Greetings. I did OK on my picks for the divisional round, going 3-1 straight-up and 2-2 against the spread. It would have been a much better investment weekend if (A) Jacksonville hadn’t kicked a late field goal to cover at Kansas City and (B) I hadn’t been so stupid to pick the Giants to cover at Philadelphia.

1. The Cincinnati Bengals are confident and hungry and extremely dangerous. The defending AFC champions haven’t lost a game since Halloween and will carry their 10-game winning streak into Kansas City for a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship, won by the Bengals. After destroying the Bills 27-10 at Buffalo on Sunday, the Bengals will try to do something that’s incomprehensible: defeat the Chiefs for a fourth consecutive time since Jan. 2, 2022. Joe Burrow has moved ahead of Buffalo’s Josh Allen in the unofficial AFC power rankings, behind KC’s Patrick Mahomes at No. 1. The Bengals are playing stingy defense, and their injury-battered offensive line held up better than expected with a forceful showing at Buffalo. Beating the Chiefs will be a challenge, but Mahomes’ high-ankle sprain almost certainly will be a factor come Sunday.

2. The Mahomes injury is a big deal. Unless, of course, there’s a healing miracle in a week’s time. No NFL quarterback is better at moving around behind the line of scrimmage, avoiding the pass rush to find a seam and an open receiver. But if the high ankle sprain limits his mobility, Mahomes won’t be able to dance around, perform like an acrobat and make improbably accurate throws that damage and demoralize a defense.

Rollouts and scrambles are a major part of his game. According to Pro Football Focus, Mahomes led the league with 183 designed rollouts and scrambles, and PFF gave him the NFL’s No. 1 passing grade on those types of throws. No other QB was close. And as PFF noted, Mahomes’ passing grade declined (significantly) over the final three quarters, after he suffered the injury. Mahomes is very good at straight-dropback passes, but PFF points out that his passer rating on those kinds of attempts has been down since Week 13 of the regular season when the Chiefs lost at Cincinnati.

From PFF: “Since then, Mahomes has been very ordinary when dropping straight back and throwing from the pocket. The Chiefs’ approach appears to have become far more conservative, too.” And defenses have been playing a lot more zone against Mahomes, which evidently is a more effective tactic than man coverage.

Question: if the Bengals can go 3-0 against a healthy, peak-form Mahomes in the last three KC vs. CIN clashes – including an upset at Arrowhead in last season’s AFC title match – then doesn’t it make sense to expect a Cincinnati victory over a hobbled and constrained Mahomes?

3. The Dallas Cowboys can’t be trusted. And that especially applies to quarterback Dak Prescott and head coach Mike McCarthy. In a game they could have – should have? – won, the Cowboys typically came up short in a 19-12 loss at San Francisco. Let’s get McCarthy out of the way with a quick comment: his game/clock management in the fourth quarter was comically incompetent. But that’s nothing new.

Prescott – the most experienced remaining quarterback in the postseason field – was outplayed by the least experienced QB, San Francisco rookie Brock Purdy. And Prescott was sacked only one time and had more time to scan for open receivers than than Purdy did all game. But Prescott threw two interceptions that ruined one scoring opportunity for his team and set up two field goals for the 49ers.

Despite missing five games with a hand injury, Prescott tied for the most interceptions (17) in the NFL during the regular season. Prescott goes into the offseason with 13 interceptions in his final seven games (including the playoffs.) Prescott averaged only 5.6 yards per completion against the 49ers and logged a pathetic passer rating of 63.6.

After taking a 6-3 lead in the second quarter the Cowboys managed just two field goals in their final seven possessions.

Dallas hasn’t won two playoff games in one postseason since their last Super Bowl victory that capped the 1995 season. And for the 27th consecutive season the Cowboys failed to make it to the NFC Championship Game. The loss to the Niners was the seventh in a row for the Cowboys in a division-round contest.

“I thought we were suited to come in here and win this thing,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters after the game. “Frankly, I wouldn’t say surprised. I’d say just real disappointed. We came up short. We’re sick. Sick. Sick.”

4. The 49ers used their physicality to tire and weaken the Dallas defense. After managing only 27 yards on the ground in the first half, San Francisco rushed for 86 yards in the second half. And much of the effective plowing came in the fourth quarter, when the 49ers did away with a 9-9 tie with two defining – and consecutive – possessions: a 10-play, 91-yard drive for a touchdown, and a 13-play, 64-yard drive for a field goal.

Key stat: on those two back-to-back scoring drives the 49ers had more yardage (155) than the Cowboys amassed (141) on six second-half possessions. And In all, the Cowboys managed just 282 yards of total offense on 4.7 yards per play.

