National Football League

NFL divisional round odds: Lines for every matchup

January 22

There are eight NFL teams that still have a chance to win Super Bowl LVII, as we head into the divisional round of the playoffs.

The top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs, both 14-3, jump back into the fray after a bye during Super Wild Card Weekend.

Here's a look at the lines for the divisional round and experts' picks, with odds via FOX Bet.

RELATED: Top plays from Super Wild Card Weekend

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SATURDAY'S GAMES

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-3), 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Point spread: Chiefs -9.5 (Chiefs favored to win by more than 9.5 points, otherwise Jaguars cover)
Moneyline: Chiefs -500 favorites to win (bet $10 to win $12 total); Jaguars +333 underdogs to win (bet $10 to win $43.30 total)
Total scoring Over/Under: 52.5 points scored by both teams combined

FINAL
JAX 20 · KC 27
NFL
SPREAD
TO WIN
TOTAL
Jacksonville Jaguars
JAX
Kansas City Chiefs
KC

Kansas City is one win from reaching the AFC Championship Game for the fifth consecutive season.

The Chiefs enter the contest on a five-game winning streak.

A big reason for the Jaguars' improvement has been the development of quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence went from 17 interceptions in 2021 — tied for most in the league — to eight during the regular season.

The Jaguars are looking to advance to the AFC title game for the first time since the 2017 season.

Pick via FOX Sports NFL Analyst Geoff Schwartz:

The Chiefs have been outstanding at moving the ball and scoring points in their first playoff games of each postseason with coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. This is a home game for them, and they're facing an opponent that won't be good enough to slow down their offense. 

The Chiefs scored 31 points against the Colts in the 2018 season playoffs, then famously scored 51 against the Texans in 2019. In 2020, K.C. scored only 22 points against the Browns, but remember, Mahomes got hurt in the third quarter and the Chiefs did not score after he left the game. Finally, the Chiefs scored 42 against the Steelers last season in the wild-card round. 

This season, the Chiefs rank first in offensive DVOA, first in offensive EPA, first in scoring and second in third down conversion rate. Jacksonville’s defense finished the regular season ranked 26th in defensive DVOA and 29th on third down. Additionally, the Jaguars' defense was 24th in red zone touchdown percentage. These teams faced each other in Week 10, and in that matchup, Kansas City only scored 27 points in a B-minus performance. However, I expect the Chiefs to put up a ton of points in this matchup. 

Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said this week that he understands points need to be scored in this game. This means he will have an aggressive game plan. This also means the Chiefs will have to match that aggressiveness by scoring points of their own.

PICK: Over 52.5 points scored by both teams combined at FOX Bet

Insights from FOX Sports Gambling Expert Warren Sharp:

The Kansas City Chiefs have the NFL’s best offense, and there’s not even a remotely close second. 

They gain a first down on 31% of their early-down plays. To lend some perspective, the third most efficient offense in that metric is closer to the league average than to the Chiefs. 

The Chiefs also gain +0.10 EPA/play on early downs, which is also first in the NFL. The NFL average is -0.02. There is no other team above +0.04.   

It’s also their most efficient offense since 2018.   

And to add further context, the Chiefs offense has ranked this well despite facing the NFL’s seventh-toughest schedule of opposing defenses. On the season, the Chiefs have played 10 defenses that rank above average. 

They’ve played just four games against teams with bottom-10 defenses. They’re 4-0 in those games, winning by an average final score of 33-20. 

Now? 

They face the 27th-ranked defense of the Jaguars. 

While the Chiefs' offense has earned their No. 1 the hard way, playing the seventh-toughest schedule, the Jaguars' 27th-ranked defense had the good fortune of playing the third-easiest schedule of opposing offenses. 

They’ve played just five offenses that ranked above average this year other than 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 in the fourth quarter 19-10 and then 27-20 before scoring with 14 seconds left and going for a two-point conversion to win the game. 

They trailed the Cowboys 27-10 in the third quarter and 34-31 before scoring on the final play of regulation to tie the game at 34-34, and then returned an interception for a touchdown in overtime to win 40-34. 

