FOX Sports NFL Writer
The NFL’s divisional spherical is lastly right here! Four thrilling matchups will happen over the weekend, together with the Dallas Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers on FOX and the FOX sports activities app.
I ran my fashions to offer you my favourite betting edges and predictions for each recreation on this weekend’s slate. My objective for this weekly column is to at all times give you nuggets you didn’t know earlier than studying this piece.
Let’s check out my favourite edges of the week, with odds courtesy of FOX Bet.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs (4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBC)
The Kansas City Chiefs have the NFL’s finest offense, and there’s not even a remotely shut second.
They acquire a primary down on 31% of their early-down performs. To lend some perspective, the third most effective offense in that metric is nearer to the league common than to the Chiefs.
The Chiefs additionally acquire +0.10 EPA/play on early downs, which can be first within the NFL. The NFL common is -0.02. There isn’t any different group above +0.04.
It’s additionally their most effective offense since 2018.
And so as to add additional context, the Chiefs offense has ranked this properly regardless of going through the NFL’s seventh-toughest schedule of opposing defenses. On the season, the Chiefs have performed 10 defenses that rank above common.
They’ve performed simply 4 video games in opposition to groups with bottom-10 defenses. They’re 4-0 in these video games, successful by a median last rating of 33-20.
They face the Twenty seventh-ranked protection of the Jaguars.
While the Chiefs’ offense has earned their No. 1 the laborious means, enjoying the seventh-toughest schedule, the Jaguars’ Twenty seventh-ranked protection had the great fortune of enjoying the third-easiest schedule of opposing offenses.
They’ve performed simply 5 offenses that ranked above common this yr aside from Kansas City:
- Lost 29-21 to No. 3 Philadelphia
- Lost 23-17 to No. 12 NY Giants
- Lost 40-14 to No. 6 Detroit
- Lost 27-17 to No. 1 Kansas City
- Won 40-34 vs. No. 14 Dallas
- Won 28-27 vs. No. 10 Baltimore
They trailed the Ravens within the fourth quarter 19-10 after which 27-20 earlier than scoring with 14 seconds left and going for a two-point conversion to win the sport.
They trailed the Cowboys 27-10 within the third quarter and 34-31 earlier than scoring on the ultimate play of regulation to tie the sport at 34-34, after which returned an interception for a landing in time beyond regulation to win 40-34.
The backside line – they allowed 31 factors per recreation (PPG) in these video games, they trailed at halftime in 5 of six by a median of 9 PPG, and so they trailed coming into the fourth quarter in 5 of six by a median of seven PPG.
Now that we all know what the Chiefs have completed vs. bottom-10 defenses (scored 33 PPG, went 4-0, received by 13 PPG) and what the Jaguars have completed vs. top-15 offenses (allowed 31 PPG, would have gone 0-6, however for erasing multi-score deficits together with scores with lower than 15 seconds left within the recreation to both win or power time beyond regulation), let’s have a look at the matchup in additional element.
Trevor Lawrence has improved dramatically down the season’s stretch working with Doug Pederson. This yr, Lawrence began off slowly below Pederson. Over the primary half of the yr, he ranked twenty third in YPA, 14th in EPA/att and Thirteenth in success price.
But since Week 9, Lawrence ranks within the high 10 in all three metrics, together with second in EPA/att, instantly forward of Patrick Mahomes.
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But one of many areas Lawrence has performed so properly in has been vs. man protection. In truth, Lawrence is No. 1 within the NFL vs. man protection over the second half of the season.
But whereas the Chiefs do play their share of man, additionally they play two-high shell on the fourth-highest price within the NFL, and the best price of any group remaining within the playoffs. And Lawrence ranks No. 19 vs. two-high shell protection. Against non-two-high, he ranks third-best in EPA/att, however drops all the way down to nineteenth over the second half of the season.
