Jan 21, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders (26) runs against the New York Giants in the second quarter during an NFC divisional round game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Eagles drub Giants 38-7, advance to NFC title game

If questions persisted about whether Jalen Hurts had fully recovered from a sprained throwing shoulder, Saturday’s emphatic playoff performance should put them to bed.

Hurts threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, and the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles dominated the first half en route to beating the visiting New York Giants 38-7 in the NFC divisional round on Saturday night.

Philadelphia raced out to a 28-0 halftime lead on the sixth-seeded Giants and cruised from there. Hurts finished with 154 yards on 16-of-24 passing and 34 rushing yards for the Eagles, who will host either the No. 2 seeded San Francisco 49ers or No. 5 Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 29.

“We had a lot of hunger built up in us and I think we were just starving, eager for our opportunity to come out here and play,” Hurts said postgame on Fox. “This is a division opponent, they’re a really good team, they have a lot of momentum going on and we just wanted to come out and play our best ball. I think we chose the right time to do that.”

The Eagles piled up 268 rushing yards, their most in a playoff game since 1949. Kenneth Gainwell had a career-high 112 yards on 12 carries, with a 35-yard burst for a touchdown after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, and Miles Sanders added 90 on 17 attempts.

Their defense thwarted Daniel Jones, sacking the Giants’ quarterback five times and intercepting him once. Jones was limited to 135 yards on 15-of-27 passing and Saquon Barkley had 61 rushing yards.

On Philadelphia’s opening drive, Hurts connected with Dallas Goedert and his defender was picked and fell over, allowing the tight end to score a 16-yard touchdown.

The Giants’ first drive ended in a turnover on downs at the Philadelphia 48. Haason Reddick finished the defensive stand with a sack and half-sack on consecutive plays.

Philadelphia marched downfield and struck again with 1:21 left in the quarter. Hurts tossed a pass to DeVonta Smith on his right, and the former Heisman Trophy winner beat out two would-be tacklers to make it a two-touchdown game.

Two plays from scrimmage later, former Giant James Bradberry jumped in front of Jones’ pass, just the second interception the quarterback has thrown since Nov. 20.

Boston Scott scored his 11th touchdown in nine career games against the Giants when he barreled in from the 3-yard line to make it 21-0 with 7:29 left before halftime.

Hurts added a 5-yard touchdown scamper with 43 seconds left before halftime. An unnecessary roughness penalty by Giants linebacker Jarrad Davis on a second-down incompletion aided Philadelphia’s cause.

The Eagles outgained the Giants 258-64 in net yardage in the first half and had an 18-3 advantage in first downs.

The Giants ended a string of four straight three-and-outs with an 88-yard scoring drive powered by Barkley’s 39-yard sprint. Barkley later took a direct snap and handed it to Matt Breida for an 8-yard touchdown with 6:15 left in the third quarter.

The Eagles had a quiet third quarter, but they bled more than half the fourth-quarter clock with a 15-play, 70-yard drive culminating in Jake Elliott’s 30-yard field goal with 5:16 to go.

The Giants surpassed expectations in their first season under coach Brian Daboll, making the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and earning a 31-24 wild-card win at the Minnesota Vikings. But they finished the year 0-3 against the Eagles, who are one win away from their second Super Bowl appearance in six seasons.

“It was a collective effort in terms of not being able to get it done,” said Daboll. “That starts with me. I appreciate our team. I told those guys, I appreciate their effort the entire year, their work ethic, the people in the organization, but Philly deserved to win that game.

“So it’s a crash landing in the playoffs. Losses hurt. These losses hurt even more.”

–Field Level Media

Jan 21, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) celebrates his touchdown scored against the Jacksonville Jaguars with quarterback Chad Henne (4) during the first half in the AFC divisional round game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Mahomes returns to lead Chiefs past Jags, into AFC championship

Patrick Mahomes returned from an ankle injury and Travis Kelce caught two touchdown passes as the Kansas City Chiefs recorded a 27-20 victory over the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday to advance to the AFC Championship Game for the fifth straight season.

