Bold predictions for 2023 NFL divisional playoffs: Bills expose Bengals’ O-line woes; Shanahan’s 49ers advance

We’re now a week into the NFL playoffs, and the field of teams remaining in the mix for the Super Bowl is down to eight. By the end of this weekend we’ll have narrowed it further, with just two teams in the AFC and two in the NFC vying for the represent their respective conferences on the biggest stage in football.

As usual, we expect some pretty wild stuff to happen when these games actually begin. So, we are here once again with out bold predictions. Just like last week, we’ve got one for each matchup on the schedule.

When the Chiefs and Jaguars played back in Week 10, Travis Kelce had a good game. He caught 6 of 7 passes thrown in his direction, totaling 81 yards and a touchdown. But as we know, Kelce is capable of much more than even that stat line. And the Jaguars struggled badly to defend tight ends this season. Jacksonville ranked 32nd (also known as last) in the NFL in DVOA on throws to tight ends, according to Football Outsiders. The Jags yielded 81 receptions for 1,066 yards and seven scores to players at the position, and we have seen their linebackers, in particular, get taken advantage of in coverage throughout the year. Even against the Chargers last week, Gerald Everett and Donald Parham combined for 10 receptions for 133 yards and a score on 13 targets. Expect Kelce to have a big day on Saturday.

Danny Dimes showed a ton of improvement this season in just about every area. Nowhere was that more evident than in his performance against the Vikings on Super Wild Card Weekend, which might have been the best game of his career. Jones completed 24 of 35 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing 17 times for 78 additional yards. In two games against Minnesota this season, Brian Daboll and Co. allowed Jones to air it out, taking advantage of one of the NFL’s friendliest pass defenses. The Eagles do not have a friendly pass defense. They have one of the best pass-rush units in the league, and an extremely sticky group of coverage players. Jones was 18 of 27 passing for 169 yards and a touchdown the last time these two teams played, and though he added four carries for 26 yards and an additional score, he also took four sacks. The Giants offense is better now than it was then, but dealing with this Philadelphia defense is still a much tougher task than the one it faced a week ago.

Bills vs. Bengals: Buffalo exposes Cincy’s lack of depth up front

The Bengals are hemorrhaging offensive linemen by the week. Back in Week 16, they lost right tackle La’el Collins for the season to a torn ACL. In Week 18, they lost guard Alex Cappa to an ankle injury. And last week in the Wild Card Game against the Ravens, they lost left tackle Jonah Williams to a knee issue. The Bengals will likely be starting only two-fifths of their starting offensive line. They could maybe get away with starting Hakeem Adeniji or Jackson Carman or Max Scharping… but all of them? That is simply too much to survive against the Buffalo defense — even with Joe Burrow at the controls. Greg Rousseau, Shaq Lawson, Ed Oliver, DaQuan Jones, AJ Epenesa, Boogie Basham, Tim Settle — the Bills have just have too much talent up front. And they can supplement that group with Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds flowing to the ball.

49ers vs. Cowboys: The Shanahan Show rolls on

Brock Purdy barely broke a sweat during the 49ers’ offensive detonation against the Seahawks last week. Among his 30 passing attempts, just TWO were thrown into a tight window, according to NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats. That’s the Kyle Shanahan Effect. San Francisco’s offensive mastermind scheme players can open as well or better than any coach in the NFL, and with Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and Elijah Mitchell, he has one of the best skill-position corps in the NFL with which to work. It’s borderline unfair. The Dallas defense shut down Tampa on Monday night, but it’s still working shorthanded in the secondary and could have a somewhat gimpy Jayron Kearse after he suffered a knee injury against the Bucs. The bet here is San Francisco finds a way to take advantage of that group on the back end.

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