In their first assembly, his splits:
- vs. two-high: -0.24 EPA/att, 29% success, 4.7 YPA, 65% completions on 20 dropbacks
- vs. non-two-high: +0.35 EPA/att, 50% success, 7.8 YPA, 78% completions on 28 dropbacks
The Chiefs could be clever to cut back their price of man protection and lean extra into two-high protection on this recreation.
Lawrence has massive splits when he’s pressured and the story was comparable vs. the Chiefs in Week 10:
- Pressured: -0.52 EPA/att, 39% success, 6.8 YPA, 67% completions, 5 sacks on 13 dropbacks
- Clean: +0.33 EPA/att, 42% success, 6.4 YPA, 74% completions, 0 sacks on 35 dropbacks
Since that Week 10 recreation, the Chiefs’ protection ranks fourth in stress price.
And Lawrence nonetheless has points coping with stress. Last week’s wild-card recreation:
- Pressured: -1.19 EPA/att, 17% success, 1.7 YPA, 22% completions, 2 sacks and a pair of INTs
- Clean: +0.27 EPA/att, 55% success, 7.2 YPA, 68% completions, 0 sacks, 4 TDs, 2 INTs
On the opposite facet of the ball, we’ve talked about how environment friendly the Chiefs’ offense is generally. But the place they need to actually attempt to give attention to this recreation is attacking the Jaguars by means of the air and upping their play-action price considerably.
The Jaguars are extraordinarily weak vs. play motion, rating Twenty sixth in EPA/att and thirty first in success price vs. play motion this yr, and that’s grown even worse.
Since Week 10, the Jaguars rank useless final in EPA/att and success price vs. play motion on early downs within the recreation’s first three quarters:
- Vs. play motion: +0.44 EPA/att (thirty second), 64% success (thirty second), 9.9 YPA (twenty eighth)
- No play motion: -0.10 EPA/att (eighth), 43% success (Thirteenth), 5.4 YPA (fourth)
The Chiefs don’t use excessive charges of play motion (twentieth in utilization price) as a result of Mahomes doesn’t want it and ranks sixth in EPA/att with out it.
But they need to completely scale back their utilization of RB runs and enhance their utilization of play motion on this recreation. In their prior Week 10 assembly, Mahomes went:
- With play motion: +0.72 EPA/att, 71% success, 11.7 YPA, 77% completions, 2:0 TD:INT on 14 makes an attempt
- No play motion: +0.42 EPA/att, 57% success, 8.1 YPA, 73% completions, 2:1 TD:INT on 26 makes an attempt
The motive the Chiefs ought to scale back operating runs is that the Jaguars’ run protection ranks twelfth whereas their cross protection ranks twenty ninth. And of their prior assembly in Week 10, Chiefs operating again runs averaged -0.46 EPA/att and solely 33% success, whereas passes averaged +0.53 EPA/att and 65% success.
I anticipate the Chiefs to have success scoring. This recreation will come all the way down to how properly the Jags begin and if they’ll sustain, however the Chiefs do look good in a teaser.
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles (8:15 p.m. ET Saturday, FOX and FOX Sports app)
Divisional conferences within the playoffs with a complete of lower than 49 have gone Over 17-7 (71%) since 2002 and 6-0 (100%) since 2020.
The New York Giants are a really totally different group than they have been early within the season. It’s important to know that groups change over the course of the yr. And that’s notably true when referring to a group with a brand-new teaching workers putting in a brand new offense.
The Giants have been attempting to be taught a brand new offense, and the workers was attempting to be taught the participant’s strengths and weaknesses. The Giants have been additionally coping with accidents alongside the offensive line and to beginning operating again Saquon Barkley.
From Weeks 1-8, the Giants’ offense ranked nineteenth in early-down success effectivity, together with twenty ninth in yards/play on early downs and Twenty fifth in complete offensive success.
But this Giants offense has come a good distance since that first half of the season.
Since Week 9, the Giants’ offense ranks:
- Third in early-down success effectivity (bypassing third downs)
- Fifth in complete offensive success
- Fifth in EPA/play
- Tenth in yards/play
And since Week 12, the Giants’ offense ranks second in early-down success effectivity, behind solely the Kansas City Chiefs.
