NFL Divisional Sunday 2023 Takeaways from Bills vs. Bengals and 49ers vs. Cowboys

Brent SobleskiJanuary 23, 2023

NFL Divisional Sunday 2023 Takeaways from Bills vs. Bengals and 49ers vs. Cowboys

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 22: Brock Purdy #13 of the San Francisco 49ers throws a pass against the Dallas Cowboys during the first quarter in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Levi's Stadium on January 22, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The NFL postseason's final four are set.

    With the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles advancing Saturday, the Cincinnati Bengals were next in line to claim their spot and did so in dominating fashion over the Buffalo Bills.

    The Bengals' victory should serve as nightmare fuel for the Chiefs since the latter hasn't found much success against the former during their most recent meetings. That might not change, either, even though Cincinnati still has significant concerns along its offensive front.

    Conversely, the Bills must be wondering what it takes to actually become one of the AFC's best squads. They've been touted as one of the league's best two or three teams for the last few years, only to come up short each time. A major facelift should be forthcoming to Buffalo's roster.

    Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers continue to show what a great defense and a truly unbelievable underdog story behind center can do. Sometimes, a franchise needs to catch lightning in a bottle to run the table. The Niners certainly have, with Brock Purdy leading the way.

    Once again, the Dallas Cowboys failed to reach the NFC Championship Game for the 27th straight season. The road to reach a conference title won't get any easier next season, with the possibility of significant turnover awaiting.

    Ultimately, the outcomes showed how the league's best took care of business and deserved to play for the right to raise the Lombardi Trophy.

Cincinnati Bengals Can Beat Kansas City Chiefs Even with Ramshackle Offensive Line

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    ORCHARD PARK, NY - JANUARY 22: Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals scrambles against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Highmark Stadium on January 22, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    Some squads match up well against others. The Cincinnati Bengals are a primary example based on how they've played the Kansas City Chiefs in their last three meetings.

    Cincinnati beat Kansas City during each of those contests, including a 27-24 win during the regular season. After Sunday's snow-laden 27-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills, the two franchises will meet in the AFC Championship Game for the second consecutive year.

    The lingering concern in what might tilt the game in Kansas City's favor remains Cincinnati's offensive line. But the Bengals have shown time and again that they—and specifically quarterback Joe Burrow—can overcome those shortcomings.

    After having the same starting five take the field for 15 straight contests and finally gaining some stability in the trenches, right tackle La'el Collins suffered a season-ending torn ACL and MCL in Week 16. Right guard Alex Cappa then injured his left ankle during the regular-season finale. Just last week, left tackle Jonah Williams endured a dislocated kneecap in the Bengals' postseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens.

    Cincinnati's lineup against the Bills featured three different starters, including Jackson Carman making his first NFL start at left tackle. Oh, and left guard Cordell Volson is a fourth-round rookie. Yet the group dominated in blustery Buffalo.

    The Bengals averaged 5.1 yards per carry, with Joe Mixon accounting for 105 rushing yards. Protection held up most of the evening too, as Buffalo sacked Burrow only once. Domination occurred up front, and offensive line coach Frank Pollack deserves loads of credit.

    The Chiefs present a little more difficult obstacle with Chris Jones' potential to blow up plays in the middle, as well as George Karlaftis and Frank Clark rushing off the edge. As a whole, Kansas City's defense ranked second overall during the regular season with 55 sacks.

    However, the Jacksonville Jaguars averaged a whopping 7.6 yards per carry in their playoff meeting, with Travis Etienne Jr. going for 6.2 per tote. Granted, Jacksonville mostly played from behind. While true, the Chiefs finished 15th overall in yards per carry surrendered during the regular season.

    Kansas City is built to play with a lead because of its explosive offense. Yet the Bengals are one of the few teams that can go shot for shot with Patrick Mahomes and Co., especially since the Chiefs' quarterback is now dealing with a high ankle sprain, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    Cincinnati should be able to run the ball effectively. Burrow will get the ball out quickly, efficiently and accurately. Eventually, Zac Taylor will dial up a deep shot with Kansas City trying to play downhill in an attempt to stop the other two areas.

    The Bengals have the recipe for success against Andy Reid's squad. Everyone has seen it before, and no one should be surprised if we see it again.

Buffalo Bills Should Reassess Roster After Another Disappointing Playoff Ending

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    ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 22: Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills reacts against the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Highmark Stadium on January 22, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
    Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

    Extensive soul-searching must be done after yet another deflating postseason loss for the Buffalo Bills. The Bills have fallen short of the Super Bowl in each of the last three seasons despite being one of the favorites to represent the AFC.

    During the 2020 regular season, Buffalo finished 13-3—one game behind the Kansas City Chiefs—only to see the reigning Super Bowl champs jump out to a 38-15 fourth-quarter lead that Josh Allen and Co. couldn't overcome.

    A year later, the Chiefs once again proved to be too much, with one of the most spectacular endings to a postseason game that anyone will ever see. Buffalo infamously allowed the Mahomes-led offense to move the ball 44 yards in 13 seconds, which resulted in the game-tying field goal as time expired. The Bills never got the ball in overtime.

    The Cincinnati Bengals didn't need any theatrics during their 27-10 victory. Zac Taylor's squad simply manhandled the Bills on both sides of the ball.

    Something isn't quite working in Buffalo. Plenty of decisions need to be made regarding contracts, and the Bills should look long and hard at making changes with certain personnel.

