The AFC will kick off the Divisional Round on Saturday with Jacksonville taking on Kansas City in what’s expected to be a great weekend of playoff games. This side of the bracket will have two great matchups, with Cincinnati vs Buffalo being the marquee game of the whole Divisional Round. The Wild Card was a great weekend of football in the AFC with all three games being close and this weekend is expected to be even better.
2023 AFC Divisional Round Matchups
Jaguars (4 Seed) @ Chiefs (1 Seed)
Date: Saturday, January 21
Time: 4:30 ET
The Jaguars will have their hands full traveling to Arrowhead to face a team with Patrick Mahomes coming off a bye week in one of if not the loudest stadium in the NFL. Jacksonville isn’t a stranger to overcoming a big obstacle though and that’s exactly what they did last week. Despite Trevor Lawrence throwing four early interceptions, he gathered himself and countered those interceptions by throwing for 288 yards and four touchdowns as they came back from down 27-0 to win 31-30 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
After that epic comeback, the Jaguars carry some momentum into this game and will try to ride the wave. They’re a top-ten scoring team and Lawrence seems to be gaining confidence, even when he gets knocked down like early last week. Evan Engram has been been a real bright spot all year at tight end and he came through last week when the Jaguars needed him to, gathering 93 yards and a touchdown. The supporting cast of Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Marvin Jones Jr, who all helped in the win, might not be on the level of these other playoff teams but can contribute in a big way.
Throw in Travis Etienne, who rushed for over 1100 yards and had over 100 yards last game, and this Jaguars offense can be a big enough threat to the Chiefs’ defense. No one expected this team to win the AFC South let alone win a playoff game so they are in a perfect spot to try and upset Kansas City.
On the flip side, the Chiefs have everything working in their favor for this game. A week of rest, home-field advantage, and an offense that is first in passing yards, total yards, and points scored. The run game is down toward the bottom but the Chiefs have shown they don’t need a run game to succeed when you have Patrick Mahomes. Even with the departure of Tyreek Hill, Mahomes set himself up as a top-two MVP candidate and may be leading the race. He has the most passing yards (5,250) and touchdown passes (41) of any quarterback in the league and is seventh in completion percentage (67.1%).
He’s flanked by none other than Travis Kelce, who just completed his seventh consecutive 1000-yard season and had 12 touchdowns to go along with it. He and Mahomes alone can win a game by themselves and that’s not an overreaction. Other new receivers like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling have found their footing and have been an important part of KC’s success. In this offense, the running game takes a back seat but as a rookie, Isiah Pacheco has stepped up in a big way. In 17 games, while only starting 11 of them, he rushed for 830 yards and a touchdown. He’s a sneaky part of this offense that the Jaguars have to watch out for.
Kansas City is nearly a ten-point favorite in this Divisional Round game, that tells you how good they are is but the Jaguars aren’t going to lay down easily. If they can exploit this flawed Chiefs’ defense, Jacksonville might be able to make this a ball game but the offense has to do everything in its power to slow down this Chiefs’ passing attack, which is no easy task.
Bengals (3 Seed) @ Bills (2 Seed)
Date: Sunday, January 22
Time: 3 ET
On paper, this is the best Divisional Round matchup this weekend as the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills square off in what will be a war come game time. Believe it or not, these two teams were a play or two away from losing their respective Wild Card games last weekend. Fortunately for pure entertainment, these two Super Bowl hopefuls will meet up for the right to either face the Jaguars or Chiefs in the Championship Game.
The Bengals have one of the best offenses in the league as they are seventh in points scored and eighth in total yards. Joe Burrow continues to show why he is one of the faces of the league and will continue to be for a long time as he’s second in completion percentage (68.3%), second in touchdowns passes (35), fifth in passing yards (4,475), and sixth in quarterback rating (100.8).
He has one of the best connections in the league with wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who eclipsed 1000 yards in his first two years in the league. This is with only playing 12 games this season. He was one of the few guys to have a good game on offense in the Wild Card (84 yards and a touchdown).
Burrow also has a great rapport with wide receiver Tee Higgins, who also eclipsed 1000 yards the last two seasons and stepped up when Chase was out. Also add Tyler Boyd, who had 762 yards and five touchdowns, and the Bengals have the best wide receiver group in the league. Mix that with the talent of Joe Mixon at running back and the Bengals are probably the most dangerous team in terms of talent. Mixon had 1000 yards rushing last year but only gathered 814 yards and seven touchdowns this season because of an injury that caused him to only play 14 games.
Burrow and the offense didn’t have the strongest game on the stat sheet last weekend but you’d be crazy to think that will happen twice in a row in a big game. The only real question about this Bengals team is if the defense can hold up against the Bills. They’re fifth in points allowed and a top-ten defense against the run but are towards the bottom in pass defense and middle of the pack in total yards. That is a cause for concern against a Bills offense that is second in total yards and points scored.
Josh Allen tallied his third 4000+ yard, 35+ touchdown season in a row. Not only can he pass but he can also run, doing so for 762 yards and seven touchdowns. The Bills can counter Burrow and Chase with Allen and Stefon Diggs, who is also one of the best duos in the NFL. He caught 108 passes for 1429 yards and 11 touchdowns. Of Allen’s 352 yards in the game against the Ravens, Diggs caught 114 of them. Throw in Gabriel Davis, who had 836 yards and 7 touchdowns, including a 113-yard performance last week in the Wild Card game though also brought in a touchdown.
The Bills also can counter with an overall good defense, being sixth in total yards allowed and second in points allowed but the only question is the pass defense, which is middle of the pack. They’ve dealt with injuries all season on that side of the ball and yet have done enough to stay a threat. Both the Bills and Bengals’ offense will put up points and will be the focal point but this Divisional Round game might come down to which defense can cause the most pressure and get a stop when it’s most needed.