Each week, Coach Kevin Kelley will give a coach’s perspective and provide analysis for a few games against the spread throughout the 2022 NFL season.

Nice 3-0 on writeups last week but I might be better off keeping those “extra thoughts” to myself. What a comeback by the Jaguars. I consider it a comeback and not a collapse like some do simply because the Chargers didn’t turn the ball over or have a lot of weird things go against them. The Jags simply cleaned it up and did what they had to do to win. The Cowboys and Dak Prescott dominated like I thought they would while Tampa Bay looked like they had all year long.

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles (-7.5)

I couldn’t have asked for a better performance from Daniel Jones and the Giants against an overrated Vikings team to help set this line up to be a good one if you want to bet the Eagles. Daniel Jones looked good throwing for 301 yards and two touchdowns, while running for another 78 yards. The Giants were able to move the ball well and really looked in control the entire game. Then again, that was against a Vikings team that seemingly many people didn’t necessarily beat, but definitely moved the ball on. When Jones played the Eagles this year (He didn’t start in the last game of the year), he threw for 169 yards, was sacked four times, and ran for another 26 yards. 

Jones will be facing one of the defenses that as a passer, I would not want to face. The Eagles had three defensive linemen, Brandon Graham, Javon Hargrave, and Josh Sweat who had 10 or more sacks. Linebacker Haason Redick had 16 and Fletcher Cox chipped in with seven from his defensive tackle spot. I believe that is the only team in NFL history to have four different people with at least 10 sacks.

From a coaching perspective, get after the quarterback early in the game, at least hit him, and it changes him for the rest of the game. Self-preservation kicks in and they begin checking on that rush on that first step rather than looking downfield.

Philadelphia had 70 sacks this year, leading the NFL, and Jones will be well aware of that. Add in the fact that he threw the ball a shorter distance down the field than just two other quarterbacks this season and that is a recipe for disaster. Those throws will get shorter and shorter and they contribute to taking many plays to string together drives which will be hard to sustain against the Eagles who come in with the No. 6 overall defense and the best in DVOA against the pass.

With the Giants coming in with the No. 24 ranked offensive line, this will create a lot of long third downs for them. Saquon Barkley rushed nine times for 28 yards in the first matchup. They will need a huge game out of him to have any chance to be competitive in this game.

On the other side of the ball, Jalen Hurts got to come back and get a warm up against the Giants in Week 18 and looked a little rusty to me, throwing for 229 yards and one interception. He only rushed for 13 yards in a game neither team was showing a lot to the other or the rest of the league. However, in the first game the Eagles played against New York, Hurts threw for 217 with two touchdowns and ran for another 77 yards and a touchdown in a 48-22 win. 

This is where it gets bad for the Giants. The Eagles come in ranked No. 3 on offense and first in the running game by DVOA. The Giants have the worst run defense in the NFL in rush DVOA. Their defensive line ranks No. 30 overall and that spells trouble because if they want to stack the box, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith can really take advantage of that. The coaching staff in Philadelphia has done an awesome job at creating an offense and calling plays that fit the players and the situations they face. 

This game will probably start slow as Hurts still may be a bit rusty and Jones faces a whole different kind of defense than he saw last week. But I believe the Eagles pull away throughout the game and cover the 7 easily. Give me the Eagles -7 (several books offering that but worth buying down from 7.5 if you need to do so with that being such a key number). 

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Dallas Cowboys (+4.5) at San Francisco 49ers

I was a little worried about my choice in this game that my heart was factoring in as a long-time Cowboys fan. And as a numbers person, I don’t like playing my gut feeling that the Cowboys are going to show up big here. But after diving in, I see a clear path to a straight-up win for them.

I know San Francisco has won their last 11 games. Brock Purdy is 6-0 in his starts and played well in the game he came in for Jimmy Garoppolo. But I look at who he has played and it doesn’t impress me: Miami, Tampa, Seattle two times, Washington, Las Vegas, and Arizona.

Washington is the only one of them with a defense that is ranked in the top third of the league. In that game, San Francisco had 371 yards, won the turnover battle, the sack battle, and the field position battle to be able to do that. They struggled on third downs, though, going 4-for-11. They will face quite a few of those against Dallas this week.

Dallas, on the other hand, has won seven of their last eight that mattered with that one loss coming at Jacksonville after being up 17 points in the third quarter. Even then, it took a throw bouncing off a receiver into the hands of a Jaguar in overtime to beat them. 

