFC title game had nothing to do with the actual win, or the highlights leading up to it – Isiah Pacheco’s open courts, Kadarius Toney’s big involvement, some big D-line moments. As soon as star quarterback Patrick Mahomes was briefly out in the second quarter with an ankle injury, his health came first. Visibly resistant to medical attention, the MVP candidate fought through a noticeable limp to keep Kansas City up front and seal the win.
CBS Sports’ Doug Clawson also points out that Mahomes, who is used to relying on his mobility, accounts for 41% of the league’s touchdown passes outside the pocket (15 of 36) in the last five postseasons.
He will certainly do everything he can to stay below center when he moves forward, but that doesn’t mean it won’t affect his mobility and/or Andy Reid’s play-calling, even if only slightly. Lucky for the chefs…
It doesn’t really matter who is below the centerpiece; few players produce so consistently when it matters most. No. 87 was all around, working the middle against Jacksonville with 14 catches for 98 yards and two scores. There really isn’t much else to say other than: Kelce’s presence, with or without an imposing No. 1 receiver drawing attention to the outside, is often enough to send KC up and down the field. At 33 years old, he is still at the top of his game.
The Jaguars are here to stay
It’s been clear for some time that Jacksonville made the right choice in hiring ex-Eagles coach Doug Pederson, but this team’s postseason performance — just the Jaguars’ second playoff bid in the last 15 years — justify the growing optimism in Northeast Florida. Coming back from down 27 to beat the Chargers was miraculous confirmation that Trevor Lawrence and Co. are emerging. But keeping the Chiefs on their toes at Arrowhead was perhaps just as impressive, even with Mahomes stumbling around most of the day. Pederson called the game with his trademark aggressiveness. Lawrence flashed veteran-level confidence. Best of all, reinforcements should arrive as Calvin Ridley and others join playmakers like Travis Etienne Jr., Christian Kirk, and Jamal Agnew; the latter two showed with untimely flaws that they could star in more minor roles.