What is shockingly wild is that since Week 12, the Giants offense has performed the NFL’s second-toughest schedule of opposing defenses.
- No. 2 Cowboys
- No. 5 Eagles (twice)
- No. 13 Commanders (twice)
- No. 14 Colts
- No. 25 Vikings
Even when you have a look at the distinction between run and cross schedules, it’s been brutal for each. Since Week 12, the Giants have performed the third-toughest schedule of cross defenses and the ninth-toughest schedule of run defenses.
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They performed six of eight video games to shut the common season vs. defenses that ranked top-14, together with three video games vs. top-5 defenses. They performed the second-toughest schedule of defenses within the NFL in that span and but nonetheless ranked second-best offensively in early-down effectivity.
So whereas the Giants didn’t win as many video games down the stretch as they began out successful, they’d much less good luck go their means however performed even higher than they did to start out the season. The Giants closed out the season with a 6-1 mark ATS however solely received two of these seven video games.
But one factor that’s sure with the Giants, given their offensive enchancment, is that they have grow to be a stable Over group.
With a below-average offense and offensive accidents, the Giants went below the full in seven of their first 9 video games.
But they’re 7-1 to the Over of their final eight video games when you eliminated the Week 18 recreation after they rested virtually everybody.
No group has gone over the full at the next price since Week 11 than the Giants.
The Eagles have been Over machines as properly, with Jalen Hurts on the helm. Excluding Week 18, when the Giants rested their starters, the Eagles went 9-5 to the Over.
But the vital factor to understand with the Eagles through the common season is that they ceaselessly took their foot off the fuel at halftime early within the season with large leads.
Thus, their full recreation totals would go below the quantity extra ceaselessly. Such was the case in three of their first 5 video games.
They scored 24 first-half factors and led 24-7 at halftime vs. the Vikings in Week 3 and didn’t rating one other level within the recreation.
They scored 24 first-half factors and led 24-0 at halftime vs. the Commanders in Week 4 and didn’t rating one other level within the recreation.
They scored 14 first-half factors and led 14-10 vs. the Cardinals in Week 5 and scored simply six extra factors within the recreation.
All three of these video games went below the full and concerned the Eagles voluntarily letting off the fuel.
I don’t consider we are going to see the Eagles let their foot off the fuel in a must-win recreation vs. the Giants, and thus I don’t suppose Under bettors will luck out with a extremely low-scoring second half.
Another attention-grabbing dynamic with the Eagles has been their performances at house vs. on the street.
Over the final two years, no group’s video games have gone over the full extra when enjoying at house than the Eagles.
Twelve of the Eagles’ 17 house video games (71%) have gone over the full.
And when you excluded the Week 18 recreation when the Giants rested gamers and the Week 17 recreation when Hurts didn’t play, the Eagles have gone over the full at a 12-3 (80%) price in house video games because the begin of 2021. This additionally consists of one Under in opposition to the Vikings this season the place, as acknowledged above, up 24-7 at halftime, the Eagles basically packed it in early within the second half and the sport ended 24-7.
They averaged 28.3 PPG in these 15 video games whereas surrendering 23.6 PPG.
The Eagles have been the seventh-fastest-paced group this yr. And over the second half of the season, because the Giants have gotten higher acquainted with the offense, they’ve been the fifth-fastest-paced group within the NFL.
I feel each groups can have sufficient success offensively to clear this complete. I just like the Over.
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Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills (3 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS)
I anticipated the Cincinnati offense to wrestle some vs. Baltimore final week. I documented how the Ravens have fared vs. this Bengals offense. In the primary assembly of the yr, they held the Bengals to only 17 factors, and the Bengals punted 4 straight instances to start out the sport. Even although the Ravens rested some gamers within the second assembly, they held the Bengals to only 4 drives (out of 13) to achieve over 12 yards.
