2023 NFL Divisional Round Sunday Preview

Josh Allen Buffalo Bills Fantasy Football AFC Chamionship Game AFC Wild Card AFC Divisional Round Quarterbacks

Saturday saw some wild games of football! The Jags and Chiefs squared off, with an injured Patrick Mahomes gritting out a victory. Jalen Hurts came off an injury to take down the Giants. Both will host their respective championship games next weekend, but what of their opponents next weekend? Let’s take a look at the Sunday matchups!

Sunday, 12:00 PM Pacific (CBS)
Bengals (12-4, 3 seed) at Bills (13-3, 2 seed)
46.5 O/U, SF -3.5

How the Bengals Win
Key Player: Joe Mixon

While Joe Mixon lacks the big plays to make him one of the ten-best running backs in the NFL, he does offer decent enough down-to-down value. The Bengals were one of the toughest outs in the NFL all season because they could balance their high-powered passing game with Mixon touching the ball on what felt like every other play. The Bengals ranked middle-of-the-road in rushing success rate because Mixon wasn’t a great back on a carry-to-carry basis. But Mixon had one of three games this season wherein a running back had at least 200 yards from scrimmage, so he can take any play and snap it over his knee, despite a lack of play-to-play upside. He could put the Bengals on his back against this Bills’ run defense and lead them to victory.

Key Position Group: Offensive Line

With the Bengals without three of five starters along the line (La’El Collins, Alex Cappa, and Jonah Williams), it’s safe to say that the Bills’ pass rush hopes to have a field day on Sunday. Joe Burrow expressed faith in all three of the substitutes (Max Scharping, Hakeem Adeniji, and Jackson Carman) but Burrow has taken ten sacks in his last four games, after taking six sacks in his previous five games. The Bengals also averaged just 58 rushing yards over the last four games (including the playoffs) while they averaged 140 rushing yards per game in the five games prior to that.

Key Statistic: 50+ Yard Touchdowns

It’s hard to call a game-breaking play like a 50-yard touchdown pass a team’s bread and butter, just with Joe Burrow and the Ja’Marr Chase/Tee Higgins/Tyler Boyd triumvirate, it is. The Bengals had four 50+ yard touchdown passes this year, which ranked one behind the Miami Dolphins for second in the NFL. Conversely, the Bills allowed just one such play this year, which tied them for the sixth-fewest in the league. Just like a long Joe Mixon touchdown run is a potential key to victory for Cincy, so too, would be a long touchdown catch.

How the Bills Win
Key Player: Matt Milano

Matt Milano is one of the better unsung linebackers in the NFL, and he is key to the Buffalo Bills run defense. He ranks third in the league in tackles for loss and fifth in the league in run stuffs, making him one of the key components of this defense. With the defensive backfield having its hands full with the big three receivers for the Bengals, Milano will keep Cincy honest underneath while stymying balls going to Hayden Hurst, Joe Mixon, and Samaje Perine.

Key Position Group: Defensive Backs

The Bills were sixteenth in the NFL in yards per reception to wide receivers but also gave up the fourth-most receiving touchdowns to the position. They were exceptionally vulnerable outside, where they gave up the seventh-most fantasy points to receivers this year, with the slot corners allowing the thirteenth-fewest fantasy points to receivers. The defensive backfield will have a big test on their hands this week with Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase, who are both great outside weapons, on the docket.

Key Statistic: Josh Allen Turnovers

On the season, 3.73% of Josh Allen’s dropbacks and rushes ended in a turnover-worthy play (an interception or a fumble, regardless of who recovered). That puts him a smidge ahead of Aaron Rodgers on the season for the fourth-highest rate among quarterbacks with at least 500 dropbacks and rushes. Josh Allen could lead the Bills to victory or turn the ball over to defeat. It’s all up to Allen, and his turnovers, or lack thereof, will be key to the Bills getting to the AFC Championship Game.

My Pick: Let’s Go, Buffalo!

