NFL Divisional Round Preview

With the Divisional round games coming up this weekend, I thought it would be good to take a quick glance at each of the games. Saturday we’ll see Vikings at 49ers and Titans at Ravens. Sunday we’ll have Texans at Chiefs and Seahawks at Packers. Let’s take a closer look at each game.

Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers
My Prediction: 49ers 27 Vikings 24
These teams are very similar to each other in terms of style. Offensively, both rely heavily on the running game. Minnesota ran on 50.6% on their plays this year (2nd in NFL) and San Francisco ran on 50.8% (3rd in NFL). That being said both quarterbacks have high completion percentages (Jimmy Garoppolo (SF) – 3rd in NFL, Kirk Cousins (MIN) – 4th in NFL) and the ability to hurt you with the pass. Both defenses create pressure (48 sacks each on the year-tied for 5th in NFL) despite not blitzing much. The 49ers pass defense is tops in the league by yards per attempt so the Vikings will need production from Dalvin Cook to open up the pass. The combination of Cook and the Vikings’ love for play action passes will give the Vikings opportunities in this game. That combination is likely why no quarterback has averaged more time in the pocket per pass attempt than Kirk Cousins this year (2.7 seconds) while Garoppolo ranks 22nd. The tight ends are going to be players to watch in this one, especially on those play-action passes. George Kittle and Kyle Rudolph are big red zone targets that will be key in deciding who wins this one. This game is going to be a close one, the 49ers have played in nothing but close games lately and their last three wins all came by 5 points or fewer. The Vikings on the other hand are coming off an overtime win in New Orleans. This one could go either way and should be a one possession game. I’ll lean toward the 49ers, but I can see it going either way.

Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens
My Prediction: Ravens 31 Titans 17
What a story it would be for the Titans to knock off the defending Super Bowl Champs one week, then the current Super Bowl favorites the next week. But… nobody has been able to stop likely MVP Lamar Jackson this year and Tennessee’s defense is average to slightly above average in both passing and rushing. Offensively, running back Derrick Henry has carried the load (1,540 rushing yards this season-leads NFL), while quarterback Ryan Tannehill has benefitted from Henry’s success; Tannehill leads the league in pass yards per attempt. The Ravens defense allowed the 4th least amount of points in the NFL this year and they love to send pressure. Baltimore’s defense is 21st in yards per rushing attempt, so Tennessee’s chances will be built around whether Henry can get enough of a running game going to sustain drives, put up some points and try to keep Lamar Jackson off the field. I think Jackson and the Ravens will be too much for the Titans.

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs
My Prediction: Chiefs 35 Texans 31
The Texans got the best of the Chiefs in the week 6 matchup in Kansas City, winning 31-24. However, the Chiefs defense has been much improved during the second half of the season so that game can’t be used as too much of a predictor for this one. The Chiefs defense has been a lot better since, but they also haven’t faced a quarterback as dynamic as Watson since that Week 6 game. On the other side Patrick Mahomes could put up some huge numbers himself. He’s 3rd in the NFL in yards per pass attempt. I expect a shootout in this one. When comparing defenses, Kansas City is 2nd in the NFL in yards per pass attempt over the last three weeks while Houston is 16th on that list. In a pass-heavy game I going to go with Kansas City at home and trust that Kansas City’s defense will be good enough to pull this one out.

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
My Prediction: Packers 21 Seahawks 13
The Packers have the best pass defense by yards per attempt in the NFL over the past three weeks, Seattle is 29th in that category. Look for Aaron Rodgers to exploit this, especially with Davante Adams. It remains to be seen who Seattle will put on Adams, but the most likely guy is rookie fourth-round pick Ugo Amadi. As for the Seahawks offense, they are 6th in the NFL in rushing yards per game. But, over the last three games they are 24th in rushing yards per game. And the reason for that is plain and simple. The Seahawks lost both their top running backs Chris Carson (hip-fracture) and C.J. Prosise (broken arm) for the season on consecutive possessions in Week 16. On top of that, Seattle had just lost their other running back (Rashaad Penny-Torn ACL) two weeks earlier. The Seahawks went out and signed 33-year old Marshawn Lynch. Lynch carried the ball six times for seven yards and had 2 receptions for 25 yards in the Seahawks’ wild card win in Philadelphia. Travis Homer is the other running back option, a rookie sixth-round pick, who had 11 carries for 12 yards last week. A combined 19 yards on 17 carries from the Seattle backfield last week means the Green Bay defense can focus even more on Russell Wilson. With everything plaguing the Seahawks, Russell Wilson may be their only hope, but he is 0-3 in his career at Lambeau Field. The Packers have been in a lot of close games this year and the Seahawks got the best of the Packers with their comeback victory in the 2015 NFC Championship Game, so you can still not count out the Seahawks. I am still going to pick the Packers based on all the advantages they have on paper.


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