The backside line was the Ravens knew the personnel of the Bengals extraordinarily properly and had already completed an amazing job in opposition to them a number of weeks earlier within the season.
As a outcome, I didn’t anticipate rather a lot out of the Bengals‘ offense. I anticipated a more in-depth recreation than most.
Although the rating wasn’t lopsided, the Bengals exceeded expectations on their first 5 drives of the sport. They drove 54 yards for a area objective, 60 yards for a landing, fumbled the ball on their third drive, ended the half with a one-play kneel down and took their first possession of the second half 88 yards and scored one other landing.
Zero punts, three scores on 4 true drives for a median of 66 yards per drive. Nothing was simple, as anticipated, however the Bengals have been environment friendly. On these 5 drives, Cincinnati averaged +0.19 EPA/play and a 55% success price.
The Bengals then had their first three-and-out, tied 17-17, and after that insane fumble-return TD. The Bengals had two extra offensive possessions and went extraordinarily conservative, main 24-17, and ended up punting the ball again to the Ravens on each drives. Had the Bengals trailed, I think about they’d have been way more aggressive.
The Bengals’ offense has performed a completely brutal schedule of opposing defenses, notably of late.
On the season, Cincinnati has the fourth-best offense regardless of enjoying the fourth-toughest schedule of opposing defenses.
Since Week 15, the Bengals have completed nothing however play 5 straight video games vs. top-10 defenses. Not that the No. 4 Bills protection gives a respite to these tough defenses, however I do query how robust the Bills protection is given their accidents and up to date schedule.
Since Week 9, the Bills have performed seven video games vs. bottom-10 offenses and solely three video games vs. top-10 offenses.
Their video games vs. bottom-10 offense:
- L @ NYJ 17-20
- L vs. MIN 30-33
- W @ NE 24-10
- W vs. NYJ 20-12
- W @ CHI 35-13
- W vs. NE 35-23
- W vs. MIA 34-31 (Skylar Thompson)
They went 5-2, averaged 28 PPG and allowed 20 PPG.
Their video games vs. top-10 offenses?
- W vs. CLE 31-23 (in Detroit) (Jacoby Brissett)
- W @ DET 28-25 (Jared Goff)
- W vs. MIA 32-29 (Tua Tagovailoa)
All three of these video games noticed 53 or extra factors scored, with the Bills averaging 30 PPG and permitting 26 PPG.
With the Bengals’ accidents to the offensive line and changes from defenses, they’ve thrown quick and ceaselessly.
Since Week 13, the Bengals rank Twenty seventh in proportion of passes to journey 10-plus yards downfield. And they’ve risen to the No. 1 most pass-heavy group within the NFL since, passing the ball on 68% of early downs within the first three quarters of video games. That ranks 4% increased than the No. 2 group (Chargers) and properly above the 53% NFL common.
Over that very same span, 37% of Joe Burrow’s broad receiver targets have come inside two seconds of the snap, and an NFL-high 72% have are available lower than 2.5 seconds (common = 52%).
While the Bills have the NFL’s ninth-best cross protection, albeit untested of late, they’re horrible at defending passes thrown shortly to broad receivers.
Look on the Bills splits on passes to broad receivers:
- Thrown after 2.9 seconds: second in EPA/att, eighth in success price, seventh in YPA
- Thrown in lower than 2.5 seconds: Twenty fifth in EPA/att, twenty eighth in success price, twenty ninth in YPA
That’s an enormous shift from top-10 to bottom-10 in these metrics.
And since Week 12, when Von Miller was injured, it’s grow to be much more of an issue.
Buffalo ranks Thirtieth in EPA/att, twenty ninth in success price, and twenty ninth in YPA on WR passes thrown in lower than 2.5 seconds.
Specifically, the Bills enable +0.37 EPA/att, 60% success and eight.2 YPA on these passes, whereas the NFL common is +0.13 EPA/att, 50% success and 6.8 YPA.