Sunday, 3:30 PM Pacific (FOX)
Cowboys (12-5, 5 seed) at 49ers (13-4, 2 seed)
46.5 O/U, SF -3.5

How the Cowboys Win
Key Player: CeeDee Lamb

Lamb will be a key player to watch this weekend, as he’s become the stud wide receiver the Cowboys drafted him to be. While Lamb has only 9 catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games, he cranked out three-straight games of 100+ yards, with at least 7 catches in all three and double-digit receptions in two of the three. He became a capital A alpha down the stretch, and the Cowboys will need him to crush the Charvarius Ward matchup. Ward gave up over 100 yards to D.K. Metcalf last week, but 50 of those came on a great play by Metcalf. The Cowboys will need a few of those from Lamb this weekend to stay competitive.

Key Position Group: Linebackers

The Dallas linebackers will have their hands full this week, with the 49ers play with 21 so much that you would think that they were Drake. See, I can do topical references. Anyway, the linebacking corps of the Cowboys will be key to their success this week, as they will need to figure out how to stop George Kittle, Christian McCaffrey/Elijah Mitchell, and Kyle Juszczyk. While the Cowboys’ linebackers do an incredible job of stopping the run (their 4.2 yards per carry ties for the eleventh-lowest), they are league neutral against the pass against running backs. They’re also among the league leaders in yards per reception allow to tied ends, with only the Buffalo Bills allowing fewer yards per reception to the position. If the

Key Statistic: Trevon Diggs Breakups

There were 37 cornerbacks to defend at least 400 routes this season, a cohort that included Trevon Diggs, who defended 545 routes this season. Diggs finished the season breaking up 16.25% of the passes that went his way, which ranked twelfth among the 37 cornerbacks who defended at least 400 routes. That will be especially important this week as the 49ers look to press downfield with Brandon Aiyuk as their 10+ yard downfield weapon while Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, and George Kittle all work underneath. If the Cowboys can take away the big pass, then that will put the 49ers on their heels, giving Dallas a chance to win this one.

How the 49ers Win
Key Player: Brock Purdy

It has to be Purdy, right? Purdy’s yet to face a real test, as his average margin of victory under center is  16.2 points, with that vaulting up to three touchdowns at home this year. Only the Raiders came within seven or fewer points of winning, and Brock Purdy trounced the Seahawks last week after taking them out at home, in week fifteen, 21-13. In Purdy’s seven games (including coming in for Jimmy Garoppolo), he’s on pace for 3980 passing yards, 44 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He’s key to the 49ers’ victory this weekend, just like last weekend.

Key Position Group: Running Backs

The 49ers, with Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, and (to a lesser extent) a mish-mash of Jeff Wilson Jr. and Jordan Mason finished the season with the eleventh-most running back touches among all teams. The Niners finished with 479 running back touches, putting them behind only these very Dallas Cowboys (524 touches) and the Chargers (484 touches) among the teams still active in week one of the playoffs. The 49ers are the heart and soul of the 49ers’ offense, at least traditionally. With Brock Purdy under center, the 49ers have diversified their portfolio. But with a tough Dallas pass rush on the other side on the horizon, the 49ers will likely ground the air game as much as possible for the rushing game.

Key Statistic: Nick Bosa Pressures

The 49ers built their team around having a stifling defense, and a key part of that is Nick Bosa. The Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner finished the year with 18.5 sacks. But, it’s not the sacks that will make Bosa a disruptive force, it’s the pressures. While pressures inevitably turn into sacks. Bosa led the NFL with 56 pressures, which is an incredibly dominant number, and the most since T.J. Watt’s 61 all the way back in… 2020. The Cowboys will likely be without Jason Peters, meaning they once again will have to reshuffle their offensive line. Bosa will make life a living hell for the Cowboys, and that is a key to a San Francisco victory celebration on Saturday.

My Pick: Niners, Baby!

About Jeff Krisko

You can follow me on twitter, @jeffkrisko for the same lukewarm takes you read here.

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