The bottom line – they allowed 31 points per game (PPG) in these games, they trailed at halftime in five of six by an average of nine PPG, and they trailed entering the fourth quarter in five of six by an average of 7 PPG. 

Now that we know what the Chiefs have done vs. bottom-10 defenses (scored 33 PPG, went 4-0, won by 13 PPG) and what the Jaguars have done vs. top-15 offenses (allowed 31 PPG, would have gone 0-6, but for erasing multi-score deficits including scores with less than 15 seconds left in the game to either win or force overtime), let’s look at the matchup in more detail. 

Trevor Lawrence has improved dramatically down the season's stretch working with Doug Pederson. This year, Lawrence started off slowly under Pederson. Over the first half of the year, he ranked 23rd in YPA, 14th in EPA/att and 13th in success rate. 

But since Week 9, Lawrence ranks in the top 10 in all three metrics, including second in EPA/att, immediately ahead of Patrick Mahomes

But one of the areas Lawrence has played so well in has been vs. man coverage. In fact, Lawrence is No. 1 in the NFL vs. man coverage over the second half of the season. 

But while the Chiefs do play their share of man, they also play two-high shell at the fourth-highest rate in the NFL, and the highest rate of any team remaining in the playoffs. And Lawrence ranks No. 19 vs. two-high shell defense. Against non-two-high, he ranks third-best in EPA/att, but drops down to 19th over the second half of the season.   

In their first meeting, 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 would be wise to reduce their rate of man coverage and lean more into two-high defense in this game.   

Lawrence has large splits when he is pressured and the story was similar 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 game, the Chiefs' defense ranks fourth in pressure rate. 

And Lawrence still has issues dealing with pressure. Last week’s wild-card game: 

  • Pressured: -1.19 EPA/att, 17% success, 1.7 YPA, 22% completions, 2 sacks and 2 INTs
  • Clean: +0.27 EPA/att, 55% success, 7.2 YPA, 68% completions, 0 sacks, 4 TDs, 2 INTs

On the other side of the ball, we’ve mentioned how efficient the Chiefs' offense is in general. But where they should really try to focus on this game is attacking the Jaguars through the air and upping their play-action rate substantially. 

The Jaguars are extremely weak vs. play action, ranking 26th in EPA/att and 31st in success rate vs. play action this year, and that’s grown even worse. 

Since Week 10, the Jaguars rank dead last in EPA/att and success rate vs. play action on early downs in the game’s first three quarters: 

  • Vs. play action: +0.44 EPA/att (32nd), 64% success (32nd), 9.9 YPA (28th)
  • No play action: -0.10 EPA/att (eighth), 43% success (13th), 5.4 YPA (fourth)

The Chiefs don’t use high rates of play action (20th in usage rate) because Mahomes doesn’t need it and ranks sixth in EPA/att without it. 

But they should absolutely reduce their usage of RB runs and increase their usage of play action in this game. In their prior Week 10 meeting, Mahomes went: 

  • With play action: +0.72 EPA/att, 71% success, 11.7 YPA, 77% completions, 2:0 TD:INT on 14 attempts
  • No play action: +0.42 EPA/att, 57% success, 8.1 YPA, 73% completions, 2:1 TD:INT on 26 attempts

The reason the Chiefs should reduce running runs is that the Jaguars' run defense ranks 12th while their pass defense ranks 29th. And in their prior meeting in Week 10, Chiefs running back runs averaged -0.46 EPA/att and only 33% success, whereas passes averaged +0.53 EPA/att and 65% success. 

I expect the Chiefs to have success scoring. This game will come down to how well the Jags start and if they can keep up, but the Chiefs do look good in a teaser.

New York Giants (10-7-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (14-3), 8:15 p.m. ET, FOX and FOX Sports App

Point spread: Eagles -7.5 (Eagles favored to win by more than 7.5 points, otherwise Giants cover)
Moneyline: Eagles -400 favorites to win (bet $10 to win $12.50 total); Giants +280 underdogs to win (bet $10 to win $38 total)
Total scoring Over/Under: 48.5 points scored by both teams combined

FINAL
NYG 7 · PHI 38
NFL
SPREAD
TO WIN
TOTAL
New York Giants
NYG
Philadelphia Eagles
PHI

Philadelphia has won three in a row and 11 of the past 13 games against New York. The Eagles lead the all-time series 91-87-2 and this will be the fifth playoff meeting between the two franchises. Each team won two of the previous playoff contests.

