Posted on January 13, 2023
Only 14 teams make the playoffs, so it is very hallowed ground. This year, four of those 14 teams are from the west.
One of those teams, the Chiefs, won’t play this week because they earned a first-round bye, leaving three west teams left to represent this side of the country.
And two of those teams will meet each other in round one, making it impossible for all four teams to advance to the next round.
There is still a good chance that the west will be represented in the divisional round, though. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, let’s focus on the Wild Card Round first.
So, here are some quick previews of both matchups featuring west teams in the opening round of the 2022 NFL Playoffs (even though it’s happening in 2023. I know, it’s confusing).
49ers vs Seahawks
Saturday, January 14
1:30 pm PT, FOX
Well, that is not the case with this game. the 49ers and Seahawks have played twice this season, so common knowledge would suggest that the third time around will be in line with what has happened before.
That is bad news for the Seahawks. They were outscored 48-20 in the two games against the 49ers, scoring just one touchdown.
And it’s not like those games aren’t relevant. The most recent matchup was in week 15, and not much has changed since then.
But to be fair, a lot of teams have struggled against the 49ers. They’ve got the best defense in the league and also fielded the sixth-highest-scoring offense. They’re the total package.
Obviously, the story of the season for San Francisco has been the incredible, out-of-nowhere play from rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. But where the 49ers have had the advantage against the Seahawks has been on the ground.
They rushed for a combined 359 yards in two games against Seattle, and one of those games was without running back Christian McCaffrey, who has been absolutely dynamite in this offense.
It would make sense for the 49ers to attack the Seahawks in that fashion again. Seattle gave up the third-most rushing yards this season and gave up 4.9 yards a carry.
And the 49ers definitely have the weapons to take advantage of that matchup. Between McCaffrey, running back Elijah Mitchell, and wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who gets used as a running back a lot, that’s going to be a very tough group for the Seahawks to stop.
But it won’t matter if the Seahawks’ defense steps up if the offense doesn’t do the same.
Seattle had two of its worst three offensive performances, both in terms of yards and points, in the games against San Francisco. Things got better the second time around at least. The Seahawks scored 13 points instead of seven and upped their yardage from 216 to 277.
The Seahawks will need to come up with an answer for this 49ers’ defense in this game if they want to even have a chance to pull off the upset.
They have the talent. Quarterback Geno Smith had a Pro-Bowl season while wide receivers Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf are still a very formidable duo.
And if there is one area where the 49ers may be vulnerable, it is in the passing game; they gave up the 12th-most passing yards this season. Part of that is probably because the rush defense was so stout, but it also may be because the secondary is the one area of the field where they don’t have a superstar.
Safety Talanoa Hufanga and cornerback Charvarius Ward are very good players, but they aren’t Nick Bosa or Fred Warner. If Smith can find ways to get the ball to Lockett and Metcalf, meaning the offensive line manages to stop Bosa from sacking him, then this could end up being a game.
In one way there is no pressure on the Seahawks. They were the last team in the NFC playoff field and no one expects them to do anything major. But, in another way, all the pressure is on them to make this a competitive game.
We know what we’re going to get from the 49ers. They’re going to move the ball efficiently while playing excellent defense. If the Seahawks can match that with their best play then they will have a shot to pull off the upset, it’s just much easier said than done.
Chargers vs Jaguars
Saturday, January 14
5:15 pm PT, NBC
A lot of things have changed since then so it is likely that this game will feature a different result.
The biggest change is that the Chargers seemed to have found their defense late in the season, or at least found out how best to maximize it.
Los Angeles had four of its best defensive games in terms of yardage allowed from week 14 to week 17. One possible explanation is that the Chargers played some pretty bad offenses in that span, but it could also just be when they finally figured it out.
One thing that’s for sure is that the Jaguars will certainly test them more on offense than the Rams or the Colts did.
Jacksonville finished 10th in points scored this year and ninth in yards gained.
This was a huge breakout year for quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who looked much more comfortable in year two. He also had the benefit of the arrival of some pretty solid weapons, such as tight end Evan Engram and wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones.
That group up being a top passing attack, racking up the 10-most yards this year.
But that is not where the Chargers are beaten; they’ve given up the seventh-fewest yards through the air. The Chargers are vulnerable on the ground, where they gave up the fifth-most yards but the most yards per attempt.
The Jaguars don’t run the ball a ton, just the 16th-most attempts, but they have a solid ground game. With running back Travis Etienne and a solid offensive line, Jacksonville was able to amass the 14th-most rushing yards this season.
The Jaguars’ offense certainly has the star power to match the Chargers’ defense, but the same can’t necessarily be said about their defense.
Jacksonville was pretty solid on that side of the ball this year. They gave up the 12th-fewest points but the ninth-most yards, although they drop down to 15th in yards per play.
But how well they will be able to stop a potent Chargers offense will go beyond what the stats say.
The Chargers’ offense doesn’t look all that great based on its numbers. Los Angeles ranked 13th in points scored and 17th in yards per play. It’s solid but nothing spectacular.
The real danger of this unit lies in the talent that it possesses. With quarterback Justin Herbert, running back Austin Ekeler, and wide receiver Keenan Allen, the Chargers feel like they can go toe-to-toe with any defense in the league.
Even if wide receiver Mike Williams, who suffered an injury in last week’s game, is unavailable, the offensive firepower is still off the charts.
At the end of the day, this game is going to come down to the quarterbacks, as most big games do.
Both Lawrence and Herbert have semi-favorable matchups against fine defenses and a bunch of weapons at their disposal. Whichever quarterback makes more plays in this game will not only likely be advancing to the next round, but will also be joining the impressive group of young signal-callers in the league that have already experienced postseason success.
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