Keep in thoughts the Bills confronted the ninth-easiest schedule of passing offenses throughout this span, going through the next quarterbacks:
- Skylar Thompson
- Justin Fields and Nathan Peterman
- Mac Jones x2
- Jacoby Brissett
- Jared Goff
- Joe Flacco and Mike White
- Tua Tagovailoa
Not solely does Burrow throw these fast broad receiver passes extra ceaselessly than another QB within the NFL, however he additionally ranks third in success price and sixth in YPA when doing so.
Burrow will definitely must cross early given the losses of three starters alongside the offensive line: La’el Collins, Alex Cappa and Jonah Williams.
But as talked about, the Bills misplaced cross rusher Von Miller in Week 12.
Prior to his loss, Buffalo ranked fourth in stress price whereas blitzing on the fourth-lowest price within the NFL.
Since his loss, the Bills rank twenty fourth in stress price regardless of blitzing on the Thirteenth-highest price. And they rank Thirtieth in stress price since Week 15.
All of those trending metrics for the Bills’ protection, regardless of the straightforward schedule of offenses, bode properly for the Bengals’ offense.
But on the opposite facet of the ball, there are causes for hope for the Bills’ offense.
Josh Allen has struggled tremendously vs. the blitz this yr. He ranks first this season in EPA/att when not blitzed however Twenty fifth when blitzed.
The excellent news, nonetheless, is the Bengals don’t blitz very ceaselessly. On the season, the Bengals blitz on the Twenty first-highest price, and that dipped to Twenty fifth since Week 12.
Allen has additionally improved tremendously contained in the pink zone. Look at Allen’s effectivity splits contained in the pink zone out of 38 quarterbacks:
- Weeks 1-10: thirty fourth in EPA/att, thirty sixth in third-down conversion price, Thirteenth in success price
- Since Week 11: third in EPA/att, fourth in third-down conversion price, second in success price
This recreation actually comes down as to if or not the Bengals can get the ball out with out Burrow getting pressured too ceaselessly, and it’s a excellent reside betting recreation when you see how his line is holding up.
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Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers (6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, FOX and FOX Sports app)
The phrase of the day in relation to this huge NFC conflict is “projection” as a result of these groups actually haven’t been examined by prior opponents like they’re about to be examined on Sunday afternoon.
First, these groups haven’t met but this yr.
Second, when these groups met within the playoffs final yr, it was with Jimmy Garoppolo nursing a badly injured thumb on his throwing hand that harm him a ton. So Kyle Shanahan made huge changes, and the 49ers went an insane 70% run on early downs, regardless of the Cowboys loading the field on 88% of those performs. As anticipated, these runs didn’t go over properly. But the 49ers nonetheless have been capable of maintain on for a 23-17 win in Dallas. But contemplating the situations surrounding that recreation, with the 49ers run price and quarterback harm, it’s laborious to take a lot of something away from it.
Third, we’ve received an untested Brock Purdy in opposition to an aggressive Cowboys protection.
And fourth, we’ve received Dak Prescott enjoying in opposition to considered one of his solely powerful defensive challenges of the yr.
Since Dak Prescott returned from harm in Week 7, the Cowboys offense has performed the second-easiest schedule of opposing offenses. They performed simply two top-10 defenses in these 12 video games however have been extraordinarily profitable in each video games:
- Dak went 27-of-35, averaged 9.9 YPA, +0.28 EPA/att and 57% success in a 40-34 win over the Eagles in Week 16.
- Dak went 25-of-33, averaged 9.2 YPA, +0.61 EPA/att and 59% success in a 31-14 win over the Bucs final week.
While that sounds nice, there have been a few clunkers alongside the best way. Both have been on the street. Prescott struggled in Green Bay, finishing simply 5.8 YPA and averaging -0.15 EPA/att vs. the Packers, and within the last recreation of the yr, he averaged simply 3.5 YPA with -0.42 EPA/att.
