NFL Divisional Playoff Round Preview

Wild Card weekend provided us with a lot of drama. We saw two games go into overtime, three of the four road teams won and all four games were decided by one possession. We are now into the Divisional Round of the playoffs. It is a fantastic weekend as the Divisional Round sometimes provides some of the greatest moments in NFL history (Immaculate Reception, Mile High Miracle, Minneapolis Miracle, etc) and we still get four games like the Wild Card Round. After a thrilling Wild Card weekend, where I went 2-2 on my predictions, let’s look at this weekend’s action.

Saturday, January 11th

Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers

The Minnesota Vikings were given little to no chance last week at New Orleans as few thought Kirk Cousins could outduel Drew Brees in the postseason on the road. Led by a strong defensive effort that held the Saints to 10 points through three quarters and efficient performances from Cousins and running back Dalvin Cook, the Vikings shocked everyone by defeating the Saints 26-20 in overtime. In overtime, Cousins made the play of his life as he connected on a 43-yard bomb to Adam Thielen in overtime to set up the Vikings for the winning touchdown.

They will head to San Francisco, a place where the Vikings are 1-3 all-time in the playoffs. The 49ers had a surprising turnaround, going from a combined 12-24 the last three seasons to the number one seed in the NFC. They were fourth in total offense, second in rushing and second in total defense. On offense, they are led by the new Gronk, George Kittle, who converted a fourth-and-two at New Orleans in Week 14 to help give the 49ers a huge win to give them home-field advantage. On defense, they are led by Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Nick Bosa, who had an interception and 9.5 sacks. The 49ers are battle tested as they have faced the AFC’s top seed, the NFC’s second, third and fifth seed twice. In their last five games of the season, every game came down to the final ten seconds. This will be quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and head coach Kyle Shanahan’s first playoff games in their respective roles. The 49ers were banged up defensively late in the season but should get linebacker Kwon Alexander back, safety Jaquiski Tartt and defensive end Dee Ford back for their matchup with the Vikings.

The 49ers will come into this matchup fresh after a much-needed bye week and will be healthier than they have been in many weeks. While the Vikings proved themselves to be a great team at New Orleans, I think the Vikings’ offense will struggle to find a rhythm against a rejuvenated 49ers’ defense and I think Kyle Shanahan’s brilliant play-calling and play design will be too much for the Vikings’ defense to contain and Garoppolo will have an efficient game to lead his team to a victory.

Prediction: Minnesota 14 – San Francisco 27

Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens

The Titans went into New England and dealt a potential death-blow to the Patriots’ dynasty. Led by a monster 182-yard rushing performance from running back Derrick Henry and a defensive effort that saw the Titans shut out the Patriots in the second half, the Titans defeated the Patriots 20-13 in Foxborough. The offense was efficient despite only eight completed passes from Ryan Tannehill. Ever since Tannehill took over in Week 7, the Titans are 8-3 and one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

They will take on the Baltimore Ravens next, who they are 1-2 against all-time in the playoffs, including losses to the Ravens as a number one seed in 2000 and 2008. This time, the Ravens are the number one seed. The Ravens come into the playoffs as the number one seed and winners of twelve consecutive games. Lamar Jackson asserted himself as the clear MVP choice by, not only breaking Michael Vick’s record for most rushing yards in a season by a quarterback, but also led the NFL in touchdown passes with 36. The Ravens also had the fourth-ranked defense and eighth in most takeaways. The Ravens will come into the playoffs rested as most of their major stars have not played since Week 16. However, running back Mark Ingram is missing practice with a calf injury and may only play in a limited role against the Titans.

The game will come down to the running game for both teams. The Ravens are fourth against the run, but have not faced a running back quite like Derrick Henry. The Titans are 12th but will face the team that has broken the record for most rushing yards in a season by a team. I expect this to be an old school ground game shootout. The Titans will hang around most of the game, but Lamar Jackson will ultimately be too much for the Titans to overcome.

Prediction: Tennessee 24 – Baltimore 35

Sunday, January 12th

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs

The Texans kicked off the new decade with a game that may go on the Rich 10 NFL Moments of the 2020’s. The Texans were trailing the Buffalo Bills 16-0 in the third quarter and it looked like, once again, the Texans were going to lay a giant egg in the Wild Card round. The Texans rallied and took a 19-16 lead late in the game, but the Bills sent the game into overtime. But then, Deshaun Watson made the greatest play in Texans’ history by escaping two Bills’ defenders and throwing a pass to Taiwan Jones and he ran to the Bills’ 11-yard line to set up the game-winning field goal. The Texans won 22-19 in overtime in a game no one will forget. The Texans will head to Kansas City for an opportunity to head to their first ever conference championship appearance.

The Chiefs enter the playoffs blazing hot. After the Miami Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots 27-24 in Week 17, the Chiefs were able to lock in a first-round bye. The Chiefs finished the season winning their last six games by averaging 28 points. Their defense has also improved as they went from 31st in total defense a year ago to 17th this year. While their offense is not as prolific as last year, it has found a rhythm since Patrick Mahomes returned from a midseason knee injury. The Chiefs did have Mahomes when the Texans won 31-24 at Kansas City in Week 6 as Texans’ running back Carlos Hyde ran for 116 yards in the win.

Even though the Texans did beat the Chiefs already this season, I expect the Chiefs to win the rematch. The Chiefs have looked like a very complete team over the second half of the season and I expect the offense to roll with an extra week to prepare. The Texans will make it close, the Chiefs will have too many weapons for Watson to keep up. The Chiefs will advance to Baltimore for the AFC Championship Game.

Prediction: Houston 28 – Kansas City 34

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers

This is the most intriguing matchup of the Divisional Playoff round as we have the beat-up Seattle Seahawks heading to Green Bay to take on the Packers, who many think don’t deserve a first-round bye and that they are a terrible team for a team with a 13-3 record.

The Seahawks, last week, won at Philadelphia 17-9 (same score as their regular season win at Philadelphia) as rookie wide receiver DK Metcalf had seven catches for 160 yards and a touchdown. Russell Wilson continues to show how great of a quarterback he is as he threw for 325 yards in the victory. Despite losing their left tackle, defensive starters and their top three running backs, the Seahawks won and are one win away from their first NFC Championship Game since 2014.

After two disappointing losing seasons, the Packers, under first year head coach Matt LeFleur, won 13 games and achieved a first-round bye shockingly. The Packers looked unimpressive doing so as they won eight games by one possession and their three wins over teams over .500 were the Chiefs without Patrick Mahomes by only a touchdown and the Vikings twice, one of which the Vikings were without their best offensive player Dalvin Cook. The Packers, also in their two trips to California, were blown out as they were dominated by the 49ers 38-8 and the Los Angeles Chargers 26-11. In almost all major statistical categories, the Packers are toward the middle of the pack in the league but are second in fewest giveaways and third in turnover differential. Aaron Rodgers has been solid this season with 26 touchdowns and four interceptions but has had his second-worst completion percentage and third-worst QB rating of his career as a full-time starter. There are many doubters about how good this team is and now is the time to prove all of them wrong.

These two teams have met three times in the playoffs, starting in 2003. Each team has a thrilling overtime victory over the other and the Packers defeated the Seahawks at Green Bay in 2007 42-20. I expect Russell Wilson to continue to carry the Seahawks’ offense and keep the ball away from the Packers’ offense. I think the game will simply be decided on the Seahawks having more weapons and Russell Wilson being the better quarterback. Seattle will advance to San Francisco for the NFC Championship Game.

Prediction: Seattle 20 – Green Bay 16

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