Mahomes missed most of the second quarter due to the right ankle injury. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns, and backup quarterback Chad Henne also threw a scoring pass.

Kelce’s 14 receptions (for 98 yards) tied for third most in NFL postseason history and Marquez Valdes-Scantling added a touchdown catch for Kansas City. Nick Bolton (fumble recovery) and Jaylen Watson (interception) each had key takeaways in the fourth quarter.

The top-seeded Chiefs will face either the second-seeded Buffalo Bills or third-seeded Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC title game. The Bills and Bengals meet Sunday.

Trevor Lawrence was 24-of-39 passing for 217 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the fourth-seeded Jaguars. Travis Etienne Jr. rushed for a touchdown and Christian Kirk had a scoring reception.

Jacksonville trailed by 10 entering the final quarter but traveled 75 yards on seven plays to move within 20-17 on Etienne’s 4-yard run with 11:49 remaining.

Mahomes countered with his own 75-yard touchdown drive. On the 10th play, he tossed a 6-yard scoring pass to Valdes-Scantling to push the lead back to 10 with 7:08 left.

Lawrence guided the Jaguars on another drive but Jamal Agnew fumbled the ball at the Kansas City 4-yard line with Bolton recovering with 5:29 remaining.

On Jacksonville’s next drive, Lawrence was intercepted by Watson with 3:48 left. Riley Patterson later kicked a 48-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining but his ensuing onside kick was recovered by Kansas City’s Kadarius Toney.

Mahomes was hurt late in the first quarter on a play in which he was tackled by Jacksonville’s Corey Peters and Arden Key. Mahomes fell awkwardly to the ground as Key fell on Mahomes’ right lower leg.

Henne replaced Mahomes with 9:59 left in the second quarter and drove the Chiefs 98 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown.

But Mahomes returned at the outset of the second half with the ankle heavily taped.

Mahomes tossed an 8-yard scoring pass to Kelce with 7:56 in the first quarter. Jacksonville knotted the score on its next possession when Lawrence threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kirk.

Kansas City moved ahead 10-7 on Harrison Butker’s 50-yard field goal, the possession in which Mahomes injured the ankle.

When Henne entered, the ball was on the Chiefs’ 2-yard line and he drove the club downfield in Mahomes-like manner. Henne’s 1-yard throw to Kelce made it 17-7 with 3:54 left in the half.

Patterson booted a 41-yard field goal for the Jaguars with 27 seconds remaining.

Butker booted another 50-yarder with eight seconds left in the third quarter to give Kansas City a 20-10 advantage.

–Field Level Media

Dec 11, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) is sacked by New York Giants linebacker Azeez Ojulari (51) during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

Giants OLB Azeez Ojulari listed as active vs. Eagles

New York Giants outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari is listed as active for Saturday night’s NFC divisional round playoff game against the host Philadelphia Eagles.

Ojulari initially was listed as questionable to play due to a quad injury he sustained in New York’s 31-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings last week.

The 22-year-old totaled 5 1/2 sacks in seven games (five starts) this season for the Giants.

While Ojulari will play on Saturday, the Giants listed the following players as inactive: cornerbacks Rodarius Williams and Zyon Gilbert, inside linebacker Micah McFadden, guards Wyatt Davis and Jack Anderson, wide receiver Makai Polk and defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux.

The Eagles listed quarterback Ian Book, cornerback Avonte Maddox, running back Trey Sermon, safety Anthony Harris, linebacker Kyron Johnson and guard Josh Sills as inactive for Saturday’s game.

–Field Level Media

Jan 15, 2023; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) against the Miami Dolphins during a wild card game at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Superstar QBs headline battle between Bengals, Bills

Pro Bowl quarterbacks Josh Allen and Joe Burrow were slated to have their initial confrontation earlier this month.

But Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest emergency postponed that battle after nine-plus minutes.