5. Philadelphia made it look easy. There isn’t much to talk about, because the numbers tell us everything about the Eagles’ 38-7 wipeout of the visiting NY Giants. The Eagles rumbled for touchdowns on four of their first five possessions, piling up 259 yards on the four scoring drives; the Giants had only 227 yards for the entire game. The Eagles sacked NYG quarterback Danel Jones five times. Philly quarterback Jalen Hurts returned after sitting out the final two regular-season games to give his right shoulder time to heal. Hurts appears to be OK (sarcasm), throwing for two touchdowns and running for a third as the Eagles opened a 28-0 by halftime.

“To have him out there,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said, “it’s like having … I know I shouldn’t even go there … but it’s like having Michael Jordan out there.”

Philadelphia’s grizzly offensive line mauled the Giants on 44 rushing attempts that produced 268 yards and three touchdowns. Right offensive tackle Lane Johnson was dominant in returning a groin injury that will require surgery after the season. And All-Pro center Jason Kelce neutralized the Giants’ interior defenders to open the inside lanes for robust rushing yardage. The NFC Championship pits the 49ers and Eagles at Philadelphia in what should be a brawl of a game.

6. The Buffalo Bills missed their best opportunity to win a Super Bowl. And now they’ll move into a less certain future. Sunday’s 27-0 beatdown loss to the Bengals in Western New York was humiliating. The Bills were held to their season low in points scored. After averaging more than three touchdowns per game this season, they had just one TD in getting eliminated. The Bills fell into a 14-0 hole early and Cincinnati never let them climb out. For a second straight season, the Bills’ high hopes were deflated by a loss in the divisional round.

Quarterback Josh Allen had a disappointing, substandard performance. Instead of elevating his team, Allen did little to prevent Cincinnati’s rout. This came a year after Allen’s enthralling and excellent postseason performance prompted predictions of an MVP award and Super Bowl championship for the rising-star Allen in the 2023 season. But that all went crashing down Sunday when the franchise quarterback couldn’t play up to the magnitude of the moment.

Though the Bengals played a lot of basic zone pass defense on Sunday, Allen struggled with his decision-making and accuracy, and the Bills offense couldn’t get in rhythm. After a touchdown that cut Cincinnati’s lead to 14-7, the Bills scored only three points in their remaining five possessions. It was a no-contest matchup at quarterback; Burrow was vastly superior to Allen in this showdown. And the Bills, a six-point favorite, were buried in the snow by the Bengals.

Allen is still one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, but getting to a Super Bowl, becomes more difficult now. Allen’s massive contract extension makes him close to $40 million cap hit in 2023, and Buffalo has a bunch of free agents and additional holes to fill. The Bills were able to have stress-free cap management through the 2022 season, but the first class drafted by GM Brandon Beane are entering their first contact-extension phase, and they’ll be much more expensive now. Building a better team around Allen won’t be easy.

7. The moment wasn’t too big for Brock Purdy. Look, we aren’t talking about Joe Montana here, but the rookie quarterback handled the pressure without wobbling and remained steady at the controls for the 49ers on Sunday. Putty completed 19 of 29 for 214 yards. And while Purdy didn’t throw a touchdown pass, this was more important: he didn’t turn the ball over, which gave the Niners a +2 in the turnover differential at the quarterback position in this game. And at the pivotal section of the game – the two consecutive possessions that produced 10 crucial points for San Francisco – Purdy completed seven of nine passes for 85 yards and had a six-yard run. In the second half Purdy also had the good sense to look for tight end George Kittle, who found spaces between Dallas defenders.

“Confident. The whole time. It was awesome,” 49ers tight end George Kittle said of Purdy after the game. “I thought Brock did really well, especially when our offense wasn’t doing well early. … Brock wasn’t getting distraught. There was no, like, jitteriness to him. He was just Brock Purdy. Walking in the huddle, calling the play and delivering.”

Including two wins in the playoffs, Purdy is 7-0 as San Francisco’s starter. He’s thrown 14 touchdowns, rushed for two TDs, and tossed only two interceptions.

8. Jacksonville failed to take advantage of Mahomes getting injured. The Jaguars were down 20-17 with 11:49 remaining in the fourth quarter but couldn’t capitalize, turning the ball over twice in the final 5:38. Jax coach Doug Pedserson didn’t call many downfield passes, and the conservative game plan was a factor in the loss. In this one Jacksonville averaged more yards per rush (7.6) than yards per passing attempt (5.9.) Jags running back Travis Etienne had a strong game, gaining 62 rushing yards and scoring a touchdown on 10 carries and catching three passes for 18 yards. But the Jaguars couldn’t build on that to set up a more effective passing attack from QB Trevor Lawrence. Give some credit to Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who put Lawrence under duress with a creative set of blitzes. Coaching definitely made a difference in this game, and Reid and Spags were better than Pederson and Caldwell.