Now, Prescott is about to face the zone-heavy protection of the 49ers. San Francisco performs extra zone (fourth-most) than any group remaining within the playoffs. Over the second half of the season, Dak has carried out at a top-10 price whether or not the protection has performed man or zone. But one factor rings true in regards to the 49ers’ secondary, and that’s throwing deep on them is their key weak level.
San Francisco’s protection ranks first in opposition to the run.
San Francisco’s protection ranks first in opposition to passes thrown lower than 15 yards.
But San Francisco’s protection ranks thirty first in opposition to passes thrown 15-plus yards downfield, permitting +0.71 EPA and 54% success.
In the primary three quarters of video games (eliminating the fourth quarter resulting from recreation script), the Cowboys have the 14th-highest cross price over the second half of the season. On early downs, that drops to 18th.
Instead, they throw between 1-5 air yards on the highest price within the NFL. They might want to make an adjustment there in the event that they wish to have success vs. the 49ers.
Over the second half of the season, out of 33 quarterbacks, Dak ranked fifteenth in EPA/att, eleventh in YPA and sixth in success price when throwing 15-plus yards downfield.
So he’s proven he can succeed this season throwing vertically, and that’s how he might want to assault the 49ers.
Last week vs. the 49ers, Geno Smith solely tried eight passes 15-plus yards downfield, finishing simply three. Dak, in the meantime, accomplished 6-of-7 vs. the Bucs.
Then there may be Purdy. Since beginning his first recreation in Week 14, he’s 6-0 and has confronted two of the above-average defenses that Prescott additionally confronted (Tampa Bay and Washington). The 49ers scored 35 and 37 factors in these two video games, with Purdy averaging over 8.8 YPA in every contest.
Purdy performed extraordinarily aggressively final week, throwing 37% of his passes 20-plus yards downfield, the best within the NFL.
Since taking on for Jimmy G, within the first three quarters of video games, Purdy is throwing 10-plus yards downfield on the sixth-highest price within the NFL and 20-plus yards on the eighth-highest price.
He’s throwing 1-5 air yards on the Twenty sixth-highest price and 1-9 air yards on the Twenty fifth-highest price.
Compare that to Jimmy G, who threw 10-plus yards downfield on the Thirtieth-highest price and 1-9 air yards on the 14th-highest price.
And that’s the explanation why Purdy’s aDOT within the first three quarters ranks 18th whereas Jimmy G’s ranked thirty fourth.
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This would be the first true check for Purdy, because the Cowboys have the one top-10 cross protection he’s confronted, and since enjoying the Bucs in Week 14, Purdy has completed nothing however face below-average cross defenses.
Dallas additionally brings a ton of stress, rating first in stress price by a mile and blitzing at a below-average price.
If the Cowboys don’t blitz and don’t document stress, Purdy will definitely tear them up, as he leads the NFL in a wide range of metrics, together with YPA and completion price.
The wild factor about Purdy, which speaks to Shanahan, is pure stress, the sort that Shanahan brings with consistency, doesn’t trouble him in any respect.
He ranks fourth in EPA/att, fifth in success price, and fifth in YPA when pressured however not blitzed.
But when pressured off of blitzes, that rating drops to 18th in EPA/att, Twenty sixth in success price, and forty third in YPA out of 47 quarterbacks.
When saved clear, Purdy is top-5 if the protection isn’t blitzing and top-10 if the protection blitzes.
The backside line is, Purdy is top-5 when the protection doesn’t blitz, whether or not it generates stress or not.
That rating drops to top-10 if the protection blitzes however doesn’t generate stress.
And it drops to beneath common if the protection blitzes and will get stress.
If Prescott can hit on the deep balls and the Cowboys don’t enhance their blitz price, these groups seemingly can mix to clear this complete, however I’m skeptical.
Warren Sharp is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He is the founding father of Sharp Football Analysis and has labored as a marketing consultant for league franchises whereas additionally beforehand contributing to ESPN and The Ringer, amongst different shops. He studied engineering earlier than utilizing his statistical acumen to create predictive soccer fashions. You can comply with Warren on Twitter at @SharpFootball.
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