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Vilardo: NFL West Divisional Playoff Previews

The temperatures outside may be plummeting but the excitement on the field is heating up

Posted on January 19, 2024

  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

As we reach the second week of the postseason in the NFL, the temperatures outside may be plummeting but the excitement on the field is heating up.

Teams are two wins away from a trip to the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, one poor performance this time of year and the push that started in April comes to a screeching halt.

In the Wild Card round, I had a rough week going just 2-4 picking winners. Against the spread, my picks were 3-3 while my over/under totals also went 3-3.

Let’s hope for a better week.

Green Bay at San Francisco

Saturday, January 20
5:15 pm PT, FOX

Green Bay has been playing elimination games for the better part of a month now.

The Packers got into the playoffs by winning their last three games of the regular season to secure the final playoff spot.

Then last week they became the first seven-seed to win a playoff game as they completely dismantled the Cowboys in Dallas.

The domination of Dallas was on both sides of the ball for the Packers as the defense intercepted two passes and Jordan Love became the first QB in NFL history with a QB rating of 150+ in a road playoff game.

The performance against Dallas may have signaled his arrival to most of the country, but the former Utah State QB has rather quietly put together some numbers this season.

He was one of just three quarterbacks this season with at least nine games of a QB rating of 100+ and two TD passes (Brock Purdy was one of the others).

While Love is just getting his career rolling, his backfield mate has been doing work for some time.

Aaron Jones ran for 118 yards and three TDs in the win last week.

It was the third time he recorded multiple TDs in a playoff game; only five players have done that more often in their careers and all five of them are in the Hall of Fame.

Packers QB Jordan Love hands off to Aaron Jones | Maria Lysaker/AP

In six career playoff games, Jones has seven rushing TDs, also the sixth most in NFL history.

He has done a lot of damage in his career and the 49ers have not been immune. In six career games, Jones has averaged 84.5 scrimmage yards with three touchdowns against San Francisco.

San Francisco has not turned the ball over much this season—their 18 giveaways this season tied for the sixth-fewest in the NFL. Dallas actually had fewer with 16, so you never know.

Purdy is consistently steady at QB. In his three-career playoff starts, he has a 109.8 rating and has yet to throw one to the opposing team.

The 49ers also have a ton of balance on offense. Purdy was fifth in the league in passing in 2023 with 4,280 yards while Christian McCaffrey led the NFL in scrimmage yards with 2,023.

And then there were the 1,000-yard receiving seasons from Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle.

With those performances, the 49ers became just the fourth team in NFL history with a 4,000-yard passer and four players with at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage in the same season.

San Francisco QB Brock Purdy vs the Commanders | Alex Brandon/AP

The time off in the last two weeks was huge for the Niners’ defense as the line was able to get healthy.

A unit that struggled at the start of the season to get to the QB, ended up with 45 sacks—30 of them coming in the last nine games.

Arik Armstead in particular has enjoyed facing the Packers in his career with six sacks in his last five against them.

And Nick Bosa, with a sack on Saturday night, can become the fifth player in NFL history with at least 10.5 sacks in his first 10 career playoff games.

The Packers went to Dallas as a heavy underdog. They left Dallas with about as convincing of a win as possible.

Green Bay will head to San Francisco as a heavy dog once again but don’t look for Jordan Love and the Packers to shy away from the fight.

There is quite a difference between Dallas and the body of work they had this season and that of the 49ers. San Francisco is a much more complete team.

And a better team.

The 49ers will advance to their third straight NFC Championship game.

My Pick: San Francisco 34, Green Bay 26

[Advice: The 49ers are 9.5-point favorites, I think the Packers keep it within the spread. The total will soar past 50.5.]

Kansas City at Buffalo

Sunday, January 21
3:30 pm PT, CBS

The last time these teams met in the Divisional round of the playoffs two years ago was epic.

The game in Arrowhead featured 25 points scored and three lead changes in the final two minutes of regulation.

The Chiefs would win in overtime, a win that would ultimately prompt a change to the overtime rules. So, what will we have in store this week in the Divisional round in Buffalo?

Well, for one thing, the Bills will be hosting the game, meaning it will be the first time Patrick Mahomes has played a playoff game on the road.

One thing that will be the same: Mahomes and Josh Allen, two of the most exciting QBs in the league will once again be dueling.

With the win over Miami last week, Kansas City advanced to the Divisional round for the sixth consecutive season.

The 26-7 win over the Dolphins saw the defense dominate, limiting the high-powered Miami offense to just 264 yards of offense and the lone points came on a deep pass to Tyreek Hill.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Chiefs relied heavily on Isiah Pacheco on the ground while Rashee Rice was the top target with eight receptions for 130 yards.

This was the seventh consecutive game that Rice has had at least 50 yards receiving, and should he reach that number this week, then he’d tie Mark Clayton in 1984 for the second-longest streak in NFL history by a rookie.

Chiefs rookie WR Rashee Rice vs Miami | Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports

Another rookie in this game can also etch his name in the record books. Former Utah TE Dalton Kincaid caught a TD last week for the Bills and can become the first rookie TE with a TD reception in multiple playoff games.

The running game and defense will once again need to show up on Sunday night. The Bills are 5-1 at Highmark Stadium in the playoffs since 2017.

The one thing Buffalo has not done is beat Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs losing both meetings with the Chiefs in the postseason with Mahomes under center.

This one is in Buffalo thanks to the Bills’ 20-17 win over Kansas City in December that started Buffalo’s current six-game win streak. The Bills have been up and down this season but since that win it has been all up.

Josh Allen has also had an up-and-down season. His 18 interceptions thrown were the second most in the league, trailing only Sam Howell’s 21.

Last week he accounted for 277 total yards and four TD’s, one of them on the ground. That was his 16th rushing TD this season, the most ever by a QB in any season, including the playoffs.

Bills rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid vs Pittsburgh | Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP

Kansas City is also riding a win streak that is up to three games following the defeat of Miami. Pacheco has totaled at least 75 scrimmage yards in all four of his career playoff games.

Mahomes has a 12-3 record in his career in the postseason, but as mentioned, this will be the first time he has played on the road.

Having that running game and defense will certainly help as will the emergence of Rice outside and Travis Kelce is his safety blanket, especially in the playoffs.

The TE has scored three touchdowns and averaged 107 receiving yards per game in two playoff games against the Bills.

Kelce is not the only player on KC who has feasted on Buffalo recently. Chris Jones has had at least one TFL in two of the last three meetings and has at least half a sack in his last four games played.

George Karlaftis has taken off in his last two games with at least 1.5 sacks and five tackles in each outing.

They say a running game and defense travel in the playoffs. They do the same in wintry weather too, and the Chiefs have both. They also still have Patrick Mahomes, and the playoffs are his time to shine.

It will be tight, but the Chiefs go to their sixth straight AFC Championship game.

My Pick: Kansas City 23, Buffalo 21

[Advice: The latest line has Buffalo favored by three, I like KC to cover and win outright. The total will stay below 45.5]

—More from Stephen Vilardo—