Only 8 teams are still in contention for the most important trophy in sports – The Lombardi Trophy and title of Super Bowl Champion. Who’s dreams stay alive after Divisional Weekend and moves into Championship Weekend?
No matter what, this years NFL Playoffs will be historic. On the AFC side, not a single remaining starting quarterback has ever been to the Super Bowl and with the exception of Ryan Tannehill, all these quarterbacks are still on rookie contracts. On the NFC side, some all time great quaterbacks are leading the NFC into Miami, while Jimmy G and Kirk Cousins have a chance to make their Super Bowl debut.
But whatever teams make it to Miami still has two games ahead of them, starting this weekend with the Divisional Round. Which teams make it to Championship Weekend and one step closer to greatness?
(We are starting with the NFC because we all know what you came here to see)
Minnesota Vikings @ San Francisco 49ers – Saturday, 3:35 PM
The Minnesota Vikings are not supposed to be here right now.
Slightly exagerated? Sure, but did anyone predict that the Minnesota Vikings would walk into the Superdome last week and beat the New Orleans Saints, arguably the hottest team in the NFC at the time? Kirk Cousins suddenly figured out how to play in the big games and led his team in surgical fashion down the field to score in overtime and put the game away without much help from Dalvin Cook or Stefon Diggs.
The defense may have tried to throw that game away late in the game, but for the first three quarters, the Vikings D made Drew Brees look uncomfortable and struggle to gain any offensive momentum. Through heavy blitzing and great play at the linebacker position, the Vikings defense that looked elite early in the season may have come around when it mattered the most.
The 49ers, on the other hand, have a ton of questions surrounding how ready they are for this playoff matchup. The defense has looked less than elite the last 4 games, giving up 29.25 points per game and winning by less than one score in that same stretch. Most of the team has never played in a playoff game, including starting quaterback Jimmy Garopolo, defensive star Nick Bosa, and Tight End George Kittle.
The 49ers have the upper hand with home field advantage and coming off of a bye week, which will help the team get healthy. Hopefully the 49ers can focus on the Vikings and not overlook them, something the 49ers have struggled with all season (see both Cardinals games and the Falcons game).
This one is hard – I do not trust either team to win this game.
The Vikings have been less than good all season long, but the 49ers elite defense has been absent for the last 5 weeks. The Vikings fail to win the big games and have for a long time. The 49ers are young and lack any significant playoff experience.
Vegas is giving the 49ers 7 points here but I still have mixed feelings. On one hand, the Vikings could flounder on the big stage and let the 49ers put together a large lead. On the other hand, the 49ers have been winning by such narrow margins, if winning at all, I do not trust them to win by anything more then a field goal.
After factoring in the home field advantage, coaching, and week of rest, I can not justify giving Minnesota a win here. But it was close, and the kind of close that I would never put any money on. Even the over/under, which sits high at 44.5 for some reason, could go either way, with the 49ers fully capable of putting up 35 by themselves, while also offensively struggling to put up more then 20 most weeks.
My Prediction: 49ers 27 Vikings 24
ESPN Power Index Prediction: 49ers @ 66.1%
Spread: SF -7
Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers – Sunday, 5:40 PM
I had a conversation with a very nice Green Bay Packers fan this week, who told me about the NFC and how top heavy it is this year. He told me all about how the top 2 teams, the Packers and 49ers, are so good compared to the rest of the teams in the NFC Playoffs.
If this is the case why am I so uncertain and so uneasy about both of the games in the NFC on Divisional Weekend, specifically the Green Bay Packers?
The Packers have been the definition of inconsistent this season: Looking good one week only to lose big the next week. Never actually having a statement win, but winning by the skin of their teeth, relying on ref calls and late game heroics to secure those wins. Add young coaching and a young defense into the mix and this team’s inconsistency should be a much larger concern then it has been.
Even Aaron Rodgers has been extremely suspect as of late, despite starting the season with a bit of MVP talk. Overthrowing receivers left and right, putting too much heat behind passes that would otherwise be sure fire catches, misreading defenses and making mistakes pre-snap.
This is not to say the Seahawks have been much better. At least the Seahawks can hide behind the injury excuse, losing vital players left and right, depleting their roster to the point that they had to bring in old veteran players like Marshawn Lynch to even stay competitive.
The Seahawks have been road warriors, making up for an abysmal 4-4 home record with an impressive 7-1 record on the road (tied for the best in the league). Thankfully for them, they secured an away team advantage position in the playoffs, with only the slight chance to host a playoff game. But those road wins have not been completely flawless for the Seahawks either, with two close games against the Eagles (one in the postseason) and a close game against the Panthers standing out in recent memory.
The Seahawks have been able to overcome most opposition along the way on the back of one man – Russel Wilson. He has been moving around outside of the pocket, making plays happen where none exist, and hitting DK Metcalf anywhere on the field. Wilson has been undeniable in his victories and great in his losses.
Unlike the last matchup, this one feels more certain in the outcome. A young coach up against a long time vet, a struggling vet up against a shining MVP candidate, a decent defense against a great defense. This one leans heavily in Seattle’s favor, with Green Bay not being able lean in on home field advantage as most top seeds would.