    Safety Jordan Poyer, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, guard Rodger Saffold, defensive lineman Jordan Phillips, defensive end Shaq Lawson, cornerback Dane Jackson and running back Devin Singletary are all pending free agents.

    Poyer requested a contract extension this past offseason and did receive a reworked deal for 2022. But the defensive leader is likely on his way out if he wants one more big payday. Edmunds led the team in tackles during four of his five seasons, yet he looked completely outmatched in coverage against Cincinnati.

    Saffold turns 35 later this year. Phillips, Lawson, Jackson and Singletary are all solid contributors who could be replaced with an upgrade.

    When the Bills get tight, everything falls on Allen. He's asked to make amazing throws and runs in an effort to carry the entire team. While he's more than capable of doing so, the Bills primary goal should be to improve everything around him to make life easier and maximize his capabilities, so the team can finally reach another Super Bowl.

    As of now, the Bills need improvements in their run game, offensive line, slot receiver, defensive front and pass rush. Plenty can be achieved in one offseason when others want to play alongside Allen.

49ers' Brock Purdy Continues to Build Resume with Philadelphia Eagles Looming

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 22: Brock Purdy #13 of the San Francisco 49ers throws a pass against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Levi's Stadium on January 22, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    With each passing week, Brock Purdy further cements his standing as the San Francisco 49ers' top option to start during the 2023 campaign.

    Once again, the seventh-round rookie proved the moment wasn't too big for him and provided another efficient outing in the San Francisco 49ers' 19-12 victory on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. This year's Mr. Irrelevant now leads his team into Philadelphia, where the Niners will face the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.

    "He's definitely the most poised rookie I've ever had," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after only Purdy's second start. "He's been like that since he got here. From what I hear about him in college, he was very similar, starting as a freshman. He's been great."

    San Francisco has yet to lose with Purdy behind center. As a team, the Niners have won 12 straight contests. The league's No. 1-ranked defense certainly plays a gigantic role in the organization's ongoing success. Yet the squad is somehow down to its third-string quarterback, who nearly went undrafted, and it hasn't missed a beat.

    Purdy didn't do anything particularly noteworthy in Sunday's contest. He completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 214 yards. The lack of mistakes and forced passes is important, though.

    Shanahan's schemes an offense as well as any play-caller in the league. The 49ers also benefit from a strong run game and fantastic weapons. Even so, Purdy deserves credit for keeping everything on track and making throws when necessary.

    NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported there's "no doubt" who QB1 is at the moment. But what about next season? Trey Lance is still on the roster as the third overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Tom Brady, who grew up in the Bay Area, is a pending free agent. None of it may matter.

    Rapoport added, "These questions could all be moot if Brock Purdy continues to ball."

    It will be difficult to play anyone else after helping to lead San Francisco to another NFC Championship Game appearance. If San Francisco happens to win against the No. 1 seed, Purdy's future is all but set.

    The Eagles featured the NFL's top-ranked pass defense during the regular season. Philadelphia also features a better run defense than the Cowboys. Purdy is going level by level, trying to make his way to the final boss fight. He has the cast around him and the poise to make it happen. If it does, the 49ers will have found their QB of the future.

Another Missed Playoff Opportunity for Cowboys, with Regression in NFC East Imminent

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    Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) runs against San Francisco 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, bottom, and linebacker Dre Greenlaw during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)
    AP Photo/Josie Lepe

    The Cowboys aren't going anywhere but back to Dallas.

    It's a tale as old as time. The Cowboys are touted as one of the NFL's most talented squads. They even win a few games. But when contests matter the most, Dallas falls short against the league's best.

    In the last nine seasons, Jerry Jones' franchise showed it could get out of the Wild Card Round with a 3-1 record. Beyond that point, the team is 0-3. And the organization may have just blown its best chance to play in another Super Bowl for a long time.

    If Dallas got past San Francisco, it already showed it could beat its division rival when the Cowboys captured a 40-34 victory over the Eagles less than a month ago (albeit with Jalen Hurts sidelined). In that meeting, quarterback Dak Prescott played one of his best games. Unfortunately, that contest proved to be the Cowboys' Super Bowl.

    Prescott fell short with only 206 passing yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. To be fair, the first pick wasn't the quarterback's fault. Then again, Prescott missed Michael Gallup badly late in the contest while trailing by seven points.

    Not everything should fall on the 29-year-old quarterback, though questions will persist throughout the offense about his poor performance.

    The Cowboys have real issues to address from a roster perspective, with the understanding that the other NFC East teams will only get better. Tight end and franchise player Dalton Schultz, right tackle Terence Steele, running back Tony Pollard, safety Donovan Wilson, linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Anthony Barr and cornerbacks Anthony Brown and Trayvon Mullen are pending free agents.

    To possibly make matters worse, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is one of the most sought-after head coaching candidates and may not be with the team this fall. His possible departure could be devastating based on how he's built a rapport with the unit, particularly the uber-talented Micah Parsons.

    "So just stuff like that I credit to Q cause he's a person that means a lot to me, and I just hate to let him down," Parsons told reporters in October. "When I'm out there, I just try to give everything I've got for him."

    Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles are on the precipice of their second Super Bowl berth in six years. The Washington Commanders won eight games despite subpar quarterback play, and the franchise will almost certainly prioritize the position this offseason. Brian Daboll could very well be the NFL's Coach of the Year based on how he maximized the talent with the New York Giants.

    Potential losses of Quinn, Pollard and Schultz will bring the Cowboys back to the pack or further behind their division rivals.