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Preview: The NFL Divisional Round Playoffs

NFL Divisional Round

Last week’s Wildcard left many of us shocked, confused, thrilled, or in my case, frustrated. Much like the Texans last week, I hope to come back from my 0-4 start to my playoffs predictions and reestablish myself as a knowledgeable sports analyst. Without further ado, THE DIVISIONAL ROUND!

Minnesota Vikings (11-6) @ San Francisco 49ers (13-3)

The Vikings shocked the world with the overtime defeat of the New Orleans Saints. Cousins hopes to continue to prove the doubters wrong in his route to justifying his fully guaranteed contract. The 49ers’ Super Bowl odds jumped up significantly with the dismissal of the Saints from the playoffs and hope to be fresh to welcome in the also-healthier Vikings.

Dalvin Cook and Kirk Cousins silenced doubters down in The Big Easy last week when Cook ran for 94 yards and 2 TDs, and Cousins got his first playoff win with the game-winning TD pass to Kyle Rudolph and hopefully gained some confidence for the West Coast. Beating the Saints was a group effort of keeping the ball out of Brees’ hands so the defense could be fresh. Pressure was consistent on the Saints who prior to this game did a great job of protecting Brees before the pass-rush duo of Hunter and Griffen combined for 3 sacks. The Vikings defense have a tall order to stifle the second-best run game in the NFL and keep the offense in the game by allowing them to play balanced. If the offense plays balanced and the defense bends but doesn’t break (2nd best Red Zone defense) then the Vikings have a great chance to upset the Niners.

The juggernaut Niners welcome a Vikings team that’s a little banged up and the 49ers won’t mind attacking the secondary who will be missing a safety and corner. The 49ers have the third-most yards after catch in the NFL which attacks the Vikings inability to force incomplete passes compared to the rest of the league. The Niners are the number one seed for a plethora of reasons and their hard-nosed defense combined with a stellar, diverse running game with 3 players rushing over 500 yards and none of them even close to 200 attempts (meaning fresh legs in January). The defense prides itself on a top-heavy pass-rush led by Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa that put up 48 sacks on the season, that allows its secondary to play aggressive and lock down any and all pass catchers. It is hard to find a weakness on this 49ers team leaving the only question mark as Jimmy G and the inexperience of playoff football for the most important position on the field.

Both teams’ question marks lie within the QB because even though Cousins won a single playoff game, critics are skeptical to call this a regular occurrence and Jimmy Garoppolo having never started a playoff game leaves a lot to the supporting casts and the defense. The Niners have my vote of confidence as the better of the two defenses and the Niners by 7 does not seem like an unfair spread.

Winner: San Francisco 49ers

Tennessee Titans (10-7) @ Baltimore Ravens (14-2)

Lamar Jackson awakens from his two-week hibernation of no football to see the Derrick Henry and the Titans on the horizon. The Titans, fresh off of potentially ending a dynasty, ride in red hot with an under-appreciated defense and the hottest running back in league. Can they pull off the upset of the year?

The Titans fresh off of a win in New England, stay on the road and head just a little bit south to Baltimore. The Titans will look to ride the victory train on the shoulders of Derrick Henry who toted the ball 34 times for 182 yards and a TD. Improving the Titans record to 7-0 when Henry rushes for over 100 yards. The Titans defense also stepped up from their usual sub-par selves against Brady holding him to a passer rating of 59.4 and no TDs to one (season-ending) pick-six. One minor concern from the Pats game is that the Titans allowed 4.5 yards per carry which is .5 yards higher than their 7th best season-average 4 yards per carry. If the defense can repeat the stellar pass-defense, and ramp-up their run defense against one of the best rushing offenses in NFL history, then they have a legitimate shot at winning this game. The name of the game, will be to win in time of possession so as to not give the ball to…

Lamar Jackson. My vote for MVP has done it all this season. Passing for 3100 yards with a 6:1 TD to INT ratio marking one of the most efficient passing seasons complimenting the best rushing season ever seen by a QB with over 1200 yards and 7 TDs making LJax responsible for 4300+ yards and 40+ TDs. Not to mention, he didn’t even play the last game of the season. This opened up a plethora of opportunities for the rest of the Ravens’ rushing attack headlined by Mark Ingram who gashed defenses for 10 rushing TDs and also one thousand yards this year. The Ravens ran the most RPO’s this year and even though the style is new school, the method of running the ball and maintaining a stout defense is very old school with just a very original spin on the classic tale.

