The most wonderful time of the year? The divisional round of the NFL playoffs!

Steve Brownlee

I’ve already heard that the upcoming weekend is the best of the year in sports.

It’s the divisional round of the NFL playoffs!

I’ll have to give some thought as to whether this is THE best weekend in sports — I thought the Nick Baumgartner week was pretty fine last February — but it’s probably the best the NFL has to offer.

Even though there’s more at stake with each passing weekend of the playoffs, there are still four games this weekend, which provides some “insurance” in case one or even two turn into duds.

Remember, after this weekend, there’s only a TOTAL of three games remaining — the conference championships and the Super Bowl.

The “insurance” thing could’ve been said about last weekend, the new “Super Wild Card weekend” that for a couple years now has featured six games.

But there were some built-in duds built into that weekend as you have to let the “riff raff” sort itself out in order to be left with the real quality teams. Or something like that.

So without further ado, let’s look at this weekend’s games, listed chronologically with seeding, updated records and TV network:


AFC No. 4 Jacksonville (10-8) at No. 1 Kansas City (14-3), 4:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC — You couldn’t say the Jaguars were a surprise to win last week, that is, unless you started talking about their chances late in the second quarter or at halftime of last Saturday’s game.

Jacksonville fell behind 27-0 to the Los Angeles Chargers with about 4 1/2 minutes to go in the first half and still trailed 27-7 at halftime.

What kind of Vegas odds could you have gotten for picking the Jags then?

Anyway, after getting the stirring 31-30 victory, it made complete sense when I heard an ESPN commentator say they’ve probably emptied the tank emotionally.

And really, even if they haven’t, beating the Chiefs in Kansas City should prove to be a tall task for anybody this postseason, even for the suddenly flawed Cincinnati and Buffalo teams.

Jacksonville has made a nice story of “The Little Engine That Could,” but I think the last chapter is about to be written. Chiefs, 30-24.


NFC No. 6 New York Giants (10-7-1) at No. 1 Philadelphia (14-3), 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Fox — Another little engine that could are the Giants, who were a midseason tie with the Commanders away from having to fight for their playoff lives the final week of the regular season.

A fully healthy QB Jalen Hurts for Philly would make this a nightmare for the G-men, what with trying to stop both his passing and running abilities.

Even if he’s not 100%, the combo of Hurts with the Eagles’ defense I think will prove too much, even if Hurts is rusty and needs to pull off a second-half comeback to get this win. Eagles, 27-23.


AFC No. 3 Cincinnati (13-4) at No. 2 Buffalo (14-3), 3 p.m. Sunday, CBS — You can’t really call this a rematch, and it’s not exactly a replay of their game they started a few weeks ago before the Damar Hamlin saga took over and canceled their game.

Have two teams ever met in the playoffs after having met for half a quarter earlier in the season?

I’m actually a bit surprised there wasn’t any hew and cry from Bengals’ folks to play this game at a neutral site, since if Cincy would’ve won the canceled game they would’ve finished with the same record, and of course, the first tiebreaker — at least for two teams — is head to head.

Ah well, there’s a big gash each team has taken in the past few weeks. How will they deal with it?

Buffalo’s is Josh Allen, as strange as that would’ve sounded at the start of the season. He’s turned into a veritable turnover machine — lets hear it, he’s CEO of the Buffalo Bread Co. where they produce those savory bakery items faster than I can stuff each one of them in my mouth.

Cincy’s problem is a banged-up offensive line that has left Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in the same straits he was in last year with poor protection in front of him.

To me, while the Bills’ turnovers are the bigger looming problem, I think it’s also more easily fixed — Allen has to drum it into his own head that he has to be more of a game “manager,” or lacking that, simply become a bit more of a runner than a thrower.

Then as I gave this more thought, I noticed that the Bills are at best average with their pass rush, which probably has diminished since Von Miller went out with a season-ending injury a month or two back.

Since Burrow is used to be under siege in the pocket, it might not really be a problem for him to let loose with his throws quite quickly.

On the hunch that Buffalo can’t fully take advantage of Cincy’s gashed offensive line, I’ll take the Bengals, 30-26.


NFC No. 5 Dallas (13-5) at No. 2 San Francisco (14-4), 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Fox — Sorry, I’m not buying that the Cowboys are suddenly a Super Bowl-worthy team just because they beat down 8-9 Tampa Bay on Monday night.

Just like I don’t buy the Giants challenging the Eagles’ D because of last weekend either — do you remember how poor Minnesota’s defense ranked all season?

What is Dallas QB Dak Prescott going to do when he has about 1.6 seconds to get off most of his passes due to the 49ers ferocious pass rush?

Maybe he’ll throw the ball up for grabs here or there, which is where it’ll end up — in the here or there, which won’t always be where the Cowboys receivers are.

In the most lopsided contest of the weekend, give me the 49ers, 35-21.


Last week — 5-1, 83 percent.


Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


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