On offense, Purdy has some weapons in Greg Kittle, Christian McCaffrey, and Deebo Samuel. I also think Brandon Ayuk is really good and Jauan Jennings is very serviceable. No one does a better job than the 49ers offense of giving you shifts, motions, and all kinds of looks for the defense to cipher through presnap than they do. 

But a couple of things help here for Dallas against them that is an improvement over what Purdy has seen. The Dallas defensive line is better than almost everyone he has seen and it is the best they have seen at creating pressure from just the defensive line. Purdy is No. 27 in overall quarterback accuracy according to completion percentage over expectation from Next Gen Stats. The Cowboys secondary, for what it has been lacking in some areas, does take advantage of errant throws, creating interceptions out of them.

Without having to worry about Purdy running a lot, that allows them some more creativity in their blitzes and with their defensive line not having to be quite as disciplined in their rush. San Francisco likely will move the ball some, but I believe the Cowboys will have their share of sacks and create a couple of turnovers.

On offense, Prescott shined on the biggest stage he has been on against Brady and the Buccaneers. Everyone was pointing to the seven-game interception streak but as I mentioned, several of those truly were not his fault. He ended the season as the No. 11 in passing accuracy and No. 7 in quarterback DVOA.

The Cowboys have the best point differential in the league since his return. He has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league off play-action. That play-action will help slow down the best defense in the NFL and the second-best defensive line. They are No. 5 against the pass and No. 2 against the run so there is no easy way to find simple yards and ways to score.

I think the biggest thing that helps their defense is the fact that Fred Warner is so good at linebacker in the passing game for them. He is able to get so much depth and react to the ball that it allows those safeties to really help deep and on sideline routes. But teams have found some ways to slow that down by using play action off outside zone or jet sweeps and getting Warner to have to move laterally before he can drop. Teams have had success throwing over the middle off this and I can only guess that the Cowboys will see that on film and take advantage of that as well. CeeDee Lamb and Dalton Schultz should both benefit and make them 49ers pay between the numbers.

Another thing I like about the Cowboys’ offense over the last half of the season is the increased use of Tony Pollard. I had hoped when it first started happening, it would become the norm and it has. Last week Pollard had 18 touches to Ezekiel Elliott’s 14. Pollard averaged 5.1 yards per carry to Elliott’s 2.1. I really wish they would increase it more and more as we get deeper into the playoffs. Elliott is a great third and short back as he has converted 17 of 19 short yardage carries. But that is where the advantage stops for him. 

I see a lot of ways that both teams can move the ball after the initial feeling out of the playcallers slows the game down. I think the total is set at a good number and if anything, a little high. But I do see a Cowboys victory here and at least can cover the plus 4.5 spread. I’ll take the Cowboys!

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BRIEFS ON TWO OTHER PLAYOFF GAMES

Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Cheifs

I almost wrote up the Jaguars and Chiefs as one of my choices as Jacksonville did a great job pressuring Patrick Mahomes in the first matchup earlier this year. They have a high pressure rate and the No. 5 defensive line in the NFL. They need to do so to be able to slow down the No. 1 quarterback in DVOA and the No. 1 offense in the league. 

The Jaguars might be able to take advantage of this No. 21 ranked defensive line of Kansas City’s by running the ball and play action off that. Trevor Lawrence has looked better and better as the year has gone on getting comfortable with what they want to do on offense. 

The Chiefs managed to beat seven out of 17 opponents by more than the 8.5-point spread and a playoff game might make this even tighter than normal. Doug Pederson against Andy Reid in play calling is a dream for me as I believe they are the two best in the league at doing so.  

I think the Jaguars make a game out of this.

Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills

The rematch that really isn’t one is the other game of the weekend. Joe Burrow and Josh Allen matching up simply has to be a must-watch in this quarterback-centered league. It is a matchup of the Bengals’ No.4 overall offense against the Bills’ No. 2 overall. Burrow is the more accurate of the throwers coming in at No. 6. But Josh Allen comes in ahead of him as No. 2 in quarterback DVOA.

The difference is their defense as Buffalo’s has gone back and forth between first and second all year long. I think Josh Allen’s ability to run the ball and his actual commitment to doing so are huge as well.

Those two things are the reason the Bills should win this game. I expect it to be by more than the number but with Burrow, you can never be sure and he is very capable of the dreaded backdoor cover. 

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