NFL 2022/23 Season: 49ers on a roll, Buffalo remains firm
JustBet has Kansas City as the $3.95 favourite to win the Super Bowl
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) evades the pursuit of Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Myles Adams (95) during an NFL wild card play-off football game on Saturday, Jan14, 2023, in Santa Clara, California. (Photo: AP)

Wildcard Weekend lived up to expectations and, looking at the JustBet pre-game odds, most underdogs provided scares, with the Jacksonville Jaguars coming through in a historical game and the New York Giants registering their first play-off victory in 11 years. As for the weekend's favourites, the San Francisco 49ers, after a slow start, exerted their will over the Seattle Seahawks, the Buffalo Bills overcame a gutsy effort from the short-handed Miami Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals needed a 98-yard fumble return touchdown to avoid falling to the Lamar Jackson-less Baltimore Ravens.

Firstly, 49ers quarterback (QB) Brock Purdy proved that he is a bonafide stud, overcoming a shaky start to his first play-off game to produce his best statistical game in his short career — 18-of-30 passing for 332 yards and three touchdowns (plus a rushing touchdown). With the 41-23 victory, the 49ers scored the most points with a rookie starting quarterback all-time and they will have the Dallas Cowboys visiting next on Sunday in the divisional round.

The Cowboys defeated QB Tom Brady for the first time in eight tries last Monday night and their defence held the legendary QB scoreless in the first half of a play-off game for only the second time in his career — the only other time being his first post-season game in the 2001/02 season against the Oakland Raiders. The 31-14 victory was Dallas' first road play-off win since 1992 and coming off a near flawless performance (except for kicker Brett Maher who missed four straights extra point attempts), they have earned the unenviable right to face the most complete team in the National Football League (NFL).

The 49ers are riding an 11-game winning streak, which includes Purdy (6-0), but while Dallas didn't play San Francisco this season, the memory of their 23-17 loss in the play-offs last year must be fresh in the minds of the Cowboys. This will be the ninth post-season meeting between the teams and the Cowboys have a 5-3 edge, but if the game runs true to form, the 49ers should see this one through. However, if the Dallas offence can duplicate the quality they showed against the Buccaneers on Monday and the defence brings the quality they have shown all season, this should be another epic matchup.

The Jaguars, once the butt of many NFL jokes, have been one of the best stories in the NFL this season. After beginning the year 2-6, Jacksonville won seven of their final nine games to make the post-season, then pulled off a miracle last Saturday. Down 27-0 with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Jacksonville stormed back for a stunning 31-30 victory. Jacksonville's QB Trevor Lawrence threw four interceptions in the first half (three to Asante Samuels Jr) — after having only eight in the regular season — then rebounded to throw four touchdowns for the third-largest comeback win in play-off history.

The Jaguars, with their spirits up, will stroll into Arrowhead Stadium to tackle the much-rested Kansas City Chiefs tomorrow afternoon. The Jaguars last saw the Chiefs in Week 10 of this season, where Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes threw for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns in a game that wasn't expertly executed but was always controlled by the Chiefs for the 27-17 win. Kansas City won 10 of their final 11 contests to top the American Football Conference (AFC), and while the Jaguars have displayed a never-die attitude, it's hard not to bet on the Chiefs to extend this winning run. Look for big games from Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Jerick McKinnon.

The late game tomorrow will feature the overachieving Giants travelling to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the Philadelphia Eagles in a National Football Conference (NFC) East division clash. The Giants were not supposed to be here but thanks to a hot start to the season, they not only made the play-offs, but they also knocked off the NFC third seed in an inspiring display last weekend. QB Daniel Jones has had a very good season and last Sunday's performance set the bar high. He was sharp throughout the game, completing 24 of 35 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns, but more than that, he avoided mistakes and scrambled for extra yards when necessary — leading the team in rushing (78 yards).

The Eagles have handled the Giants twice this season — by a score of 48-22 in the first meeting and 22-16 in the second — and this will be their third meeting in 40 days. The Giants did rest many of their starters for the second matchup as they had nothing to gain from a win, and the game was close, but the Eagles have the NFL's best pass defence and they're coming off a couple of weeks rest. The Giants need Jones and running back Saquon Barkley to keep carrying this offence and the Eagles need QB Jalen Hurts to be special. Interestingly, the Giants have not won in Philadelphia since Week 8 of 2013 when Eli Manning and Michael Vick were the respective play-callers — this is expected to be a boxing match in a phone booth.

The early game on Sunday will feature the Bengals at Highmark Stadium to take on the Bills. The Bengals are the AFC defending champions, but they are looking less than likely to repeat. They have a makeshift offensive line that is struggling to protect QB Joe Burrow, resulting in offensive struggles. On the other side, the Bills finished the regular season with 27 giveaways — only the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans had more turnovers — and QB Josh Allen had five red zone interceptions. Allen came into this year with 14 touchdown passes and one interception in his play-off career but had two first-half interceptions and then gave up a strip-sack scoop-and-score to start the third quarter of the 34-31 win over the Miami Dolphins last weekend.

The Bengals need to find ways to make the most of the talents of receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins and running back Joe Mixon, which could be difficult if Burrow is not given protection, and Allen needs to regain his post-season efficiency if Buffalo is to have any chance to progress. Depending on whether or not the teams make the necessary adjustments, this could be an interesting chess match.

The top four seeds in the AFC and the top two seeds in the NFC are still in the play-offs which should translate into great games. Last season's divisional round provided four one-score games, including one of the greatest play-off contests in recent memory, Kansas City's 42-36 overtime win over Buffalo.

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