The Eagles are seeking their first spot in the NFC Championship Game since the 2017 season, when Philadelphia won Super Bowl LII.

The Giants are seeking their first spot in the NFC Championship Game since the 2011 season, when New York won Super Bowl XLVI.

The teams will play for the third time in seven weeks. The Eagles won 48-22 on Dec. 11 in New York and 22-16 at home on Jan. 8.

Pick via FOX Sports NFL Analyst Geoff Schwartz:

Maybe I’m being a simpleton here, but this one doesn’t feel all that complicated. 

The Giants are a fantastic story. They are what people love about sports — the underdog story. Daniel Jones was counted out, and now he’s on the verge of getting paid. With an underwhelming roster and with injuries, New York battled through to secure a wild-card spot and ultimately, a win against the Vikings. The G-Men are well-coached, they don’t beat themselves, and they rarely make crippling mistakes. 

However …

… Philadelphia is the superior team by far. The Eagles finished the season on a downward trend because of the Jalen Hurts injury and other injuries to impact players. But with the extra week of rest, we should see a healthy and rejuvenated quarterback in Hurts. Philly finished the season ranked third on offense and sixth on defense, while the Giants finished 10th on offense and 29th on defense. Eagles also have a big advantage when it comes to special teams efficiency. 

The Eagles will also be able to take advantage of the Giants weaknesses at receiver and offensive line while neutralizing the best of the Giants — their interior defensive linemen. Philadelphia will probably be without right tackle Lane Johnson, but I’d worry far more about that when the team suits up against the 49ers. 

The Eagles will handle business in a big way. 

PICK: Eagles (-7.5 at FOX Bet) to win by more than 7.5 points

Insights from FOX Sports Gambling Expert Warren Sharp:

Divisional meetings in the playoffs with a total of less than 49 have gone Over 17-7 (71%) since 2002 and 6-0 (100%) since 2020. 

The New York Giants are a very different team than they were early in the season. It’s vital to understand that teams change over the course of the year. And that is particularly true when referring to a team with a brand-new coaching staff installing a new offense. 

The Giants were trying to learn a new offense, and the staff was trying to learn the player’s strengths and weaknesses. The Giants were also dealing with injuries along the offensive line and to starting running back Saquon Barkley

From Weeks 1-8, the Giants' offense ranked 19th in early-down success efficiency, including 29th in yards/play on early downs and 25th in total offensive success. 

But this Giants offense has come a long way since that first half of the season. 

Since Week 9, the Giants' offense ranks: 

  • Third in early-down success efficiency (bypassing third downs)
  • Fifth in total offensive success
  • Fifth in EPA/play
  • Tenth in yards/play

And since Week 12, the Giants' offense ranks second in early-down success efficiency, behind only the Kansas City Chiefs. 

What is shockingly wild is that since Week 12, the Giants offense has played the NFL’s second-toughest schedule of opposing defenses. 

They’ve played: 

Even if you look at the difference between run and pass schedules, it’s been brutal for both.  Since Week 12, the Giants have played the third-toughest schedule of pass defenses and the ninth-toughest schedule of run defenses. 

SUNDAY'S GAMES

Cincinnati Bengals (13-4) at Buffalo Bills (14-3), 3 p.m. ET, CBS

Point spread: Bills -5.5 (Bills favored to win by more than 5.5 points, otherwise Bengals cover)
Moneyline: Bills -278 favorites to win (bet $10 to win $13.60 total); Bengals +205 underdogs to win (bet $10 to win $30.50 total)
Total scoring Over/Under: 48.5 points scored by both teams combined

FINAL
CIN 27 · BUF 10
NFL
SPREAD
TO WIN
TOTAL
Cincinnati Bengals
CIN
Buffalo Bills
BUF

The franchises will meet for the first time since the no-contest on Jan. 2, when Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest early in the first half. Hamlin has been discharged from the hospital and is undergoing rehabilitation at home.