Instead, the two gunslingers will have their first official duel on a much bigger stage when the second-seeded Buffalo Bills entertain the third-seeded Cincinnati Bengals in an AFC Divisional playoff game on Sunday afternoon at Orchard Park, N.Y.

Burrow guided the Bengals to the Super Bowl last season and Allen craves a similar run for the Bills. Burrow is the first Cincinnati quarterback to win playoff games in consecutive seasons while Allen is aiming to steer Buffalo into the AFC Championship Game for the second time in three seasons.

Both teams are red hot: The Bengals have won nine straight games and the Bills have prevailed eight consecutive times.

“It feels like two deserving teams,” Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said of the matchup. “Buffalo is one of the greatest environments to play in in all of football. I’ve been there many, many times and it’s a fun environment.

“It’s a worthy playoff environment and so our guys are going to be juiced up and ready to go.”

The Bengals were the surprise team last season when they crashed the Super Bowl and lost to the Los Angeles Rams. Now they are part of a tough trio of AFC contenders along with the Bills and top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs.

“We’re in a great spot,” Burrow said. “We have great leaders in the locker room and Zac puts us in the right mindset to create positions to go and succeed. We have the utmost faith in each other to go make plays to win the game.”

The Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens 24-17 in the wild-card round with defensive end Sam Hubbard scoring the winning points on a 98-yard fumble return that is the longest in postseason history.

Meanwhile, Buffalo has won 13 of its last 14 home playoff games after posting a 34-31 victory over the Miami Dolphins. The Bills were up 17-0 before sloppy play — they committed three turnovers — allowed the Dolphins back in the game.

“You can’t try to eliminate every single turnover and play scared,” Allen said. “We’re aggressive. We want to score touchdowns. That’s the gist of it.”

Sunday’s matchup comes 20 days after the matchup in Cincinnati in which Hamlin collapsed during the first quarter after tackling Bengals wideout Tee Higgins. He was administered CPR on the field and taken to a nearby hospital and the game was later postponed.

Hamlin has made a miraculous speedy recovery as the teams reunite for the playoff showdown.

“I’m sure it’s gonna be a little bit emotional,” Allen said of facing the Bengals. “I will say that I’ve got so much respect for the Bengals, their staff, their organization, and their players after everything that transpired. The way that we came together and kind of talked with them — they were extremely open to the whole concept of not continuing the game and making sure that we were OK.”

Also of note is that the Bills are playing in the division round for the third straight season. They went 1-1 the past two campaigns.

“We’ve been here before,” Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said. “We’ve got good experience in the divisional round. We’re grateful for that. … So, it’s the next game on our radar. And we’ve got to prepare for it.”

The Bengals lost left tackle Jonah Williams (dislocated kneecap) during the win over Baltimore and will be without three starting offensive linemen. Right tackle La’el Collins (ACL) and right guard Alex Cappa (ankle) were previously injured.

“It’s an interesting spot,” Cincinnati center Ted Karras said. “We have to have guys step up. We’ve lost three starters. That’s never a huge recipe for anything good.”

Cornerback Tre Flowers (hamstring) also missed Wednesday’s practice for Cincinnati.

Four defensive players were limited Wednesday for Buffalo: Cornerback Dane Jackson (knee), defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (calf), safety Jordan Poyer (knee) and nose tackle Jordan Phillips (shoulder).

The Bengals are 2-0 versus the Bills in the playoffs, including a victory in the 1988 AFC Championship Game.

–Field Level Media

Jan 16, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) runs for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Dak Prescott, Cowboys confront 49ers in playoff rivalry renewal

Nobody needs to warn the Dallas Cowboys this would be the wrong week for offensive line issues.

But health is not assured for the front wall of the Cowboys (13-5) as they prepare to tackle the San Francisco 49ers (14-4) in an NFC Divisional playoff game Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif.

“We basically have to game plan around him a little bit more,” left guard Connor McGovern said of facing 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa. “We faced a lot of great defensive ends and defensive tackles … let’s put the target on (Bosa) this week. We’ll give him his respect.”

