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NFL PLAYOFFS: DIVISIONAL ROUND SATURDAY

After a WILD Wild Card Weekend, what craziness will the Divisional Round bring us? The madness begins Saturday!

M&T Bank Stadium by Austin Kirk is licensed under CC BY 2.0

NFL PLAYOFFS: DIVISIONAL ROUND SATURDAY


Estimated Reading Time: 12 Minutes

Well, Wild Card Weekend was certainly wild. We saw four really good, exciting games last weekend and now we move on to the Divisional Round.

The two teams I predicted before the season to go to the Super Bowl were bounced out by lower-seeded teams. The Patriots couldn’t stop Derrick Henry at all and couldn’t really move the ball on offense. Drew Brees, unfortunately, looked very pedestrian and the Saints ran into a Vikings defense that definitely came ready to play. So now, I don’t know who the hell will be in the Super Bowl. But I can tell you who I think will win this weekend, so let’s get to it!

Vikings at 49ers

As I mentioned before, the Vikings defense looked really impressive to me last weekend in New Orleans. They did a great job especially in disguising coverage and executing their blitz schemes. New Orleans was baffled, and Kirk Cousins did enough to pull out a victory in overtime. Cousins looked sharp and actually out-played Drew Brees. You think that will ever happen again?

Defense, Defense, Defense

All year, I thought the 49ers had one of the best, complete defenses in the league. New England had a very good defense, but I always thought they were a bit vulnerable against the run despite having probably the best secondary in football. As for San Francisco, they have talent all over the place on defense. The 49ers were the 2nd ranked overall defense in the NFL this season, and were #1 in the league against the pass. The Niners’ defensive is front is young, and very talented, and they are a big reason why San Francisco is 6th in the league in takeaways.

But Minnesota’s Defense is Underrated

I have praised San Francisco’s defense all year, and I’ve said that they sort of remind me of last year’s Chicago Bears. But don’t count out Minnesota’s defense. Believe it or not, the Vikings are 4th in takeaways and have 17 interceptions on the year, which is the third-highest in the league. They are also the least penalized defense in the NFL and are the second-best red-zone defense in the league, only allowing teams to score on them at a 44% rate.

So while the Vikings aren’t the best overall defense in the league, they are tough, disciplined, and can make plays. Not to mention, they only allow opponents to score 18.9 points per game; which is actually less than what the 49ers have allowed this season (19.4).

A Lot of Play-Action and A Lot of Running

Both these teams’ offenses thrive on the play-action pass game. Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 1,670 yards off play-action this season, which was the most play-action passing yards by a quarterback this season. Meanwhile, Cousins threw 13 touchdowns off play-action which was the most by any quarterback this season. So basically, these two quarterbacks are the kings of play-action, so expect to see a lot of that in this game.

I also expect a lot of running, because both of these teams’ offensive identities revolve around the run. Dalvin Cook has been sensational this year and he rushed 28 times for 94 yards and 2 TDs in the game against New Orleans last week. I look for him to have just about as many carries, perhaps even more.

The Niners were the second-best rushing offense this season, but it was more so by committee between Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and Matt Breida.

So Who Wins?

I think this has the makings of an upset. Remember when I compared this 49ers team to the 2018 Chicago Bears? Well we all know what happened to that Bears in last season’s playoffs. They lost a low-scoring nail biter to Nick Foles and the Eagles, 16-15. And that is something I could very well see happening in this game. I think it will be low-scoring, and I think this Vikings team is built to give San Francisco trouble.

The reason why I compare this year’s 49ers team to last year’s Bears team is because I think they are very similar in several ways. But prominently, both these teams had exceptional defenses but were a bit limited offensively; especially at quarterback.

The Train Station Quarterback

I think fellow Turf writers have heard me say this before, but there is a thing I call a “Train Station Quarterback.” This is a quarterback who I think has potential to be a good quarterback in the league, and is at least intriguing enough for me to pay close attention to and be “at the station” but not yet on the train.

Jimmy Garoppolo is a train station quarterback.

I’m at the station…but I’m just not on the train yet. This is going to piss a lot of people off, but hey, you all should know by now if you read my articles that I am brutally honest and I tell it like it is. It’s nothing personal, it’s strictly…sports. But I think Jimmy G is an average quarterback. He is middle of the line for me, and this is how I felt about Mitch Trubisky last year. He too was a train station quarterback, except I have left that station…and it wasn’t by train.

Jimmy G Must Take Care of the Ball

The 49ers are arguably the best defense in the NFL. So why is their turnover differential only +4? Well the 49ers have 23 giveaways this season, and most of them stem from Jimmy G himself. Garoppolo has 13 interceptions on the year and has fumbled the football 10 times this season; which ties for 7th in the league among quarterbacks. Not to mention, 5 of those fumbles were lost.

