NFL Divisional Saturday 2023 Takeaways from Jaguars vs. Chiefs and Giants vs. Eagles
The 2023 NFL divisional round of the playoffs started with the No. 1 seeds in both conferences going against teams that finished last in division races for the 2022 campaign. In the first game Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs had to overcome some adversity.
At the end of the first quarter, Jacksonville Jaguars edge-rusher Arden Key fell on Patrick Mahomes' ankle, which caused him significant pain. He finished a drive that extended into the second quarter and then Chad Henne took over up until halftime. Mahomes returned in the second half and led his team to a 27-20 victory over the Jaguars.
The Chiefs will wait to find out who they play next week in the AFC Championship Game, but head coach Andy Reid may have to alter the offensive game plan, depending on the condition of Mahomes' ankle.
We'll dive into what that means for the Chiefs and discuss how the Jaguars can build on an impressive 2022 campaign.
In the second game, the New York Giants didn't belong on the same field as the Philadelphia Eagles, who went up 28-0 by halftime and cruised to a 38-7 victory.
We'll tell you how the Giants should invest their resources to bolster a roster with several voids and how a healthy Jalen Hurts makes the Eagles a scoring juggernaut.
Eagles QB Jalen Hurts Is Back to MVP Form
The Philadelphia Eagles' bye week seemed to benefit quarterback Jalen Hurts, who battled a shoulder sprain late in the regular season. In Weeks 16 and 17, he sat out before a return in the season finale to help the club clinch the No. 1 seed.
In Hurts' last two regular-season appearances, he struggled as a passer. Hurts threw three interceptions without a touchdown and completed less than 60 percent of his throws in both games.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Hurts admitted that he would play hurt this weekend. With that said, the Eagles signal-caller looked dynamic in a 38-7 victory over the Giants.
Hurts went 16-of-24 passing for 154 yards and two touchdowns and added 34 yards and a score on the ground. He had an efficient outing and didn't hesitate to use his legs, which are traits that helped him garner MVP buzz for most of the 2022 season before he lost some steam after the injury.
While Hurts' numbers don't look impressive on paper, his dual-threat capabilities allowed the Eagles to rip off chunk gains on the ground. They racked up 268 rushing yards and three touchdowns against the Giants.
His passing efficiency didn't allow New York to capitalize off costly mistakes. On Saturday, Hurts fumbled but didn't turn the ball over, and he connected with wideout DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert on touchdowns.
With his accurate arm and ability to make defenders miss, the Eagles offense will pose a big problem for either the San Francisco 49ers or the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game.
Giants Need to Go on an Offseason Spending Spree
New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll deserves credit for doing a lot with limited talent at various positions on both sides of the ball. In one year, he turned a 4-13 team into a 9-7-1 playoff squad. However, when matched up against the Philadelphia Eagles, who have playmakers all over the roster, Big Blue didn't stand a chance in a 38-7 blowout loss.
First and foremost, the Giants should work out deals with quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley, who both carried that offense. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, team brass plans to keep both players in "2023 and beyond."
With 1,650 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns, Barkley had his best year since his rookie term. Jones played efficiently late in the regular season and into playoffs, throwing for five touchdowns and one interception with a 72 percent completion rate between Week 16 and Wild Card Weekend. In that three-game stretch (rested in Week 18), he also rushed for 203 yards and two scores.
As long as Barkley can stay healthy, he's one of the league's best running backs. Jones needs more playmakers to up his volume in passing production.
The Giants didn't have a pass-catcher with more than 57 receptions, 724 receiving yards or four touchdowns. Big Blue should select a wide receiver early in the upcoming draft and consider designating wideout Kenny Golladay as a post-June 1 cut to save $13.5 million because he's woefully underperformed on his four-year, $72 million deal (43 catches for 602 yards and a touchdown in 26 games with the Giants).
On the other side of the ball, New York needs help at linebacker and in the secondary. It can take a look at the open market for top-tier free agents such as cornerback Jamel Dean, safety Jessie Bates III and linebacker Lavonte David to fill holes in the back seven.
The Giants have a quality coaching staff, which helped them get the most out of their current roster, but they need an influx of talent to compete with the top teams across the league. That became evident Saturday night.
