NFL News & Analysis

Matchups to watch in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs

East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) runs with the ball against the New York Jets during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Dual between top quarterbacks: Trevor Lawrence will prove he belongs with the upper-echelon QBs in the NFL if he can outduel Patrick Mahomes this weekend.

Injuries mount for Cincinnati Bengals offensive line: With three starters out, the Bengals might have a tough time keeping Gregory Rousseau away from Joe Burrow.

• Can Kaiir Elam slow down Tee Higgins?: The Buffalo Bills CB will have the tall task of covering Cincinnati's playmaking No. 2 receiver.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

As the NFL playoffs march on, we wanted to take a look at some pivotal points in the upcoming divisional round.

Whether it’s players who line up directly against one other or just performances at similar positions that will go a long way, here are the matchups we’re looking forward to most in the 2023 divisional round.

QB Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

Though these two players obviously don’t actually go against one another, a big takeaway from this game, whatever the result, will be how these two quarterbacks performed relative to the other. Mahomes is coming off a week of rest, but he’s 4-0 in the divisional round with an 81.9 passing grade through all four of those games. He has nine touchdowns and just one interception with three big-time throws and two turnover-worthy plays during that stretch. Not to mention, he’s playing at the level Lawrence is striving to be.

Lawrence’s first half against the Los Angeles Chargers last week was about as bad as it gets — 47.1 passing grade and four interceptions. However, in a heroic second half, he recorded an 82.5 passing grade with three touchdowns and two big-time throws. We know Mahomes is going to bring it. Can Lawrence keep up? If he can, it will go a long way toward establishing himself as of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.


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EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Buffalo Bills vs. OTs Jackson Carman and Hakeem Adeniji, Cincinnati Bengals

When it comes to the playoffs, losing even one starting offensive lineman can be dire. Now try losing three. That’s where the Bengals appear to be heading into their bout with Buffalo in the divisional round. La’el Collins, Jonah Williams and Alex Cappa are all projected to be out, and their replacements will have a tall task. Carman is slated to start at left tackle while Adeniji will fill in at right tackle. Adeniji played 54 snaps last week and earned just a 39.4 overall grade, surrendering three pressures, while Carman played 25 snaps for a 53.2 overall grade, allowing one pressure.

They’ll be up against a stout defensive line all around, but Rousseau may be the most worriesome, as he had an 81.9 pass-rush grade this year with 42 total pressures and eight sacks.


CB Kaiir Elam, Buffalo Bills vs. WR Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

Elam was one of the best coverage players in last week’s wild-card round. On 32 coverage snaps, he was targeted four times allowing just one reception for two total passing yards en route to an an88.2 coverage grade. He also grabbed an interception and forced an incompletion. The Bills already had a stud cornerback on their squad in Tre’Davious White, but they were so drawn to Elam in the pre-draft process due to his potential matchups against receivers like Higgins.

Elam comes in at 6-foot-1, which ranks in the 90th percentile for cornerbacks, but Higgins measures in at 6-foot-4. Though Higgins still has the height advantage, the discrepancy isn't egregious. Higgins had a quiet opening weekend of the postseason with just 37 receiving yards from four catches (six targets). Nonetheless, he’s a potential 100-yard receiver any given week.

EDGEs Josh Allen and Travon Walker, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. OTs Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie, Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs fans may know this all too well but during the regular season, both Brown and Wylie finished top 10 in total pressures allowed among all offensive linemen, as Brown allowed 47 pressures while Wylie allowed 49. They’ll be going up against a good Jaguars pass rush, featuring two athletic players in Walker and Allen.

Allen is the more polished pass-rusher with 67 total pressures on the year and a 17.5% pass-rush win percentage. While Walker, who is just a rookie, recorded 36 pressures and an 11.0% win rate. However, they aren't the only Jaguars who can create pressure, as. Roy Robertson-Harris and Arden Key are also used all over the line and will be attacking early and often. Mahomes can be incredible when out of the pocket, but he shouldn't play with fire too much.


New York Giants run game vs. Philadelphia Eagles run defense

Ghe Giants’ run game efficiency is paramount to their success on offense. In the wild-card round, Saquon Barkley was the top-graded rusher (82.7) with 53 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. His backup, Matt Breida, gained eight yards on just three attempts, but forced two missed tackles and earned a 74.8 grade. Then there is their quarterback Daniel Jones, who has become one of the best dual-threat signal callers in the NFL this season. He picked up 78 rushing yards, seven rushing first downs and earned a grade of 72.0.

On the other side of things, the Eagles finished with the 16th-best tea, run-defense grade in 2022 (64.5). However, their EPA per rush allowed was 27th. As the No. 1 seed, the Eagles are the expected favorites. Nonetheless, for the Giants, their ability to run the ball will not only play into a potential weak point versus Philadelphia, but it will also set up a script where they can control more clock and limit how much damage the Eagles offense can do – since they can't do any if they’re not on the field.

Can they keep it close enough to pull off the big upset? The script might be there.

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