Ava’s Angle: Breaking down the first weekend of the NFL Playoffs

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The 2023 NFL playoffs are in full swing and there was a lot of action that went down this past weekend. It consisted of upsets, astonishing plays and so much more. Without further ado, let’s break it down and look ahead to this weekend’s divisional round. 

San Francisco 49ers 41, Seattle Seahawks 23 

The weekend opened with the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. Rookie QB Brock Purdy led the 49ers with his impressive stat line, completing 18 of 30 passing attempts for 332 yards and three touchdowns, along with four carries for 16 yards and a touchdown. Deebo Samuel broke the game open for San Francisco with his 74-yard touchdown. With that, the offensive line played a strong game, keeping the Niners in the lead as it was just a one-point deficit at the half and also assisting Christian McCaffrey to record 181 rushing yards. 

The 49ers all around played a solid game and they should be a tough team to beat. Their defense was strong with DE Charles Omenihu, recording five pressures and two sacks. Once again to mention Purdy, the capabilities of the young QB can take San Francisco far as he continues to play well in his first time in the NFL playoffs.  

Jacksonville Jaguars 31, Los Angeles Chargers 30 

Saturday night concluded with a nail-biting matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The first half of this game was nothing short of a nightmare for the Jaguars, especially for quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who threw four interceptions in the first half. The Chargers were doing all the right things to pressure the Jaguars’ offense, limiting their opportunities to advance. It looked like they were trending in the right direction of moving on to the divisional round, but the tides turned after the halftime break when a fire ignited under Lawrence. The former No. 1 overall pick completed 28 of 47 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns, putting them in a position to get the win. In front of their home fans in Jacksonville, the Jaguars ended the Chargers’ season on a game-winning field goal. 

The Jaguars are not new to rallying back as they have made a comeback in each of their last five home games. A lot of factors went into this Wild Card game win with Evan Engram and Travis Etienne making significant plays in the end but it heavily relied on Lawrence’s performance. In the first half against the Chargers, he completed five for 18 passes for 35 yards and four interceptions. In the second half on his last five drives, Lawrence completed 23 for 29 passes for 253 yards and four touchdowns. The difference of each half is astonishing and this is how the Jaguars are going to continue moving forward in the playoffs. 

Buffalo Bills 34, Miami Dolphins 31 

Sunday’s first game between the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins came into it already down Tua Tagovailoa after he suffered his second concussion of the season, so third-string QB Skylar Thompson stepped into the role. The Bills came into this game as the favorites and performed to that standard as they scored 17 consecutive points to build a lead. After that momentum, the Dolphins did the exact same thing, rallying up 17 points to tie the game at the half. From then, the game was a back and forth matchup and really anyone’s game. In the end, the Bills came out with a 34-31 win, avoiding an upset that would go down in history. 

Josh Allen played a key role and was clutch when the Bills needed him. He finished the game with 352 passing yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions on 23 of 39 passes. It is known that the Bills have been successful in defending the red zone this season as they finished second in the league in opponent touchdown efficiency at 44.9%. Additionally, they have forced 14 field goals from opponents this season and 13 other red zone possessions their opponents came away with nothing. The Dolphins broke that pattern of strong defense when they almost won the wildcard game, but it’s definitely something for Buffalo to look out for as they move on in the playoffs. 

New York Giants 31, Minnesota Vikings 24 

A huge upset came on Sunday afternoon when the New York Giants defeated the Minnesota Vikings in their home stadium. Head coach Brian Daboll and the Giants came with full confidence and took down the Vikings for their first playoff win in 11 years. Daniel Jones led the team offensively, passing for 301 yards and two touchdowns, running for 78 yards to ignite New York. Despite the QB, Saquon Barkley had a total of 109 yards on just 14 carries, rushing for two touchdowns. The Vikings had their chances to score late in the game with QB Kirk Cousins going 31 for 39 for 271 yards, two scores and a rushing touchdown but the Giants defense put them away in the final minutes.  

Although the Giants are still celebrating their playoff win, they have a lot of work to do moving forward as they look to face their known division rival in the Eagles at Philadelphia. Jones and Barkley shined in Minnesota, but on the other side of the ball, limiting turnovers and playing strong defense with Dexter Lawrence up front, could put the team in a place to complete another upset next week. 

Cincinnati Bengals 24, Baltimore Ravens 17 

Sunday night’s wild game ended in a historic way between the Bengals and the Ravens. The matchup was neck and neck for the majority of the time, but the highlight of the night came at the very end. With a tie score in the fourth quarter, the ball was knocked loose by Bengals’ linebacker Logan Wilson from the hands of Ravens’ QB Tyler Huntley right near the goal line. The ball was picked up by DE Sam Hubbard and there was no looking back for 98 yards — the longest fumble return for a touchdown in playoff history. 

Without former MVP Lamar Jackson, it was tough for the Ravens to stay on their feet, ultimately resulting in them being knocked out of the playoffs. This wild win was unlike any other for the Bengals but the offensive line was their biggest weakness. Fortunately for them, QB Joe Burrow had a solid game and moved the ball fairly quickly at his 2.54-second average time to throw the ball. While Burrow was sacked three times in the first half, it improved to just one in the second. With highlighting Hubbard, defense is what is going to keep Cincinnati alive in the playoffs. 

Dallas Cowboys 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14 

The weekend came to a close with Monday Night Football between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both team’s offense came out fairly slow, but that didn’t last long when Dak Prescott got momentum going to score the first touchdown of the game. The Cowboys’ offense continued to thrive and limited the chances that the Bucs had to make a comeback. Prescott finished the game completing 25 for 33 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns plus a rushing touchdown which added 24 more yards. 

Before Prescott had 11-straight completions that went for 80 yard touchdown drives, the offense started slow with a very quick first possession. So, getting the ball moving from the kick off could only help the Cowboys to stay ahead. Although Prescott did not make huge plays, he did avoid plays that could result in turnovers. If Dallas’ offense can stay this hot with Prescott behind it, then the Cowboys look to be a tough team to beat this postseason.  

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