The only advantage for Green Bay lies in the week of rest over the injury ridden Seahawks. The healthy Green Bay Packers maybe able to capitalize on the razor thin roster of the Seahawks by playing an extremely physical and long game. But the longer the game, the more likely Aaron Rodgers is to make another mistake and give the ball back to Russel Wilson.
The over/under seems easy to pick as well, with the Packers and Seahawks having extremely low scoring games consistently very recently, relying on their defenses to win games. The whopping 47 is just too high to justify an over with these two defenses on the field.
My Prediction: Seattle 21 Green Bay 17
ESPN Power Index Prediction: Green Bay @ 66.3%
Spread: GB -5
Tennessee Titans @ Baltimore Ravens – Saturday, 7:15 PM
The Titans have lost two of the their last four games, with one of their wins being against a Texans team that was resting their starters. The six seed in the AFC Playoffs was wide open for many teams to take, with even the Cleveland Browns having a shot until after week 16, thus handing Tennessee a playoff berth.
Baltimore on the other hand has not lost since late September, riding the momentum of a red hot Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews to the number one seed in the AFC. Even Baltimore’s backups were able to secure a statement win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 17, giving the starters 20 days rest before this game.
This game has no reason to even be close.
Yes, Tennessee has Derrick Henry and yes, Ryan Tannehill is passing to rookie AJ Brown very effectively. The Tennessee Titans defense has been better than most and Mike Vrabel has come off very likable and competent.
The Titans have been able to win tough games, including a game over the Patriots at Gillette in the playoffs. But beating Lamar Jackson and the Ravens is something much different, more akin to their game against the Saints a few weeks ago.
The Baltimore Ravens have been unstoppable offensively, utilizing Lamar Jackson’s speed and Mark Andrews size to beat any defensive look a team can throw at them. If the linebackers fall back, Lamar Jackson runs free of the pocket for 15 yards, the linebackers come forward, Andrews is wide open ten yards deep. Even if the defenses bring the linebackers down and play the safeties to the TEs, then Mark Ingram comes barreling into the line to lay a block.
The Baltimore defense has been decent as well, rallying around new corner Marcus Peters to get stops and put points on the board defensively. Teams have struggled to score even 20 points on that defense, giving the Baltimore offense a huge margin of error, a margin they rarely have to lean on.
Baltimore. Easy call. Despite the wishes of Chiefs and Texans fans hoping for a home AFC Championship game, Tennessee does not stand much of a challenge for the explosive nature of the Ravens and Lamar Jackson.
Maybe the Titans can get out to an early lead on the Ravens, playing with the momentum that has carried them this far and hoping for the Ravens to have a little rust after a 21 day break in the action. But if the Ravens can get an early lead, it is all but over for the Titans playoff run.
Giving the Ravens a 10 point margin is much harder to justify however. The Titans will not stop playing until the last whistle, meaning they will likely score some garbage time points and narrow that lead as much as possible. For the same reason, the 47 over/under is the easiest to bet the over all weekend.
My Prediction: Ravens 34 Titans 28
ESPN Power Index Predictor: Ravens @ 81.8%
Spread: Baltimore -10
Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs – Sunday, 2:05 PM
The one you are here to read.
The Chiefs have been extremely hot as of late, playing defense at an elite level. Tyrann Mathieu has been playing at a DPOTY level caliber as of late, and the front 7 has given every quaterback in the AFC West some restless nights. Rashad Fenton has stepped up as a legitimate cornerback and Kendall Fuller plays every position in the secondary.
It has been a long time since the storyline surrounding the Chiefs has been about the defense, and even longer since the word “elite” has been applied to the Chiefs without even referencing the offense.
That is not to say that the Chiefs offense has been less then elite as well. Patrick Mahomes is lighting up in the late part of the season along with Travis Kelce and Damien Williams. Even Mecole Hardman has been playing better, giving the Chiefs a boost on special teams and lifting the offense alongside him.
Coach Reid is unstoppable after a bye week, and the defense at full health has been a pain for every team to come across them. Sure, Juan Thornhill’s loss hurts the Chiefs quiet a bit, but Steve Spagnoulo has had 2 weeks to prepare Armani Watts and Daniel Sorenson to cover the hole in the defense.
The Texans on the other hand have been clumsy and lacking effort over the last few weeks, relying on Deshaun Watson to carry the team to wins over the Titans, Bills, and Bucs. Coming off of 5 quarters of football without any rest puts them at a disadvantage, with limited practice taking its toll on positions all over the team.
This is without mentioning that the Texans defense has been generous to opposing offenses, allowing 267.3 yards passing per game and 121.1 yards rushing per game. If it were not for the heroics of Deshaun Watson, this is a 7-9 team at the very most rather than a 10-6 team.
It would have been really funny for you to have read through this entire article, get to this point and then me pull out some bogus Texans prediction huh?
The Texans have been so inconsistent and so lackluster on all sides of the ball that predicting a playoff win for them would be misinformed and ill-advised. A team that has not put up more then 25 points since week 13 (and then before that since week 9) has no shot at outscoring the Chiefs and going on to the Conference Championship.
An over/under of 51 requires confidence in the Texans offense, something that any informed bettor should lack completely. The spread giving the Chiefs 10 points however seems to be easy money for any bettor looking for easy money.
My Prediction: Chiefs 31 – Texans 14
ESPN Power Index Predictor: Chiefs @ 81.5%
Spread: Chiefs -10