NFL Division – It took 19 and a half weeks, but we finally cut through the 2022 NFL season. The last six teams standing are the top six teams in the DVOA – all killers with no fillers. With all due respect to the Jaguars and Giants, the NFL season has been reduced to the best of the best. This doesn’t always happen! Crashers happen all the time! It’s somewhat refreshing that only the best of the best are here.
That said, we can’t have six teams going to conference championships; that’s not how numbers work. We still have two more games today to reach the final four – and, at least on paper, they should be more competitive than Saturday’s games. No more #1 seeds facing underdogs; we have four of the Super Bowl’s top contenders facing each other today with trips to conference championships on the line.
We’re not going to lie; there will be an eerie atmosphere when the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals fold just three weeks after Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field; there’s no getting through this without being reminded of what happened that monday night. Losing a match of this caliber was way down on the list of things to worry about, but It is It’s good to see two of the top three teams in the conference decide things on the field. What field should this be in? Well, we’ll get to that in a moment. There aren’t as many weird feelings in seeing the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys tied in a record-tying ninth playoff game, a matchup that was so highly anticipated that… oops, looks like time’s up this one. We’ll come back to that shortly as well.
And we’ll be covering today’s matches live in a special playoff edition of the Football Outsiders live blog! Since we are live, you can also join the discussion! Join the conversation — in the comments section of this article, on Twitter, by tagging @FBOutsiders or @BryKnoor on our new Discord server, where some of your favorite writers will be participating and reacting live.
Here we go!
Kickoff Game Preview: Bengals at Bills
The Bengals have a legitimate claim and an illegitimate claim as they travel to Buffalo as the road team for this game.
The NFL covered contingencies for a Chiefs-Bills AFC championship and covered contingencies for a Bengals-Ravens wild card game. They did not, however, give the Bengals any contingency for this matchup, and their location really depended on the outcome of the canceled Bengals-Bills game. If the Bengals had won that game, they would have been the top two seeds, not the Bills. This game would be in Cincinnati, not Buffalo. And the NFL has just shrugged its shoulders and is letting it go as it is. It would be one thing if they had done it for everyone, but the fact that the NFL broke the rules for two circumstances, but not three it’s a little odd at best. The Bengals are being penalized for doing the right thing and not forcing Buffalo to play or concede the Week 17 game. heavily penalized, remember; Home field advantage is not what it used to be. But they can at least claim a fair bit of resentment for having to go to New York.
They can’t complain about the NFL already pre-selling tickets in Atlanta for the Bills-Chiefs game, no matter what Joe Mixon thinks. They were pre-selling Arrowhead tickets for Chiefs-Bengals and Cincinnati tickets for Bengals-Jaguars. This is just a matter of logistics.
In our stats preview, Cale Clinton asks the $64,000 question – will Josh Allen avoid mistakes against Cincinnati? As he points out, Allen is one of the best halfbacks in all of football… but also prone to the occasional hair-raising error; clutch interceptions in the red zone that kill the Bills. Allen is simultaneously the biggest reason Buffalo can win… and the biggest reason Buffalo can lose. Either way, be prepared for offensive fireworks. But public opinion seems to be leaning towards the Bills, with the line down to Buffalo -6 going into the game.
Late Game Preview: Cowboys at 49ers
Well, it’s more like that! The Cowboys we saw against the Buccaneers were the team we expected to see; one that can go head-to-head with any other team in the league and is a true Super Bowl threat. We just don’t see this team week-to-week, as flat starts against the Packers, Giants, Texans, Jaguars and Commanders in the second half of the season have Dallas fans worried about their chances against the best teams in the League. But against Tampa, Dallas controlled the game from start to finish. Dak Prescott looked almost untouchable, avoiding the interceptions that have weighed heavily on his neck since returning from injury, and led Dallas to the fourth best passing day of the entire season by the DVOA. They looked like they could beat anyone.
To move on though, they need to beat the team that had the third– best passing day of the entire season by the DVOA last week, when Brock Purdy and the 49ers turned a tight halftime game into a sweeping victory over the Seahawks. Say what you will about Purdy’s results versus his quality of play; the 49ers barely missed a beat despite being reduced to third quarterback of the season. San Francisco is on an 11-game winning streak and looks more or less unstoppable in the second half of the season.
If the Cowboys play to their full potential, they can win this game for sure, even as four-point underdogs. As our stat preview points out, Dallas is equipped to tackle both the 49ers’ weakness in covering deep passes and Purdy’s propensity to run away from pressure. We’ll have to see if the Dallas team is the one that really shows up this afternoon, or if San Francisco can pull off a dozen straight wins and get their ticket to Philadelphia.