The Bills lead the NFL all-time series 17-15.

Buffalo is one win from reaching the AFC Championship Game for the first time since the 2020 season. The last time the Bills won the AFC was during the 1993 season en route to a berth in Super Bowl XXVIII.

Cincinnati is one win from a repeat appearance in the AFC Championship Game. The last time the Bills won the AFC was during the 1993 season en route to Super Bowl XXVIII. The Bengals also reached the AFC title game during the 1981 and 1988 seasons.

Pick via FOX Sports NFL Analyst Geoff Schwartz:

I’m very glad we got this matchup, although I do have sympathy for Bengals fans who believe this game should be at a neutral site. 

I was very high on the Bengals heading into the postseason and believed they were the best team in the AFC. One game should not change that; however, I am wavering a bit after their showing against the Ravens

The Bengals lost another offensive lineman and are now down three starting big boys on their line. I’ve never seen an offense able to function as well without a good offensive line quite like the Bengals. However, this Bills defense will thrive off getting pressure on Joe Burrow. Their pass rush isn’t as good without Von Miller, who was signed specifically for these games, but it’s good enough to get after Burrow. When Cincy's Jonah Williams went out Sunday night, Baltimore's pass defense played much better. As a matter of fact, in the second half without Williams last week, the Bengals had four offensive drives, three punts and one score. This week, Cincinnati faces a Bills defense that ranks ninth in passing DVOA and Pro Football Focus ranks their pass rush sixth in the NFL. I believe the Bengals will struggle to score points in Buffalo for all these reasons

The Bills offense is second in the NFL in scoring, and wagering against them to score might be a mistake. But the Bengals defense can shut down the Bills if Josh Allen is going to turn the ball over at the rate he’s going. The Bills are 31st in turnovers, and in the last four games, Allen has thrown five interceptions and fumbled the ball six times. The Bengals defense is 12th in passing DVOA and seventh in passing coverage defense. The Bills offensive line is bottom third in the league in both run and pass blocking. Know that this is a break-glass offensive game for the Bills, which means more rushing attempts for Allen. More rushing attempts mean a more controlled tempo and more of the clock running.

It's also worth noting the weather for this game. Yes, it might snow, but impacting the game more than the snow will be the wind. Expect the wind to be whipping around the stadium. 

I’m taking the Under in this game. 

PICK: Under 48.5 points scored by both teams combined at FOX Bet

Pick via FOX Sports Betting Analyst Jason McIntyre:

It was weird seeing Josh Allen only run four times for 20 yards against the Dolphins last week. In the season finale against the Patriots, he kept throwing it rather than tucking and running (nine carries, 16 yards). But if you look at the most important games of the season — in real nail-biters — the Bills lean heavily on Allen and his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame to carry the team. He had 10-77 in the 32-29 win over Miami; 10-78 in a difficult Thanksgiving game against Detroit. He rushed for 86 yards in the loss to the Jets and had 84 yards against the Vikings. Allen was third in the NFL in interceptions, and there’s a chance this confusing Bengals defense will force Allen into mistakes. 

The fact he took seven sacks last week is mildly alarming. Makes you wonder if he's hurt.

In what should be a close game, Buffalo’s best offense is with the ball in Josh Allen’s hands, running for first downs, so give me his rushing prop to go over the number.

PICK: Josh Allen Over 45.5 rushing yards (at time of pick)

Insights from FOX Sports Gambling Expert Warren Sharp:

I expected the Cincinnati offense to struggle some vs. Baltimore last week. I documented how the Ravens have fared vs. this Bengals offense. In the first meeting of the year, they held the Bengals to just 17 points, and the Bengals punted four straight times to start the game. Even though the Ravens rested some players in the second meeting, they held the Bengals to just four drives (out of 13) to gain over 12 yards. 

The bottom line was the Ravens knew the personnel of the Bengals extremely well and had already done a great job against them multiple weeks earlier in the season.   