Bosa dubbed Dallas’ offensive line as “definitely beatable” before a concussion knocked him out of the playoff game at Dallas last January.

But he’s earned the respect as the spearhead of the San Francisco’s No. 1-ranked defense. He had 18.5 of the team’s 44 sacks as part of a Defensive Player of the Year resume, and the secondary reaped the rewards with 20 interceptions (tied for league lead with Pittsburgh Steelers).

Protecting quarterback Dak Prescott rates as chief priority for the Cowboys. When rattled, Prescott has been prone to turnovers with 15 interceptions this season, tied for the NFL lead in the regular season.

The 49ers had five sacks and the Cowboys totaled 307 total yards on 70 plays in San Francisco’s wild-card win at Dallas last postseason, when the clock ran out with Prescott driving for a game-winning score trailing by six.

Prescott said in training camp he thinks about the loss “several times a day.”

“That one hurts,” Prescott said this week. “It will hurt for the rest of my career, and it will be a motivation throughout my career, just to make sure I’m preparing the right way, leaving no doubt in the preparation.

“So just being able to get (the 49ers) again … this thing’s set up just for us — playing teams that have beat us, teams that we’re familiar with.”

San Francisco’s clamp-tight run defense led the NFL and allowed just 77.7 rushing yards per game in 2022, second-fewest in the NFL. The 49ers are expected to put the pressure on Prescott to make throws in tight windows to move the chains. That puts the pressure back on Dallas’ front five.

In Dallas’ 31-14 win at Tampa Bay on Monday night, McGovern was needed at guard because left tackle Jason Peters left with an injured hip. The Cowboys shuffled the line entirely to compensate, inserting rookie Tyler Smith at left tackle, moving McGovern from fullback to left guard and leaving right tackle Tyron Smith at his adopted spot.

“It’s definitely going to start up front,” Tyler Smith said. “It’ll start with the big guys so that’s going to be the emphasis throughout the week. We know what we (have) got to do.”

Much of the drama on the Dallas side this week surrounded kicker Brett Maher, who missed a record four extra points at Tampa. Maher enters the game as the kicker despite some nerves admitted by the Cowboys.

Special teams coach John Fassel said, “We have a plan and we’ll go through it this week. I expect football karma to kick in.”

San Francisco’s kicking plan is solid gold. Robbie Gould, 40, has never missed a playoff field-goal attempt or PAT. He’s 25-for-25 on field-goal attempts — the most without a miss in NFL history — and 37-for-37 on PATs in his playoff career.

The Cowboys are getting their first look at the 49ers’ third starting quarterback this season, rookie Brock Purdy. The seventh-round pick threw three TD passes, completed passes to seven different receivers and the 49ers slapped a season-high 41 points on the Seahawks in a wild-card victory last week.

Dallas’ version of Bosa, chess piece Micah Parsons, played 15 snaps at linebacker last week. The Cowboys typically scheme to free him to aggressively angle toward the quarterback, with heavy use at defensive end. It helped the Cowboys last week to have outside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch return to the lineup from a neck injury.

But they’ll need near flawless play to limit another newcomer — trade-deadline acquisition Christian McCaffrey — and wide receiver Deebo Samuel from busting big plays. McCaffrey had a 68-yard run, Samuel scored on a 74-yard reception and six players had plays of 20-plus yards against the Seahawks last week. It was San Francisco’s 11th consecutive win.

That task falls to Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s former boss with the Atlanta Falcons. Quinn holds an advantage of having heard Shanahan’s play calls and tendencies through a headset for two seasons, but the familiarity flows both ways.

“I mean, Dan Quinn jumps off the tape to me there. The way he gets those guys to move,” Shanahan said Wednesday. “I mean, he’s got some real good rushers. Everyone knows about (defensive end DeMarcus) Lawrence and Parsons but I mean, there’s not one bad one there. The way that they stunt, the way they can create one-on-ones.

