Round two of the NFL Divisional Playoffs opens up this weekend with the best of the best going head to head.
Questions will be answered in terms of seeing how Lamar Jackson bounces back from last season’s playoff loss as his team heads up the NFL’s top spot. Patrick Mahomes has a chance to get back to the AFC Title to finish the job that he wasn’t able to do last season against the Super Bowl champ Patriots.
The 49ers are in the playoffs for the first time under coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo; a chance for the two to prove their worth.
As we dive into the matchups, the picture starts to get clearer as to who are the contenders and the pretenders during the NFL Divisional Playoffs.
Minnesota Vikings vs San Francisco 49ers
This will be an interesting battle between two of the top six rushing attacks in the NFL with the 49ers ranking second and the Vikings ranking sixth. The 49ers are top five in the league in offense and defense as they have been consistently one of the best teams in the league. While Garoppolo hasn’t put up staggering numbers, the addition of Emmanuel Sanders to the receiving core that already has the best tight end in the league with George Kittle. The additions of Dee Ford and rookie Nick Bosa has boasted this defense to new heights in their front seven. Richard Sherman has proven that taking a chance with his contract has paid off with his strong play in the secondary.
Kirk Cousins pretty much did the perfect job of silencing his critics on stepping up in a big game. Many had thought the Saints would win the game with their stacked offense, but Dalvin Cook’s hard running and Cousins’ strong second half performance helped push the team to a dramatic overtime win. What impressed the most was the defense as they rattled Drew Brees as he had one of his worst games of his career. The defense also was able to shut down the receivers which will come in handy as they will have to force Garoppolo to throw on them.
Keys to Victory
Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins play his best game of his career and defense stop the run to force the offense to pass.
San Francisco 49ers: Have a balance attack offensively and shut down Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
Prediction: 49ers 24 Vikings 19
Tennessee Titans vs Baltimore Ravens
Tennessee’s story continues to be one of the most surprising, intriguing one in the NFL this season. Despite his only 72 yards passing last week, Ryan Tannehill has been one of the most impressive quarterbacks in the league and is on his way to a nice payday from either Tennessee or some team in free agency. Derrick Henry made a strong case in the wild card game to be considered for the MVP award as without his 182 yards rushing, they would not have been in that game. Tennessee’s third ranked ranked defense has been under the radar, but after rattling Tom Brady last week, the respect level for the unit has gone up. This will be another tale of two of the best rushing teams in the league ready to do battle.
The Ravens are the top rushing attack in the NFL, but Mark Ingram’s injury has to be a concern for the team as he is still dealing with his calf injury. It will mean the team will be turning to their MVP front runner Lamar Jackson to lead the way. His ability to throw and run efficiently makes him a nightmare for defenses to prepare for. Jackson has taken some of the attention away from the always reliable Ravens defense that has also been one of the best in the league thanks in part to the addition to Earl Thomas in the secondary. This is a big game in the NFL Divisional Playoffs.
Keys to Victory
Tennessee Titans: Hammer it hard with Henry and contain Jackson in the pocket.
Baltimore Ravens: Unleash Jackson and force Tannehill to beat you with his arm.
Prediction: Ravens 35 Titans 17
Houston Texans vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Two young superstars going at it for the chance to play in the AFC Championship game. Deshaun Watson shined when he needed to as his team was down 16-0 in the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills and made the most of the moment. He brought his team back from behind to win in overtime. While the running game for the team isn’t their strength, DeAndre Hopkins and Kenny Stills will make life difficult for the Chiefs secondary to cover. Getting JJ Watt back from injury was huge for the defense as he made life hard for Josh Allen, especially in the second half of the wild card game.
Welcome back to the playoffs Mahomes and it seems like he won’t be slowing down. Despite missing two games, he still found a way to throw for over 4,000 yards. Having Travis Kelce has helped as he’s been the number one target on this offense. Tyreek Hill’s numbers have gone down, but he still needs to be seen as a deep threat for this offense. Despite the defense not statically being one of the best, the eye test shows that this defense has gotten better and will be competitive in the playoffs.
Key to Victory
Houston Texans: Force the running game to beat you and get Carlos Hyde more involved in the offense.
Kansas City Chiefs: Have Mahomes sling the ball around and double cover DeAndre Hopkins.
Prediction: Chiefs 27 Texans 17
Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers
This is the most intriguing matchup of the weekend as Russell Wilson vs. Aaron Rodgers always makes for a classic game. Seattle’s offense was a bit underwhelming against the Eagles, but the performance of rookie receivers DK Metcalf got a lot of attention and should be Wilson’s top target again. The media was told this week that Marshawn Lynch will get more carries against the Packers. It will be interesting to see if Lynch will be able to get back to his old ways because so far, he has not been able to gain any momentum. Even though the Eagles were without several of their players and Carson Wentz being knocked out early in the wild card game Sunday, the defense came up huge in red zone situations as the Eagles’ offense was never able to get into the end zone thanks mostly to the pass rush as they got to Wentz/Josh McCown seven times.
The Packers have played plenty of ugly games this season, but Rodgers has been solid as always even though his receiving core, outside of Devante Adams, has not really been great. Aaron Jones has finally been utilized correctly in the offense which has resulted in over 1,500 total yards offensively and 19 touchdowns (including an NFL leading 16 rushing touchdowns). The defense has been impressive as they made dramatic additions in the offseason that has boasted their performance this season. This has helped with being involved in nine games determined by eight or less points in 2019.
Keys to Victory
Seattle Seahawks: Get the running game going and eliminate Aaron Jones from the offense.
Green Bay Packers: Open up the passing game more and make the Seahawks focus on their inconsistent running game.
Prediction: Seahawks 23 Packers 20
The NFL Divisional Playoffs start on Saturday afternoon. Teams are jockeying for a spot in the Conference Championship games and are hoping for a Super Bowl run to Miami.