As a result, I didn’t expect a lot out of the Bengals' offense. I expected a closer game than most.   

Although the score wasn’t lopsided, the Bengals exceeded expectations on their first five drives of the game. They drove 54 yards for a field goal, 60 yards for a touchdown, 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 another touchdown. 

Zero punts, three scores on four true drives for an average of 66 yards per drive. Nothing was easy, as expected, but the Bengals were efficient. On those five drives, Cincinnati averaged +0.19 EPA/play and a 55% success rate.   

The Bengals then had their first three-and-out, tied 17-17, and after that insane fumble-return TD. The Bengals had two more offensive possessions and went extremely conservative, leading 24-17, and ended up punting the ball back to the Ravens on both drives. Had the Bengals trailed, I imagine they would have been much more aggressive. 

The Bengals' offense has played an absolutely brutal schedule of opposing defenses, particularly of late. 

On the season, Cincinnati has the fourth-best offense despite playing the fourth-toughest schedule of opposing defenses. 

Since Week 15, the Bengals have done nothing but play five straight games vs. top-10 defenses. Not that the No. 4 Bills defense offers a respite to those difficult defenses, but I do question how strong the Bills defense is given their injuries and recent schedule. 

Since Week 9, the Bills have played seven games vs. bottom-10 offenses and only three games vs. top-10 offenses. 

Their games vs. bottom-10 offense: 

They went 5-2, averaged 28 PPG and allowed 20 PPG.

Their games vs. top-10 offenses? 

All three of those games saw 53 or more points scored, with the Bills averaging 30 PPG and allowing 26 PPG.

With the Bengals' injuries to the offensive line and adjustments from defenses, they have thrown short and frequently.   

Since Week 13, the Bengals rank 27th in percentage of passes to travel 10-plus yards downfield. And they’ve risen to the No. 1 most pass-heavy team in the NFL since, passing the ball on 68% of early downs in the first three quarters of games. That ranks 4% higher than the No. 2 team (Chargers) and well above the 53% NFL average. 

Over that same span, 37% of Joe Burrow’s wide receiver targets have come within two seconds of the snap, and an NFL-high 72% have come in less than 2.5 seconds (average = 52%). 

While the Bills have the NFL’s ninth-best pass defense, albeit untested of late, they are terrible at defending passes thrown quickly to wide receivers. 

Look at the Bills splits on passes to wide receivers: 

  • Thrown after 2.9 seconds: second in EPA/att, eighth in success rate, seventh in YPA
  • Thrown in less than 2.5 seconds: 25th in EPA/att, 28th in success rate, 29th in YPA

That’s a massive shift from top-10 to bottom-10 in these metrics. 

And since Week 12, when Von Miller was injured, it’s become even more of a problem. 

Buffalo ranks 30th in EPA/att, 29th in success rate, and 29th in YPA on WR passes thrown in less than 2.5 seconds. 

Specifically, the Bills allow +0.37 EPA/att, 60% success and 8.2 YPA on these passes, while the NFL average is +0.13 EPA/att, 50% success and 6.8 YPA. 

Keep in mind the Bills faced the ninth-easiest schedule of passing offenses during this span, facing the following quarterbacks: 

Not only does Burrow throw these quick wide receiver passes more frequently than any other QB in the NFL, but he also ranks third in success rate and sixth in YPA when doing so. 

Burrow will certainly need to pass early given the losses of three starters along the offensive line: La’el Collins, Alex Cappa and Jonah Williams

But as mentioned, the Bills lost pass rusher Von Miller in Week 12.   

Prior to his loss, Buffalo ranked fourth in pressure rate while blitzing at the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL.   

Since his loss, the Bills rank 24th in pressure rate despite blitzing at the 13th-highest rate. And they rank 30th in pressure rate since Week 15. 

All of these trending metrics for the Bills' defense, despite the easy schedule of offenses, bode well for the Bengals' offense. 

But on the other side of the ball, there are reasons for hope for the Bills' offense.

Josh Allen has struggled tremendously vs. the blitz this year. He ranks first this season in EPA/att when not blitzed but 25th when blitzed.    

