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Saturday, January 28, 2023

NFL playoffs: Here are 10 stories to watch in the second round

The Bills, Bengals, Jaguars, Cowboys, Giants and 49ers survived the first-round ax. Added to this group are the well-rested Chiefs and Eagles. Several interesting plotlines and facts shape this second round of the playoffs with four berths in the Conference Finals on the line. The newspaper brings you 10 stories to watch in Saturday and Sunday’s duels to get you into the groove.

• Read also: NFL playoffs: Chiefs reimagined

• Read also: Sean Payton in Denver: an ideal scenario for Russell Wilson

• Read also: NFL: an avalanche of dismissals at the Buccaneers

1) Find the odd one out…

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The saying goes that offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships. If so, it’s surprising that seven of the eight head coaches rose through the ranks offensively before filling their current roles. Of the lot, the pilot of the Bills Sean McDermott is the only dissident, he who made his classes with the Eagles and Panthers at different levels in defense. This emphasis on offensive-oriented coaches is also reflected in the statistics of the teams involved. The Chiefs rank first in runs scored, followed by the Bills (second), Eagles (third), Cowboys (fourth), 49ers (fifth), Bengals (seventh) and Jaguars (ninth).

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2) A true home field advantage?

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In the American conference, the Chiefs are the seeded team number one, which thus obtained bye in the first round and the advantage of the field. The Eagles did the same in the national conference. Is this a real advantage? Historically, yes, as No. 1-ranked teams have won 25 of 48 Super Bowls since 1976. However, in more recent times, the answer is no. Since the 2018 season, the number 1s have shown a weak record of seven wins and eight losses in the playoffs. In the past four years, neither team has won the Super Bowl. It should be noted that last year, three of the four teams on the road won their match in the second round of the playoffs.

3) Spotlight on young quarterbacks

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For once at this stage of the playoffs, there is no representative of the old guard among the quarterbacks. Indeed, the dean of the group is Dak Prescott of the Cowboys, who is only 29 years old. The average of the eight quarterbacks is 25 years and 278 days. This is the lowest average since the NFL merged in 1970. It is the first time since 2004 that no 30-year-old quarterback has led one of the last eight teams in contention. Among the group, the youngest is 49ers rookie Brock Purdy. A rare feat is within reach since in history, only four rookie quarterbacks have reached a conference final, namely Sean King (1999), Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Joe Flacco (2008) and Mark Sanchez (2009).

4) The last shall be first

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The NFL is the league where struggling teams can bounce back the fastest. The proof is that in the last five seasons, no less than four teams have gone from last place in their division to a place in the conference finals the following season. It’s still spectacular as a turnaround! This year, the Jaguars, who have seen their record go from 3-14 to 9-8, could add to this list. So did the Giants, who jumped from 4-13 to 9-7-1. Since 1970, 20 teams have earned their ticket to a conference final the season after finishing last in their division, including eight that have gone on to reach the Super Bowl.

5) The student facing the master

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The showdown between the Jaguars and the Chiefs will pit two head coaches, Doug Pederson and Andy Reid, who have long been associated. In the 1990s, Reid was the quarterbacks coach for the Packers when Pederson was a reserve quarterback. Then, Pederson in turn became a quarterbacks coach with the Eagles when Reid was the head coach. He then followed his mentor to Kansas City as offensive coordinator, from 2013 to 2015. Now they find themselves in the playoffs, each on their side. For Andy Reid, it will be a 36e career playoff game, which will tie legends Tom Landry and Don Shula for second, behind Bill Belichick (44). Reid could also match Landry with a 20e victory, second only to Emperor Bill Belichick (31).

6) Finally, Bengals against Bills!

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The match between the Bengals and the Bills promises to be emotional in Buffalo. Safety Damar Hamlin, who suffered a cardiac arrest in the duel between the two teams three weeks ago, has been hanging out at Bills headquarters all week. Imagine the reaction if he were to be introduced to the crowd before the game! Since the Monday night game in Week 17 had to be canceled, this will be the first quarterback duel between Josh Allen and Joe Burrow. Burrow will try to win a fifth playoff game before he turns 27, as Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson are the only ones to have done so far.

7) Old enemies

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Matches between the Cowboys and 49ers in the playoffs have become an old habit for fans. This will be the ninth time these two teams have met in the big tournament. From 1970 to 1972, the Cowboys won the first three matchups. The 49ers savored their revenge in 1981, when a young Joe Montana was discovered. In 1992 and 1993, the Cowboys beat the 49ers en route to two straight Super Bowls. In 1994, it was the Niners’ turn to win. The last game was last year, when the 49ers won 23-17. If the Cowboys have the upper hand, it would be a 37e win for the franchise in the playoffs, a high they would share with the Patriots.

8) Athletic Duel

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The matchup between the Giants and the Eagles in Philadelphia will feature two athletic quarterbacks. Jalen Hurts has thrilled Eagles fans this season with 760 rushing yards, earning him fourth overall in his position. He also won with 13 rushing touchdowns, a high among quarterbacks. We must not forget his vis-à-vis Daniel Jones. Casually, he finished just behind Hurts with 708 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Against the Vikings last Sunday, he rushed 17 times for 78 yards. This will be the first playoff game in history between two pivots who have amassed more than 700 rushing yards.

9) Invincible on Saturday

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Are there any superstitious people in the room? Know that Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence has never been defeated, so far on Saturday. Indeed, at his high school in Cartersville, Georgia, he won all three games played on Saturday. On the college scene, with Clemson in the NCAA, he only lost two games, which were on a Friday and a Monday. Since he’s been in the NFL with the Jaguars, he won the last game of the regular season against the Titans on Saturday two weeks ago, before repeating last Saturday in the first round of the playoffs against the Chargers. All that for an immaculate record of 41-0. The Chiefs should have petitioned the league to play on Sunday!

10) Subscribers to the finals

Patrick Mahomes

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Patrick Mahomes

The Chiefs are on a mission to earn a spot in the American Conference Finals for the fifth straight year. In league history, only two teams have accomplished this feat. The Patriots hold the palm with eight consecutive appearances, from 2011 to 2018. Otherwise, it is necessary to go back to the 1970s, when the Raiders made a misfortune in Oakland with five consecutive appearances, from 1973 to 1977. Across the NFL, the 49ers are the heavyweights in Conference Finals appearances with 17 appearances.

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