The Ravens are the ten-point favorites but look out for the Titans trying to keep the ball out of Lamar Jackson’s hands. These teams are similar in more ways than one but at the end of the day, the Ravens have the MVP and the more-talented of the two teams.

Winner: Baltimore Ravens

Houston Texans (11-6) @ Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

The Chiefs await their former home city to come to them and will look to stay awake for two halves unlike the Buffalo Bills. The Texans want to ride the wave that is Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt being some of the best players on the planet, and repeat the regular season result of beating the Chiefs in Kansas City.

As I stated last week, if JJ Watt played anywhere near his DPOY status, the Texans would win and 1.5 TFL, a sack, and a batted pass later, Watt made his presence known not to mention his pressure throughout the whole game and he hopes to be even healthier and better this week. However, if we talked about the Texans’ win without mentioning Deshaun Watson, it’d be a complete injustice as Watson was responsible for both of Houston’s TDs that summarize the game against the Bills perfectly. Watson was nearly perfect through the air going 20-25, 247 yards with a TD, and his other TD coming on a 20-yard run where he ended up carrying two defenders to the end zone with him showing the grit and persevering nature of this Texans team. The last time these two teams faced, the Texans won by running all over the Chiefs and will plan on doing much of the same this time around as the Chiefs run defense did not get any better since they last placed, and Carlos Hyde has proven to be a RB1 with his first 1,000-yard season.

The Chiefs have been bit by the injury bug time after time this year missing players on both sides of the ball for considerable stretches. The bye week was perfect for them to make sure they are healthy and be ready to unload and avenge their loss to the Texans earlier this year. One such difference will be that Sammy Watkins will be healthy for this game and showed major upticks in receptions (52) and yards (673) this year despite missing time. Watkins completes the set of offensive weapons the Chiefs possess with Tyreek “Cheetah” Hill, Travis Kelce, Damien Williams, and of course the point guard of the whole thing: Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs defense also did improve down the stretch of the season especially against the pass and hope to contain the heroics of Deshaun Watson. The Chiefs game plan will remain consistent with what we have seen all year: Get an early lead, force the other team to pass the ball and then build the lead some more.

I honestly do not see the Chiefs losing to the Texans twice in one year at Arrowhead. I do not see the Chiefs winning by over ten points as the spread currently is, but the Chiefs will learn from the mistakes of the last game and increase their time of possession, so the Texans don’t have the ball for 2/3 of the game.

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs

Seattle Seahawks (12-5) @ Green Bay Packers (13-3)

Russell Wilson and company stole a second win in Philadelphia and looks to be a pain in the Packers’ side in Green Bay. Can this depleted Seahawks squad keep up with a Packers squad who was in desperate need of rest?

The Seahawks rode Russell Wilson’s greatness to a road playoff win last week where not only did he pass for over 300 yards, but he was also the leading rusher for the Seahawks with 45 yards. This game plan worked to a “T” against a depleted, and not very good Eagles secondary. The Packers secondary is also known to give up big plays, and DK Metcalf (7 receptions for 160 yards and a TD against Philly) looks to feast on a Packers defense that was 21st in yards per attempt and pass plays over 20 yards. This along with the Packers’ 24th ranked run defense opens up the opportunity for the Seahawks to play more like Seattle if Marshawn and Travis Homer can find a stride after not amounting to much over two weeks of playing time.

The Packers really needed the bye week. In the season finale they finished the game without Jamaal Williams, Bryan Bulaga, Corey Linsley, and Danny Vitale. That’s three starters and one important role player for an offense that needs all the help they can get against a defense that forces turnovers. The Packers’ blueprint for success will be much of the same as it has been all year: Get the ball in Aaron Jones’ hands. Jones ran for over 1,000 yards and added on 474 through the air for a total of 19 TDs. Jones’ snub from the Pro Bowl hopes to be avenged with a Super Bowl appearance. The last time the Packers beat the Seahawks was in 2008, and the Packers have a serious chance with the Seahawks having a bunch of question marks on the offensive line. Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith combined for 25.5 sacks on the season and can disrupt the game from any direction.

If any road team is going to win this week, it is most likely the Seattle Seahawks. Currently the Packers are favored by 5 because they are the healthier team and I believe that will be the difference. This Seattle team is really good, but the players that they are missing on both sides of the ball are the difference between being a playoff team and a Super Bowl contender.

Winner: Green Bay Packers

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