9. Travis Kelce: is he the best tight end in NFL postseason history? Well, he’s sure making a case and is on the verge of claiming the top spot in two key categories. Saturday, the Kansas City tight end hauled in 14 catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns and the Jaguars had no answer for him. Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell never adjusted to drape coverage on Kelce, and the Chiefs appreciated the inexplicable coaching blunder to target Kelce 17 times and completing 82.3 percent of the passes thrown his way.

After Saturday’s big-numbers day, here’s where Kelce stands among NFL tight ends in all-time postseason production:

— Receptions: 1st, with 120.
— Receiving Yards: 1,389, tied for 1st with Rob Gronkowski.
— Receiving TDs: 2nd with 14, one behind Gronk.
— Catches For 1st Downs: 1st with 76.


* The top playoff seeds have done well, with three (Chiefs, Eagles, 49ers) of the four No. 1 seeds advancing to conference championship games. However: Only two of the last eight No. 1 seeds advanced to the Super Bowl. That would be the Chiefs (2020 season) and 49ers (2021 season.)

* Ezekiel Elliott: what’s happened to this guy? The Cowboys lost their ability to run the ball against the 49ers when Tony Pollard went down and out with a fractured leg in the second quarter. Elliott, who used to be a star, replaced Pollard and had only 26 yards on 10 rushes. In his past four postseason games Elliott has 131 yards and one touchdown on 55 carries for an average of 2.38 per rush. The Cowboys gave Elliott a six-year, $90 million contract extension in Sept. 2019. The deal includes $50 million guaranteed. Elliott rushed for 1,357 yards in 2019 but has averaged 957 yards rushing over the last three seasons.

* Lou Anarumo is the best defensive coordinator that you’ve never heard much about … not until recently, anyway. He’s damn good. In six postseason games over the last two seasons, the Bengals are 5-1 and Anarumo’s defense has held opponents to an average of 18 points per game – and an average of 17 points in Cincinnati’s wins. The Bengals had 12 pressures and put eight hits on Josh Allen on Sunday, and they’ll be coming after Mahomes in the AFC title bout.

* Born to Run: Quarterbacks rule the world but a muscular running game can still work in the postseason. The four winners in the division round averaged 174 yards rushing per game, and 4.97 yards rushing per carry. The winning sides had only one more touchdown via the pass (6) than TDs on the ground (5.)

* Chad Henne. The Chiefs are 2-0 in the postseason when their backup quarterback must enter the game because of an injury to Mahomes. He stepped in against Cleveland in the 2020 playoffs and contributed to a one-score (22–17) victory. And Henne threw a touchdown pass to Kelce in Saturday’s win over Jacksonville. In the two games (combined) Henne completed 11 of 15 passes for 43 yards, a touchdown and one INT. After Mahomes left the game to get his ankle checked, Henne led the Chiefs on a 12-play, 98-yard scoring drive to give his team a 17-7 lead with 3:54 left in the first half.

* Kansas City will be hosting the AFC Championship Game for the fifth consecutive year, the longest such streak in NFL history.

* The betting lines for Sunday’s two championship games as of 2 p.m. STL time on Monday afternoon: Cincinnati and Kansas City opened with the Chiefs as a one-point favorite but the early action on the Bengals has for now pushed this to a Pick ‘Em game. In the NFC, Philadelphia is favored over San Francisco by 2.5 points.

* About Cincinnati opening as a one-point underdog: until the line moved: playoff dogs with a line move in their favor are 17-8 ATS (68%) over the past five postseasons. Pros have also hit the under. The total opened as high as 50 and has quickly fallen down to 47.5.” The sharps are pounding the under for Sunday’s AFC game. The total opened at 50 points and quickly dropped to 47.5.

* Betting faves were 3-1 straight-up in the divisional round, and 2-2 against the spread. Home teams  also went 3-1 straight up and 2-2 ATS. If you bet the under in all four games, congrats, because you went 4-0. Overall in the playoffs so far: favorites are 7-3 straight up, but the dogs have a 6-4 edge against the spread. Home teams lead 7-3 straight up, but road teams are 6-4 ATS. After the under bets won out 5-1 in the super wild card weekend, the results have leveled off, with the over/unders sitting at 5-5 after the divisional round.

Thanks for reading …

Pardon my typos …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at or the 590 app.

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All stats used here were sourced from Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders and VSIN.