After an insane wildcard that featured four one-score games, two overtime games, and two upsets over two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, the stage is set for another dramatic weekend in the divisional round of the 2019-20 NFL Playoffs.
The Minnesota Vikings defense kept Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints relatively in check as Kirk Cousins earned his first playoff win last week. It sets up a date with the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers, who went 13-3 in the regular season.
The Tennessee Titans find themselves in a similar situation on Saturday night. After an impressive road upset of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (a rarity, especially in the playoffs,) the Titans find themselves on a collision course with the AFC’s top seed. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are hard to beat, with a 7-1 home record this season and 14-2 record overall.
Sunday’s matchups include four great quarterbacks looking to will their team to the Conference Championship round.
In the early game, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahommes duke it out in Kansas City. In the late game, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers go head-to-head once again, with some memorable regular and postseason meetings.
I went 1-3 in my Wildcard Predictions, only getting the Seahawks win over the Eagles correct. I had some scores in the right ballpark (Seahawks by 8,) with the wrong winner (Bills 23-20 over Texans; actually Texans 22-19 over Bills,) and one laughably wrong prediction (Patriots 38-17 over Titans.)
None of last week’s outcomes busted my playoff bracket, but they did make the games in the Divisional Round feature different opponents. I’ll pick the games accordingly, and I don’t need to stick to the predictions in my bracket when doing these predictions (as things can change week-to-week, injuries, different opponents, etc.)
Divisional Round Predictions
#6 Minnesota Vikings (11-6) at #1 San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
Time: 4:35 PM ET / 1:35 PM PT (local time)
Location: Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, California)
Line: San Francisco 49ers (-7.0)
Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings absolutely have a chance against the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers. It’s a tall task, but one that can be sparked by a strong defensive performance.
The 49ers defense is also stellar, though they let up many more point in the season’s second half. In a four-week stretch in the early season, San Francisco allowed 3, 7, 0, and 13 points over four games. In the last four weeks of the season, the 49ers allowed 46, 29, 31, and 21 points. Amazingly, they only lost one of those games, a 29-22 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Numbers aside, I think these are two pretty even football teams. Talented defenses that cans step up when needed, and patient offenses that can punish you with a couple big plays. The 49ers are favored by a touchdown, which is fair given their regular season record and home-field advantage. But I see it as a much closer matchup, as the Vikings are coming in with some great momentum.
I’m not going to pick the Vikings, but I think this game will be anything but easy for Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers.
49ers win 23-22, Vikings win ATS
#6 Tennessee Titans (10-7) at #1 Baltimore Ravens (14-2)
Time: 8:15 PM ET (local time)
Location: M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore, Maryland)
Line: Baltimore Ravens (-10.0)
The Tennessee Titans held the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots to just 13 points in their home playoff game. Derrick Henry ate up Bill Belichick’s defense for 182 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries, and Ryan Tannehill made opportunistic to stun Tom Brady in the first round of the playoffs.
Coming into the playoffs, I wouldn’t have thought the Titans could put a dent in the Baltimore Ravens. But momentum can mean a lot in the playoffs, and the Titans will have a chance in Baltimore.
I don’t want to embellish too much though, and I don’t think the Titans have as good of a chance as the Ravens earlier in the day.
After a 2-2 start (where the offense never put up less than 23,) Baltimore’s defense clamped down and the offense scored in bunches with ease. A five week stretch putting up 30 on the Seahawks, 37 on the Patriots, 49 on the Bengals, 41 on the Texans, and 45 on the Rams highlighted an offensive season for the history books. And the next game after that five week stretch, the Ravens outdueled the 49ers (the only other team you could debate for best in the NFL) by a score of 20-17.
Long story short, these Ravens are good, winners of 12 straight, and they have the NFL’s most valuable and electric player in Lamar Jackson.
