Cody Schoeler’s NFL West Divisional Playoffs Previews
Posted on January 20, 2023
And then there were two. I’m talking, of course, about west teams.
With the playoff exits of the Seahawks and Chargers last weekend, the Chiefs and 49ers are the only teams left representing the west.
They are two very good representatives considering both teams are in the top three in current odds to win the Super Bowl.
But to get there they’ll have to handle business this week.
For the Chiefs, that means holding off a surging Jaguars team that is looking to play spoiler once again. For the 49ers it means taking down a Cowboys team that is still riding high after last week’s big win over the Buccaneers.
Now let’s get into those games with a quick preview of each one.
Chiefs vs Jaguars
Saturday, January 21
1:30 pm PT, NBC
This is not the matchup that many people were expecting to see this week. The Jaguars completed a miraculous comeback last week to send the Chargers packing and earn themselves a date with the Chiefs in the process.
It’s a daunting task for sure. The Chiefs have the best offense in the league and will be well-rested after having a first-round bye.
It’s also pretty clear how the Chiefs are going to attack the Jaguars. They are obviously a very pass-happy team, which makes sense with a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes.
They had the fifth-most pass attempts this season and with the Jaguars giving up the fifth-most passing yards it’s fair to say the Chiefs are going to attack them through the air.
Kansas City also has the best tight end in the league in Travis Kelce. Jacksonville gave up 12 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown to tight ends against Los Angeles, and defending Kelce isn’t going to be any easier.
The Jaguars’ linebackers are going to be crucial to their ability to stay in the game. Not only because they’ll have to defend Kelce but because they’ll also have to chip in to help against a solid run game featuring running backs Isaiah Pacheco and Jerrick McKinnon.
How linebackers Foyesade Oluokun, Devin Lloyd, and Chad Muma play in the middle of the defense may end up deciding the game.
The Chiefs may be an offense-first team but they aren’t too shabby on defense, especially against the pass, where they allowed the sixth-fewest yards per attempt.
One of the reasons they were so good at limiting opponents through the air was the pass rush. Kansas City racked up 55 sacks this year, more than every team except the Eagles.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones is the leader up front and is also one of the best defensive players in the game with 15.5 sacks, the most of any defensive tackle.
This game will be a best-on-best type matchup, though, with the Jaguars having an offensive line that is formidable enough to hang with the Chiefs’ defensive line.
Jacksonville gave up the fifth-fewest sacks this year, which was one of the key reasons for the development of quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
The young signal-caller looked much better in his second season, looking like a future star in the league. He also handled his first taste of playoff action well last week, at least in the second half.
Lawrence shook off a historically bad first half to finish the game with 288 yards and four touchdowns and lead a drive for a game-winning field goal.
But now he will face a defense that is much better against the pass in the Chiefs, so how he will handle that adversity will be one of the keys to the game.
It will help out Lawrence if the Jaguars can have success on the ground, where the Chiefs are worse on defense.
Jacksonville was a borderline top-10 rushing attack this season but young running back Travis Etienne had success last week, 109 yards on 20 carries.
The Chiefs have one of the best young linebackers in the league in Nick Bolton, so how he matches up with Etienne and the run game will be worth watching.
Bottom line, if the Jaguars want a chance to win this game they need to play more like they played in the second half last week. The only way to beat the Chiefs is to make positive plays on offense, which Lawrence should be able to do with weapons such as wide receiver Christian Kirk, tight end Evan Engram, and wide receiver Zay Jones.
But, if the Chiefs can have their usual success on offense, it may not be much of a game. they are the biggest betting favorite of the week, favored by eight-and-a-half points, so it’s fair to assume that if they play like they’re supposed to, a win should be within reach.
49ers vs Cowboys
Sunday, January 22
3:30 pm PT, FOX
This matchup feels like one straight out of the eighties and with the way both defenses are playing, it may end up looking like one too.
Both of these teams field a top-tier defense. the 49ers allowed the fewest points and the second-fewest yards while the Cowboys weren’t far behind and also led the league in turnovers.
Both teams are also coming off big wins in the opening round of the playoffs so should have plenty of momentum on their side.
The most interesting part of this game will be how well quarterback Dak Prescott does against the 49ers’ defense. He had arguably the game of his life last week against the Buccaneers and now has to go up a level or two in difficulty.
There isn’t much that the Cowboys can take from the Seahawks’ performance against the 49ers last week, but there may be one thing. Seattle wide receiver D.K. Metcalf had a lot of success against San Francisco’s number one cornerback, Charvarius Ward.
Dallas may also be able to take advantage of that matchup by using wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, one of the best in the game, in a similar way. Prescott and Lamb may be the key to Dallas hanging in this one, especially because it would let Prescott avoid some of the elite playmakers on that defense in coverage such as linebacker Fred Warner and safety Talanoa Hufanga.
But the Cowboys usually like to run their offense through the rushing attack, which makes sense given the elite running back duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. The five games Dallas rushed for the most yards in this year were all wins.
Unfortunately for them, the 49ers allowed the second-fewest yards per rush this year and have a stacked front seven led by defensive end Nick Bosa. But they did allow 181 rushing yards last week to the Seahawks so it’s possible for the Cowboys to have some success with their elite offensive line.
As hard as it may be for the Cowboys to score on the 49ers, it may be even harder for them on the other side of the ball.
Lately, the 49ers have looked downright dominant on offense, scoring 37 or more points in each of their last four games.
They are led by rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, who looked great in his playoff debut. But he is not perfect. He made several throws into tight windows and against a defense like the Cowboys’ that is built on getting turnovers, those decisions may end up hurting them.
But, the one thing the 49ers excel at is making plays around their quarterback. And against an aggressive defense, opportunities for big plays will be there.
With wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, and tight end George Kittle, San Francisco certainly has the weapons to get open, it’s just a matter of whether Purdy can capitalize on them or not.
Dallas also has playmakers on their own on defense. Obviously, linebacker Micah Parsons gets all the credit for being one of the most disruptive defensive players in the league but he’s not alone.
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence has had another great season and cornerback Trevon Diggs is one of the best ball-hawking defensive backs in the league. And then there are some under-the-radar players that have played well such as rookie cornerback Daron Bland, safety Jayron Kearse, and defensive end Dorance Armstrong.
Lawrence and Armstrong will be particularly important because one way to make life hard on Purdy is by getting pressure on him, although the 49ers did allow the sixth-fewest sacks this year.
San Francisco may also try to use the ground game to its advantage considering Dallas is more vulnerable in that area than the pass.
And luckily for the 49ers, they have running back Christian McCaffrey, one of the most dynamic running backs in the league, who should be able to have plenty of success.
A lot of attention will be paid to the defenses in this game, and rightfully so, but it’s the offenses that may end up deciding it. How 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan and Cowboys’ offensive coordinator Kellen Moore scheme for these elite defenses will be crucial.
And then it will all come down to execution. Both teams showed last week what they can do when operating at the top of their games, so whichever team can more closely repeat that this week will likely be the one advancing to the conference championship game.
—More from Cody Schoeler—
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