Vikings vs. 49ers
After an incredible weekend of Wild Card football, we are on to the Divisional Round, with the action kicking off (pun intended) at Levi’s Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings, who are coming off a surprise road win over the Saints, will take on the San Francisco 49ers.
Vikings’ QB Kirk Cousins proved he can win a big game last week, but with WR Adam Thielen dealing with an ankle injury and Stefon Diggs recovering from the flu, Cousins will need RB Dalvin Cook to have a repeat of his 94 yards on 28 carries, two touchdowns performance from last week.
For the 49ers’ part, they are coming off a bye and are getting healthy at the right time. LB Kwon Alexander is back, which adds an x-factor dynamic to a defense that is dominant against the pass but has struggled somewhat against the run.
It is Jimmy Garoppolo’s first playoff start, but Jimmy G knows a thing or two about big games. The Vikings defend the tight end well, but 49ers’ coach Kyle Shanahan and his genius play-calling will get both TE George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk open. Kittle’s blocking will help open up the run game. Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuels are playmakers. And so on and so forth.
The winner of this game will run the ball well and pressure the opposing QB (Kirk Cousins meet Nick Bosa). The Niners are the better team and they’re rested. Prediction: 49ers 27, Vikings 20
Titans vs. Ravens
The Tennessee Titans have had an incredible run, which included ending the season for Tom Brady and the Patriots in Foxborough last week. That’s a feat. However, the buck most likely stops Saturday in Baltimore.
Tennessee’s best chance at victory is for running back Derrick Henry to go off like he did against the Patriots, rushing for 182 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. Outside zone runs are his wheelhouse and that has been a weakness for the Ravens’ defense. That being said, QB Ryan Tannehill only attempted 15 passes last week, so it’s not a big secret as to who the Ravens needs to focus on.
As a reminder, the Ravens’ QB is Lamar Jackson, and it’s really tough to stop Lamar Jackson. Between Jackson’s 24 touchdowns in the red zone this season and the Ravens’ league-leading 206 rush yards per game average, it’s going to be a tall order for the Titans to pull off the upset. Prediction: Ravens 34, Titans 20
Texans vs. Chiefs
For our third game of the weekend, we head to Arrowhead Stadium, which is one of the toughest stadiums in the NFL. The comeback kid Houston Texans will be taking on Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Can you say, so many fun quarterbacks?
In the most wild of Wild Card games, the Texans came back from a 16-point deficit to beat the Buffalo Bills. Quarterback Deshaun Watson was sacked seven times, and though he is a magician of sorts, Houston’s O-line is going to have to do a better job of protecting him so he can get the ball out of his hands. He’s a master at play-action, but he’s going to need to stay on his feet for that to work (deep analysis, I know).
The Chiefs allowed an average of 11.5 points per game in their final six games of the season. That’s good, though they will miss safety Juan Thornhill who is out for the remainder of their season.
Meanwhile, Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes has some magic tendencies as well. He also has a lot of speed in his skill position players. Add in tight end Travis Kelce, who is one hell of a route-runner, and he just may be the x-factor on the Chiefs’ offense.
Prediction: Chiefs 34 Texans 24
Seahawks vs. Packers
We end the Divisional Round at the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field, when Russell Wilson takes his big-game winning ways to Green Bay to face Aaron Rodgers and his big-game winning ways. Honestly, it seems cruel to make the night game in Green Bay in January, but I digress.
You’ve got to give the Seahawks credit. This is a team where basically everyone is hurt, who had to bring back two running backs from the 90s (hyperbole but you seem my point), and who basically has no business winning games. And yet, Pete Carroll and Wilson find a way. If they’re going to do it again, it will be in the air, as Marshawn Lynch and Travis Homer combined for 19 yards on 17 carries in their win over the Eagles. That’s not good. So back to winning it in the air. It’s up to Wilson, WR DK Metcalf, who had seven receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown last week, and Tyler Lockett. Good luck guys.
For the Packers, we all know the importance of QB Aaron, but if they’re going to win, they’re also going to need RB Aaron Jones to produce on the ground and in the receiving game, where he caught 49 passes for 474 yards in the regular season, while rushing for over 1,000 yards. Though the Seahawks had only 28 sacks in the regular season, they had seven last week, so Rodgers is going to need solid protection and help on the ground.
I’m struggling with the prediction on this one, but I’m going to continue to give it to the home team: Packers 24 Seahawks 21
Battle of the Tigers – Clemson vs. LSU
And just when you thought you had all the football you could handle (like that’s possible), the College Football Championship is Monday Night in New Orleans, where the Clemson Tigers will take on the LSU Tigers. So. Many. Tigers.
LSU has the good fortune of playing in their home state, so that’s fun. Dabo Swinney and his Clemson Tigers are looking for their third title in four years, while LSU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow is looking to become only the 16th player in history to win the Heisman and the National title. Both teams are 14-0 and both teams are incredibly talented.
That being said, Burrow and the LSU offense are just too fast and too efficient to lose this one. The purple and yellow tigers are favored by six and that’s how I see it ending. Prediction: LSU 34 Clemson 28