Interestingly, for the first time in NFL history there will be five Heisman winners active when the Ravens and Titans meet on Saturday. Three of them are three of the best players in the league: Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, and Derrick Henry. The other two will be largely on the sidelines barring an injury: backup quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Robert Griffin III.
Still, a neat tidbit and evidence that the college game is having a more immediate impact on NFL playing styles and success.
I’d like to see the Titans give the Ravens a tough fight, but I’d also like to see Jackson and the Ravens offense steamroll into an AFC Conference Championship meeting with either Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahommes. I think the result may fall somewhere inbetween.
Ravens win 27-17, PUSH ATS
#4 Houston Texans (11-6) at #2 Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
Time: 3:05 PM ET / 2:05 PM CT (local time)
Location: Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, Missouri)
Line: Kansas City Chiefs (-10.0)
Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahommes, and Lamar Jackson are three figureheads of the next generation of NFL quarterbacks. Two of them square off here in Kansas City, in all likelihood, for a shot at Jackson and the Ravens in the AFC title game.
The Houston Texans, no stranger to the playoffs over the past decade, overcame a 16-0 deficit against the Buffalo Bills to advance to the divisional round. They are the only NFL franchise that has yet to reach to the conference championship round.
Mahommes and the Chiefs seemed to earn a first-round bye quietly, going 12-4 and most importantly, preventing the Patriots from enjoying their usual first round bye. In the middle of the season, Mahommes missed a few games, and the Chiefs were off to a so-so 6-4 start.
But they wouldn’t lose another game, closing the season on a six-game win streak highlighted by a 23-16 in Foxborough over the Patriots.
Mahommes and Watson last met in Week 6, with the Texans coming out on top 31-24 in Kansas City. Mahommes had a more prolific passing day (273 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT) compared to Watson (280 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT,) but Watson’s 42 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground proved instrumental in the Texans victory.
Obviously, Houston has the tools to beat Kansas City, even on their home turf. The Chiefs actually went just 5-3 at home this season, the same record the Texans enjoyed on the road during the regular season.
So again, while the rested Chiefs earned the right to be 7-point favorites, you could call this game a pick ’em if you have faith in both quarterbacks to put out their best with the season on the line.
I trust that will happen and we’ll be treated to another epic playoff finish.
Chiefs win 27-24, Texans win ATS
#5 Seattle Seahawks (12-5) at #2 Green Bay Packers (13-3)
Time: 6:40 PM ET / 5:40 PM CT (local time)
Location: Lambeau Field (Green Bay, WI)
Line: Green Bay Packers (-5.0)
Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks grinded out 17-9 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wildcard Round to set up a meeting with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
This will be the 8th meeting between Wilson and Rodgers, with Wilson holding a 4-3 edge in head-to-head record. Wilson won his first three meetings with Rodgers, including the only playoff meeting so far. The first time these quarterbacks matched up resulted in the Seahawks winning in an infamous “Fail Mary” play.
To say these quarterbacks have a history is an understatement.
In their January 2015 playoff meeting, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, Wilson found himself down 16-0 at halftime after throwing four interceptions. By some divine act, he was able to will the Seahawks to a 28-22 victory in overtime and send Seattle to the Super Bowl.
Rodgers would win the next three regular season matchups, but that playoff game would be the lasting memory of their rivalry: until now.
The Packers are 5-point favorites, coming off a bye and holding the 2nd-best record in the NFC. However, despite finishing 11-5, I’d argue the Seahawks and Saints were better teams than the Packers during the regular season.
Green Bay comes into the postseason on a five-game win streak, and defeated eventual playoff teams three out of four times this season. In one of the biggest games of the year though, against the 49ers, they failed to show up, losing 37-8.
I don’t think they’ll do that against the Seahawks. The Packers offense hasn’t been especially high-scoring, but they’ve been consistent. I would expect them to put up a halftime lead, much like the last time these teams met in the playoffs.
But man, they better hope Russell Wilson doesn’t have the ball in his hands in the closing minutes of a one-score game.
Seahawks win 23-20, Seahawks win ATS
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