The 2022 playoffs have a theme: rematches. Every game in the wild card round was a rematch. The Cowboys and Buccaneers played each other in Week 1, the Chargers and Jaguars played each other in Week 3, and the Giants and Vikings played each other in Week 16. The other half were divisional matchups: Dolphins-Bills, Ravens-Bengals, and Seahawks-49ers. We’re giving a new meaning to when people say the NFL is a “copycat league.”
The divisional round continues that theme. The Jaguars and Chiefs faced each other in Week 10, the Bengals and Bills in Week 17, and of course the Eagles and Giants are a divisional matchup. The Cowboys and 49ers aren’t a 2022 rematch, but it is a rematch from last year’s playoffs.
There was another theme to those wild card games: none of them went off script, in every game where there was clearly a better team, the better team won, while the games that were more of a toss up were close. The Seahawks kept it close for a while then lost by 18 to the superior 49ers. The Chargers unsurprisingly blew a lead. The Dolphins went down 17 to start, then the Bills let them back in after some turnovers, which has been a theme to Buffalo’s season: the Bills had the 3rd most turnovers in the regular season and 6 of their last 9 games were decided by one score. The Ravens predictably kept it close–in the last three seasons they’ve lost by 14+ only four times, and none of them were this year–and predictably lost to the superior Bengals. The Bucs were the better team than the Cowboys in Week 1, but from Weeks 2-18 the Cowboys were clearly the better team and showed as much in the rematch. The Vikings and Giants both made it to the playoffs by winning more than their fair share of close games, and this one was no different as the Giants won by seven.
There’s little reason to think that the divisional round will be any different. Upsets in the playoffs tend to happen in the first round, then the clock strikes midnight in the second round.
In this round the top four AFC teams by point differential are still playing, in the NFC the only three teams with a differential better than 26 are still alive, and then there’s the Giants, the worst point differential among playoff teams, and worse than two teams that didn’t make the postseason.
Are we due for an upset? Can the Giants be the one to pull it off? If so, they have a narrow but plausible path.
The Eagles go second rate against the Giants secondary
The Giants now-starting secondary of Adoree’ Jackson, Fabian Moreau, Darnay Holmes, Julian Love, and Xavier McKinney have started only five games together: Weeks 5 through 8, and then last week against the Vikings. They were pretty good in those games. The Giants gave up just 222 passing yards to the Packers, 210 to the Ravens, 310 to the Jaguars, 212 to the Seahawks, and then 271 to the Vikings in the playoffs. They were 4-1 in those games.
Great defense, this is not. But it’s good enough to not lose a playoff game.
Daniel Jones is hitting his stride?
Since throwing 2 INTs in Week 11 against the Lions, Jones has a 8-1 TD-INT ratio and is completing 70% of his passes. He’s on fire! Perfect timing for an undeserved contract extension.
He’s also hitting his ceiling. During that span he has just 6.9 yards per attempt, which isn’t an improvement from earlier in the year; and has taken 17 sacks in those 7 games, a rate of 7%. That’s an improvement over his 9.6% rate to start the season, but still pretty bad. The Giants are just 3-3-1 in those games.
And, well, that’s all I got. The Eagles are just the superior team.
Mind the talent gap
In their two games against each other this season, the Eagles outscored the Giants 70-38. The Giants also got swept by the Cowboys, but only by a 51-36 margin. The Eagles put up those points without the benefit of defensive or special teams touchdowns or short fields generated by turnovers, their only takeaway came when the score was 41-14 in December. The Eagles went 6-11 and 5-14 on third down, no receiver had more than 95 yards, the Eagles only attempted one fourth down conversion (and made it)... there was little that was fluky, fortunate, or fortuitous for the Eagles in these games. They were simply the better team, and still are.
Or to put in another way, how many Giants would start for the Eagles? Saquon Barkley would start over Miles Sanders. Dexter Lawrence would start over Fletcher Cox. Quez Watkins would lose his spot to any of Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, or Richie James, which says as much about Watkins as it does the Giants WRs. Jordan Mailata and Andrew Thomas are a push. Jamie Gillan would start over Arryn Siposs and definitely over Brett Kern, but we’re getting desperate if we’re talking about punters.
And that’s it? There is no place where the Giants have a talent advantage. Daniel Jones is not threatening the Eagles secondary, he put up 169 yards last time he faced them. The Giants gave up the 5th most sacks this season, you may have heard but the Eagles just had an historical season when it came to sacks. The Giants defense gave up the 6th most rushing yards, the Eagles put up 253 yards on them in December.
Three’s company, four is a crowd, five is….?
In addition to all those disadvantages the Giants have, there is another at play here. This game will be the third straight road game for them, and fifth in six weeks. Two of those games were/are down the turnpike in Philly, which isn’t a huge obstacle. And they did just win in Minnesota three weeks after losing… in Minnesota. But this stuff adds up. The Giants played back to back road games at Jacksonville and Seattle in October, and then back to back road games at Washington and Minnesota in December. They lost the second game both times. They are coming off a win on their second straight road game, but the first game was against the Eagles where everyone important got the day off, if one wants to discount that they can.
Everyone is picking the Eagles for this game, and they should. So long as Jalen Hurts is actually healthy, this game should not be difficult for the Eagles.