The next wave of NFL playoff football has just about washed over us. The divisional round kicked off Saturday with a pair of regular-season rematches — the Chiefs edging the Jaguars with a banged-up Patrick Mahomes, and the Eagles steamrolling the Giants for a clean sweep of their 2022 series. On Sunday, the AFC and NFC Championship matchups were decided thanks to the final games of the weekend slate, with the Bengals battling the Bills, and Cowboys visiting the 49ers.
Here are some immediate and big-picture takeaways from the second day of the divisional round:
Bengals, not Bills, are Chiefs’ biggest threat
Who Dey Nation probably could have told you this before, but Sunday’s game confirmed it: Joe Burrow is the biggest thing standing in Patrick Mahomes’ way in the AFC. That’s true not only because Burrow is 3-0 with killer numbers in his career against Kansas City, but because in three seasons, he’s already far exceeded Bills star Josh Allen on the big stage, improving his playoff record to 5-1 and securing a second AFC title-game appearance in as many years. Allen is the closest thing to Mahomes in terms of off-script play-making, but Burrow’s vision, coupled with Cincy’s deep receiving corps and physical defense, reigns supreme. With , the Chiefs can’t rest easy.
Buffalo needs help in backfield, on back end
The Bills should remain in the playoff conversation for as long as Josh Allen is under center. But the MVP candidate still puts too many balls in harm’s way while relying on his natural gifts. More than that, it was apparent in Sunday’s flat loss to the Bengals that Buffalo requires renewed weaponry and/or strategy both on the ground and in the secondary. Allen had no run-game assistance against Cincy, with Devin Singletary and James Cook rendered nonfactors, and stalwarts like Tre’Davious White and Jordan Poyer were beaten deep before exiting with injuries. After a couple years of flirting with a Super Bowl bid, it’s probably time for a deeper reshuffling of talent.
Sean McDermott is still searching
There’s no doubt the coach has helped transform Buffalo into a perennial contender: he’s gone 47-18, with four straight playoff appearances, since 2019. But even with Josh Allen’s ascent and plenty of investment on defense, his Bills have now failed to advance past the divisional round of the playoffs in five of McDermott’s six seasons at the helm. It doesn’t help that Buffalo was thoroughly outcoached and outplayed on its own turf in Sunday’s loss, when the Bills were curiously conservative on several fourth-down decisions and got little creativity from coordinators Ken Dorsey and Leslie Frazier.