The good news, however, is the Bengals do not blitz very frequently. On the season, the Bengals blitz at the 21st-highest rate, and that dipped to 25th since Week 12. 

Allen has also improved tremendously inside the red zone. Look at Allen’s efficiency splits inside the red zone out of 38 quarterbacks: 

  • Weeks 1-10: 34th in EPA/att, 36th in third-down conversion rate, 13th in success rate
  • Since Week 11: third in EPA/att, fourth in third-down conversion rate, second in success rate

This game truly comes down to whether or not the Bengals can get the ball out without Burrow getting pressured too frequently, and it is a perfect live betting game once you see how his line is holding up. 

Dallas Cowboys (13-5) at San Francisco 49ers (14-4), 6:30 p.m., FOX and FOX Sports App

Point spread: 49ers -3.5 (49ers favored to win by more than 3.5 points, otherwise Cowboys cover)
Moneyline: 49ers -213 favorites to win (bet $10 to win $14.69 total); Cowboys +160 underdogs to win (bet $10 to win $26 total)
Total scoring Over/Under: 46.5 points scored by both teams combined

FINAL
DAL 12 · SF 19
NFL
SPREAD
TO WIN
TOTAL
Dallas Cowboys
DAL
San Francisco 49ers
SF

The Cowboys and 49ers have each won five Super Bowls, and the winner of Sunday's showdown between the NFC rivals takes another step closer to playing in Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 12.

Dallas leads the all-time series 19-18-1, but San Francisco won the previous meeting 23-17 in the wild-card round just over a year ago on Jan. 16. 

The teams will meet for the ninth time in the playoff histories of the two franchises. The Cowboys hold a 5-3 edge over the 49ers in playoff matchups.

The Cowboys have won six of the past eight games against the 49ers dating back to 2005.

Pick via FOX Sports NFL Analyst Geoff Schwartz:

This will be a brawl in the trenches and I cannot wait. While much of the attention when it comes to the Niners offense has focused on their rookie quarterback and all the fantastic explosive offensive weapons, the heartbeat of the offense is their line. 

Outside of Trent Williams, their line isn’t especially talented, but the guys play well together and understand their assignments. They stay ahead of the chains, which keeps them out of stressful pass protection situations. This Cowboys defensive front is outstanding and other than against Williams, they have the advantage. It doesn’t mean the 49ers can’t scheme up success or score points, but it will be more difficult than usual.

On the other side of the ball, the 49ers defensive line is going to eat. You will find no bigger fan of the Cowboys offensive line over the last seven years than me, but they are at a disadvantage in this game. Nick Bosa vs. either Smith (Tyron, Tyler) is a mismatch. The young Smith at left tackle (Tyler) is not quite ready for the speed and intensity that Bosa brings, and the elder Smith (Tyron) is playing out of a position at right tackle. Arik Armstead and Charles Omenihu inside have the advantage over everyone but Zack Martin

For these reasons, I believe this game will go under the number.  

PICK: Under 45.5 points scored by both teams combined at FOX Bet

Insights from FOX Sports Gambling Expert Warren Sharp:

The word of the day when it comes to this massive NFC clash is "projection" because these teams truly have not been tested by prior opponents like they’re about to be tested on Sunday afternoon. 

First, these teams haven’t met yet this year. 

Second, when these teams met in the playoffs last year, it was with Jimmy Garoppolo nursing a badly injured thumb on his throwing hand that hurt him a ton. So Kyle Shanahan made massive adjustments, and the 49ers went an insane 70% run on early downs, despite the Cowboys loading the box on 88% of these plays. As expected, these runs didn’t go over well. But the 49ers still were able to hold on for a 23-17 win in Dallas. But considering the conditions surrounding that game, with the 49ers run rate and quarterback injury, it’s hard to take much of anything away from it. 

Third, we’ve got an untested Brock Purdy against an aggressive Cowboys defense. 

And fourth, we’ve got Dak Prescott playing against one of his only tough defensive challenges of the year. 