Jimmy G has to take care of the ball, and to do that he has to do a better job under pressure. The 49ers defense has been great all year, but the story here will be Minnesota’s defense, which I think will give Jimmy G a lot of trouble in his first playoff start of his career.

Kirk Cousins is NOT a Train Station Quarterback

Cousins is not a train station quarterback, because I am on that train. I think Cousins is an above-average quarterback; which is also going to piss a lot of people off. The Kirk Cousins Haters Club of America will come knocking on my door. But honestly, it’s true – Cousins is not elite, but he is good enough to help a team win a Super Bowl, and this is what the Vikings paid him for. And remember, you don’t have to be an extraordinary quarterback in order to win a Super Bowl. Joe Flacco won a Super Bowl, and an old, worn-out Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl with Denver. Hell even Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl!

So can Cousins lead this team to a Super Bowl? I think he can, but he has to get by this San Francisco defense first; and it won’t be easy, but I think he can do it. I like the Vikings to win this game through smart offensive play calling with play-action, screen passing, and running schemes with Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, and even Adam Thielen, if he can come back from his ankle injury.

The Weekend Opens With An Upset!

This will be a major defensive battle. It will be a tight, low-scoring game, but I think Cousins will once again do just enough to pull out the victory. I also think Minnesota’s defense will show up again in a big way. Give me the upset. Vikings win 17-16.


Titans at Ravens

The Tennessee Titans pulled off a major upset over the mighty Patriots last weekend. Derrick Henry was a monster and the Patriots defense had no answer for his rushing attack. I picked the Titans to beat the Patriots because I thought they were a really tough matchup for Brady and New England. But this time, I think the Ravens will be a very tough matchup for the Titans.

Titans Face a Completely Different Offense This Time

The Titans defense will have their hands full in this one. They go from a 42-year old stationary quarterback to a 23-year old mobile, electrifying athlete of a quarterback that is Lamar Jackson. This will be a completely different look for the Tennessee defense, and I don’t know if they have the right pieces in place upfront to stop Lamar.

The Tight End Duo Could Be Key

In addition, the Titans will have to worry about something that they did not have to last weekend.

A legitimate tight end.

And Baltimore has two of them. Mark Andrews is currently listed as questionable for the game, but Hayden Hurst is someone who Tennessee will have to keep close tabs on. If both of these tight ends are playing, it is a tall order for the Titans, who had a defense that allowed nine touchdowns to tight ends this season. That’s third-most allowed in the league this season. Not to mention, Tennessee’s defense was awful in the red-zone this season – they were 30th in the league. Now they have to face a Baltimore offense who have the second-best red-zone offense (behind Tennessee actually!).

You Know What Else Could Be Key….Punting.

Wait what? Matt what are you talking about? Let me explain…

Brett Kern is the best punter in football. He is on the Titans. Kern has a knack for blasting punts to within the 20-yard line pinning the opposing team close to their own goal line. And that could really come in handy against this Baltimore offense.

I think Kern’s punting could actually become key, because it could force Lamar to practically move the offense down a full field. And for someone who likes (and probably prefers) to run, Jackson will more likely find himself needing to throw the ball more if he has to move 80+ yards downfield. So if Kern can continually pin the Ravens offense against their goal line, they can hopefully force Lamar to perhaps make some mistakes through the air while the Titans are in great field position. The only problem with this whole notion though, is that if Kern is constantly punting, well then…that means the Titans aren’t scoring! Duh.

Will Greg Joseph Have to Kick?

If punting won’t be key, then perhaps kicking will be in this game. And the reason why I ask if Greg Joseph will have to kick is because the Titans kicker has not attempted a field goal in the playoffs thus far. As a matter of fact, Joseph never had a field goal attempt in the regular season. So basically, he is Tennessee’s kicker who has no experience kicking in a Titans uniform. And meanwhile, the Ravens have the best kicker in football who can boot a ball from Baltimore to D.C.

So Who Wins?

The Titans have had a nice run, but I think their magical journey will come to an end in Baltimore. The Ravens are going to be a much tougher matchup and a different look for the Titans than what Vrabel’s squad had played against last week. Also don’t expect Derrick Henry to run like a freight train again. The Ravens are going to do what the Patriots decided not to do last week: Make Tannehill throw the ball.

Tannehill threw the ball just 15 times for 72 yards, and I have a feeling Baltimore is going to dare Tannehill to throw a lot more. Derrick Henry will get his yards and maybe find the end zone again, but the Ravens have a much more potent offense than New England, and that will be the difference.

I think this game will stay moderately close with Tennessee putting up a good fight, but I think the Ravens will survive and move on to the AFC Championship. Also, look for special teams to be crucial in this game. It just has that feel. Ravens win 26-20.

Enjoy the games! And check back in tomorrow for more!

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