“There’s a reason they’re number one in getting to the quarterback with sacks and pressures, and it does jump off the tape.”

The Cowboys had 54 sacks in the regular season and took down Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady twice last week.

This is the ninth playoff meeting between the 49ers and Cowboys, with Dallas leading the all-time series 5-3. The winner went on to win the Super Bowl five times.

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy was 49ers offensive coordinator in 2005. He’s 0-3 against San Francisco as a head coach of the Packers and Cowboys.

–Field Level Media

Jan 9, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) runs the ball during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Divisional Playoffs could feature historically low point spreads

After a wild-card weekend marked by several blowouts, the divisional round is shaping up to feature four of the closest combined matchups in NFL playoff history.

The lowest combined point spreads for four divisional playoff games was 13.5 points in 1971, according to data from TheLines.com. This weekend’s games opened with a combined consensus point spread of 14 from opening odds at DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, BetRivers, Caesars and PointsBet.

According to TheLines.com, the combined opening point spread average for the divisional round over the past 15 years has been 27 points, with the lowest during that span being 21 points last season.

Tight contests would be a welcome sight for fans after four of six wild-card games were decided by at least 16 points.

The divisional round will begin with Cincinnati traveling to Tennessee on Saturday. The Titans opened as 3.0-point favorites but the line has moved to 3.5 at several books including BetMGM, where Tennessee is being backed by 62 percent of the bets and 71 percent of the spread-line handle.

The 3.5-point spread at DraftKings has seen an even amount of bets but 66 percent of the money is backing the Titans.

San Francisco will travel to Green Bay for the second game Saturday, with the Packers opening as the biggest favorite of the weekend. The 49ers were the only underdog to win last weekend, but the Packers are also well-rested as the NFC’s top seed.

Green Bay opened as a 5.5-point favorite and is being backed by 77 percent of the bets and 78 percent of the spread-line handle at BetMGM. The spread is 6.0 points at DraftKings with the Packers supported by 74 and 75 percent, respectively.

Fresh off their resounding victories to open the playoffs, the Los Angeles Rams and Buccaneers will square off in Tampa on Sunday.

Tampa Bay is a 3.0-point favorite at both sportsbooks with the Bucs backed by 64 percent of the bets and 67 percent of the spread-line money at BetMGM. However, the action has been split at DraftKings, with the Bucs backed by 53 percent of the bets but the Rams drawing 58 percent of the early handle.

The divisional playoffs will conclude with a heavyweight bout between the Buffalo Bills and Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

Kansas City is a 2.5-point favorite and is being backed by 54 percent of the bets and 60 percent of the handle at BetMGM. The story is similar at DraftKings with the Chiefs supported by 54 and 52 percent, respectively.

The Bills and Chiefs also feature the highest Over/Under of the weekend at 54.5 points at BetMGM and 55.0 points at DraftKings. That hasn’t dissuaded the public, with the Over backed by 90 percent of the bets and 95 percent of the money at the former and 71 and 95 percent, respectively, at the latter.

“All four of these games have the potential to be classic NFL playoff games and we expect to see bettors pay significant attention to this weekend,” TheLines.com lead analyst Brett Collson said. “The home team is the favorite in all four games, but the relatively narrow lines show just how tight these matchups could be.”

Super Bowl LVI Odds (preseason odds)
–Green Bay Packers +375 (+1400)
–Kansas City Chiefs +400 (+500)
–Buffalo Bills +500 (+1150)
–Tampa Bay Buccaneers +550 (+650)
–Los Angeles Rams +750 (+1500)
–Tennessee Titans +750 (+3000)
–San Francisco 49ers +1000 (+1400)
–Cincinnati Bengals +1200 (+15000)

BetMGM reported that the Packers are the sportsbook’s biggest Super Bowl liability with 10.2 percent of the bets and 10.2 percent of the money placed on Green Bay. Second is the Bucs, who have been backed by 9.9 and 11.8 percent, respectively.

–Field Level Media