Since Dak Prescott returned from injury in Week 7, the Cowboys offense has played the second-easiest schedule of opposing offenses. They played just two top-10 defenses in those 12 games but were extremely successful in both 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 last week.

While that sounds great, there were a couple of clunkers along the way. Both were on the road. Prescott struggled in Green Bay, completing just 5.8 YPA and averaging -0.15 EPA/att vs. the Packers, and in the final game of the year, he averaged just 3.5 YPA with -0.42 EPA/att. 

Now, Prescott is about to face the zone-heavy defense of the 49ers. San Francisco plays more zone (fourth-most) than any team remaining in the playoffs. Over the second half of the season, Dak has performed at a top-10 rate whether the defense has played man or zone. But one thing rings true about the 49ers' secondary, and that is throwing deep on them is their key weak point. 

San Francisco’s defense ranks first against the run. 

San Francisco’s defense ranks first against passes thrown less than 15 yards. 

But San Francisco’s defense ranks 31st against passes thrown 15-plus yards downfield, allowing +0.71 EPA and 54% success. 

In the first three quarters of games (eliminating the fourth quarter due to game script), the Cowboys have the 14th-highest pass rate over the second half of the season. On early downs, that drops to 18th. 

Instead, they throw between 1-5 air yards at the highest rate in the NFL. They will need to make an adjustment there if they want to have success vs. the 49ers. 

Over the second half of the season, out of 33 quarterbacks, Dak ranked 15th in EPA/att, 11th in YPA and sixth in success rate when throwing 15-plus yards downfield. 

So he’s shown he can succeed this season throwing vertically, and that’s how he will need to attack the 49ers.   

Last week vs. the 49ers, Geno Smith only attempted eight passes 15-plus yards downfield, completing just three. Dak, meanwhile, completed 6-of-7 vs. the Bucs. 

Then there is Purdy. Since starting his first game in Week 14, he’s 6-0 and has faced two of the above-average defenses that Prescott also faced (Tampa Bay and Washington). The 49ers scored 35 and 37 points in those two games, with Purdy averaging over 8.8 YPA in each contest. 

Purdy played extremely aggressively last week, throwing 37% of his passes 20-plus yards downfield, the highest in the NFL.   

Since taking over for Jimmy G, in the first three quarters of games, Purdy is throwing 10-plus yards downfield at the sixth-highest rate in the NFL and 20-plus yards at the eighth-highest rate. 

He’s throwing 1-5 air yards at the 26th-highest rate and 1-9 air yards at the 25th-highest rate. 

Compare that to Jimmy G, who threw 10-plus yards downfield at the 30th-highest rate and 1-9 air yards at the 14th-highest rate. 

And that’s the reason why Purdy’s aDOT in the first three quarters ranks 18th while Jimmy G’s ranked 34th. 

This will be the first true test for Purdy, as the Cowboys have the only top-10 pass defense he’s faced, and since playing the Bucs in Week 14, Purdy has done nothing but face below-average pass defenses. 

Dallas also brings a ton of pressure, ranking first in pressure rate by a mile and blitzing at a below-average rate. 

If the Cowboys don’t blitz and don’t record pressure, Purdy will certainly tear them up, as he leads the NFL in a variety of metrics, including YPA and completion rate. 

The wild thing about Purdy, which speaks to Shanahan, is natural pressure, the kind that Shanahan brings with consistency, doesn’t bother him at all. 

He ranks fourth in EPA/att, fifth in success rate, and fifth in YPA when pressured but not blitzed. 

But when pressured off of blitzes, that ranking drops to 18th in EPA/att, 26th in success rate, and 43rd in YPA out of 47 quarterbacks. 

When kept clean, Purdy is top-5 if the defense isn’t blitzing and top-10 if the defense blitzes.   

The bottom line is, Purdy is top-5 when the defense does not blitz, whether it generates pressure or not. 

That ranking drops to top-10 if the defense blitzes but doesn’t generate pressure.

And it drops to below average if the defense blitzes and gets pressure.

If Prescott can hit on the deep balls and the Cowboys don’t increase their blitz rate, these teams likely can combine to clear this total, but I am skeptical.

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