Breaking down matchups and picking four winners in the NFL playoffs divisional round

NFL logo is painted in an end zone.
(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)
Share via

Los Angeles Times’ NFL writer, Sam Farmer, examines this week’s playoff matchups in the NFL divisional round. Lines according to FanDuel. Last week’s record 4-2. Using point spreads with the scores Farmer had predicted, the record against the spread last week would have been 1-5. All times Pacific:


No. 4 Jacksonville at No. 1 Kansas City

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes sets to pass.
The Jaguars will need to put pressure on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes if they hope to get an upset on the road.
(Ed Zurga / Associated Press)

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Channel 4. Line: Chiefs by 8½.

How Jaguars can win: Limit the turnovers. Four interceptions in the first half won’t be survivable again. Get that play-action game going and take some shots down the field. Defensively, get to Patrick Mahomes. Josh Allen, the Jacksonville pass rusher, needs to have a big day. Sacks aren’t essential, but get Mahomes off his spots.


Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys overcame four missed extra-point attempts by Brett Maher in a 31-14 playoff victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Jan. 16, 2023

How Chiefs can win: Lean on Mahomes. Don’t get in a hurry to hit the big play, as you’ve been patient and methodical all season. This offense reliably can get to or near 30 points. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo loves to blitz; see whether he can confuse Trevor Lawrence and force him into some turnovers. Lean into who you’ve been all season.

Pick: The Chiefs should win, but the game could be closer than a lot of people are predicting. The Jaguars are balanced offensively, and they’re believing in themselves, especially after that historic comeback against the Chargers. CHIEFS 30, JAGUARS 24


No. 6 N.Y. Giants at No. 1 Philadelphia

Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith (6) runs past Giants Jarrad Davis (57) and safety Jason Pinnock.
Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith (6) runs past New York Giants Jarrad Davis (57) and safety Jason Pinnock (27) in the regular-season finale. He also scored a touchdown on a fourth-down play against New York.
(Chris Szagola / Associated Press)

When: Saturday, 5:15 p.m., Channel 11. Line: Eagles by 7½.

How Giants can win: Believe in what they’re doing. They’ve got a bunch of guys that nobody has heard of in this receiving corps. Give the ball to Saquon Barkley, and let Daniel Jones do whatever it takes to win the game, whether it’s using his arm or his legs. Turn loose those young pass rushers. Limit Philadelphia’s running game and put the pressure on Jalen Hurts.

How Eagles can win: Establish the run and don’t put all the pressure on Hurts. Hit the big plays when they’re there. The Eagles take their deep shots every week. Protect Hurts so he can sit back and pick defenses apart. Let some of the deeper routes develop. DeVonta Smith, for one, is uncoverable man to man. A.J. Brown is still the guy. Defensively, do whatever it takes to stop the run.


Pick: The Eagles are fresh after a week off. This is the 25th time that a team that has swept a season series has met that division opponent in the playoffs. In those cases, the 2-0 teams won 15 of the 24 third matchups. Division game, so it figures to be closer than many expect. EAGLES 24, GIANTS 21


No. 3 Cincinnati at No. 2 Buffalo

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) passes against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) passes against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2. The teams did not get to complete this regular-season game and this time will meet in Buffalo
(Joshua A. Bickel / Associated Press)

When: Sunday, noon, Channel 2. Line: Bills by 4½.

How Bengals can win: Run it enough. Don’t rely on Joe Burrow dropping back as much as he’s done all season. The Bengals should be able to run on the Bills. Try to mitigate those offensive-line injuries. The Bills aren’t as good without Von Miller, but they can still get after the passer. Defensively, stop the run and put the pressure on Josh Allen to be the hero.

How Bills can win: Stop the run and turn up the heat on Burrow. The more the Bills get to him, the more likely they are to force turnovers. The Bills can exploit Cincinnati’s injuries along the offensive line. Bengals are especially vulnerable at the tackles. Offensively, limit the turnovers. Quit messing around in the red zone. Remember, it’s OK to kick a field goal now and again.

Pick: The Bengals have big limitations along the offensive line and at the corners. The Bills should take advantage of that. The Bills got a scare last week and that should sharpen their focus. They have the momentum and the crowd behind them. BILLS 28, BENGALS 24


No. 5 Dallas at No. 2 San Francisco

San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) run in open field.
San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey has been a difference-maker since his in-season acquisition from the Carolina Panthers.
(Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)

When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m., Channel 11. Line: 49ers by 3½.

How Cowboys can win: Set up Dak Prescott’s passing game by effectively running the ball. Run some screens, get Tony Pollard in space. If Prescott plays the way he did against Tampa Bay, and not the interception machine he’s been this season, Dallas has a chance. Defensively, try to slow the run and make Brock Purdy look like a rookie for once.

Former Chargers coach Anthony Lynn is now on the San Francisco 49ers staff, which feels like home for him with connections to other staff and players.

Jan. 17, 2023

How 49ers can win: Keep doing what they’re doing. The 49ers can run it, draw up creative ways to get the ball in Christian McCaffrey‘s hands, and have to be astounded at how good Purdy has been. Keep up that defensive confidence. This team has won 11 straight and should continue to act like it.

Pick: The 49ers have an advantage across the board. Defensively, the 49ers have too much speed. Purdy has yet to crack — how was he the last pick in the draft? — and adding McCaffrey to an offense that already has Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk just doesn’t seem fair. 49ERS 27, COWBOYS 21