Chiefs Showcase Balanced Offensive Attack with Patrick Mahomes Ailing
No team expects to lose a player temporarily because of injury, but coaching staffs better have a good backup or contingency plan in case someone goes down. The Kansas City Chiefs showed they're able to survive and win even when Patrick Mahomes isn't close to 100 percent.
For a little more than three quarters, Mahomes played through an ankle injury that forced him out of the game for a short period. During the second quarter, he went to the locker room and returned to the sideline with his ankle heavily wrapped in tape.
Meanwhile, backup quarterback Chad Henne engineered a scoring drive that started on Kansas City's 2-yard line. He threw his first career touchdown pass in the playoffs, which gave the Chiefs a 17-7 lead after the extra point.
Going into halftime, the Chiefs led 17-10, and Mahomes returned in the third quarter, but he clearly favored his ankle. He still led a touchdown drive midway through the final quarter, showing he's capable of delivering pinpoint passes with one healthy leg. The MVP candidate went 22-of-30 passing for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
Nonetheless, we should take note of the Chiefs' play-calling with Mahomes hurt for most of the game. Kansas City ran the ball 30 times for 144 yards. Rookie seventh-rounder Isiah Pacheco led the charge on the ground with 95 yards on 12 rushing attempts.
After the game, Mahomes said X-rays on his ankle came back negative, but if he has limited mobility going forward, the Chiefs may have to lean on the ground game next week against the Cincinnati Bengals or Buffalo Bills. Both of Kansas City's potential AFC Championship Game opponents rank within the top seven in run defense.
Head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy will undoubtedly take Mahomes' health into consideration when they devise game plans in the upcoming week. While the five-time Pro Bowl passer can still carve up a defense from the pocket, Kansas City will likely need more offensive balance to keep him out of harm's way.
Jaguars Should Emphasize In-House Development to Maintain Bright Future
The Jacksonville Jaguars went from worst to first in the AFC South, beating the Tennessee Titans in Week 18 to win the division title, but their 2022 season came to an end at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in a 27-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Ultimately, Jamal Agnew's fumble in the red zone and Trevor Lawrence's fourth-quarter interception sealed the Jaguars' fate.
As arguably the most improved team between 2021 and 2022, Jacksonville made a big leap with Super Bowl-winning head coach Doug Pederson, who took over after the club's chaotic year under Urban Meyer. The Jaguars also infused their roster with talent via free agency and a solid rookie class with immediate contributors.
Last offseason, the Jaguars splurged on the free-agent market, signing seven players to contracts worth $9 million or more. Among those signings, Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram became the top three pass-catchers in Jacksonville's 10th-ranked aerial attack.
With a quality pass-catching group, Lawrence showed why he generated so much buzz as one of the most highly touted quarterbacks coming out of the collegiate level since perhaps Andrew Luck in 2012. He threw for 4,113 yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions with a 66.3 percent completion rate in 2022.
Lawrence also had a decent ground game with his former Clemson teammate at the forefront of the 14th-ranked rushing offense. Within weeks, Travis Etienne Jr. took over the backfield for James Robinson, whom the team traded to the New York Jets. The former recorded six 103-plus-yard rushing performances. The second-year ball-carrier sat out his entire rookie campaign because of a Lisfranc injury but bounced back with 1,441 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns.
Lawrence has an offensive line that will mostly remain intact with the possible exception of right tackle Jawaan Taylor, who's set to become a free agent, and the offensive playmakers around him set to progress even further in his third season. Remember, Jacksonville acquired wideout Calvin Ridley from the Atlanta Falcons before the 2022 trade deadline.
The NFL suspended Ridley indefinitely because he bet on pro games, but if he's able to return in 2023, Lawrence can target him as his go-to perimeter receiver.
Defensively, if edge-rusher Travon Walker translates more pressures into sacks, the 2022 No. 1 overall pick can strengthen the Jaguars' 28th-ranked pass defense. Jacksonville tied for 25th in sacks this season.
Aside from re-signing Engram, the Jaguars don't need to spend a lot of money on the free-agent market in the upcoming offseason. Pederson and his staff can shift most of the focus on developing their collection of talent to stay atop the AFC South.