What we learned from the NFL playoffs divisional round, Day 1: From Eagles’ resurgence to Patrick Mahomes’ injury

What we learned from the NFL playoffs divisional round, Day 1: From Eagles’ resurgence to Patrick Mahomes’ injury

The next wave of NFL playoff football is underway. The divisional round kicked off Saturday with a pair of regular season rematches and boy, do we have a lot of ground to cover right after that action. The Chiefs return to the AFC Championship, thanks to a 27-20 win over the upstart Jaguars. And the Eagles will host the NFC Championship for the second time in five years after defeating the Giants, 38-7.

Here are some immediate and general takeaways from the opening day of the divisional round:

It hurts and the Eagles are back

We say “back” because frankly it felt like they had “gone” for the last month. Since Jalen Hurts, once virtually clinched to go toe-to-toe with Patrick Mahomes for this year’s MVP honors, suffered a shoulder injury, Philadelphia has stalled, if not regressed, en route to the postseason. But on Saturday night against a Giants team fresh off an impressive win over Minnesota, they were back in top form. Hurts, for his part, was seemingly without limitations, excelling early as a passer and, perhaps most notably, on the ground. And the Haason Reddick-led defense chased Daniel Jones and company all night, handing New York what Brian Daboll later called a “hard landing.” It’s time to consider the Birds true title contenders once again.

The Giants need more help than we thought

This year continued to be a success for New York. The G-Men weren’t supposed to even make the playoffs, considering the shredded roster Brian Daboll inherited. Daniel Jones certainly registers as a different prospect than he had months ago. But unlike even Jacksonville, which pushed Kansas City to the low limit for a first-year coach (more on that below), the Giants hardly had a fight or urgency in Philadelphia. That’s not primarily the fault of Jones or Daboll, but more of a lineup that still has very few players in the top spots. General manager Joe Schoen urgently needs to prioritize improvements along the offensive line, at the wings and at linebacker, among other positions.

Mahomes’ ankle is a legitimate concern

The Chiefs’ big story earning a fifth straight appearance in an AFC title game had nothing to do with the actual victory, or the highlights that led up to it: Isiah Pacheco’s wide lanes, the strong turnout from Kadarius Toney, some great defensive line moments. As soon as star quarterback Patrick Mahomes briefly went out with an ankle injury in the second quarter, his health became paramount. The MVP candidate visibly resisted medical attention and struggled with a noticeable limp to keep Kansas City in front and seal the win.

Doug Clawson of CBS Sports also points out that Mahomes, who is used to relying on his mobility, has accounted for 41% of the league’s out-of-pocket touchdown passes (15 of 36) in the last five postseasons.

Sure, he’ll do everything in his power to stay under center and move forward, but that doesn’t mean it won’t affect his mobility and/or Andy Reid’s plays, even to a slight degree. Fortunately, for the Chiefs…

It doesn’t really matter who is under the center; few players produce as consistently when it matters most. The No. 87 was all over the place, working up the middle against Jacksonville with 14 receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns. There really isn’t much else to say other than: Kelce’s presence, with or without a towering No. 1 receiver commanding attention on the outside, is often enough to keep KC moving up and down the field. At 33, he’s still at the top of his game.

Jaguars are here to stay

It’s been apparent for a while that Jacksonville made the right decision in hiring former Eagles coach Doug Pederson, but this team’s postseason performance, only the Jaguars’ second playoff bid in the past 15 years, justifies the growing optimism in Northeast. Florida. Coming back from down 27 to beat the Chargers was miraculous confirmation that Trevor Lawrence and Co. are on the rise. But keeping the Chiefs on their toes at Arrowhead was arguably just as impressive, even with Mahomes limping for much of the day. Pederson called the game with his trademark aggressiveness. Lawrence displayed the confidence of a veteran. Best of all, reinforcements should arrive as Calvin Ridley and others join playmakers like Travis Etienne Jr., Christian Kirk, and Jamal Agnew; the last two showed with untimely blunders that they could shine in more secondary roles.

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