Wow! Not only did three road teams come away victorious in the Wildcard Round, but two games went to overtime, and all were decided by one score! Can the Divisional Round have the same level of excitement? All NFL fans are hoping it can, and with there being just eight teams left in the tournament, the stakes will be even higher. So, who’s advancing to the respective conference championship game? Let’s predict the four games slated to take place this weekend.
Saturday, 4:35 PM ET: Vikings (11-6) at 49ers (13-3)
Spread Pick: PUSH/SF (-7)
Over/Under Pick: Over (44)
Score Prediction: Vikings 20 49ers 27
After upsetting the Saints in New Orleans last week, do the Vikings have what it takes to pull off another road victory against a 13-3 team? With the amount of talent that they have, they’ll always have a strong chance against any team, but still, it’s looking like their season will end on Saturday in San Francisco. Since they had their bye week in Week 4, the 49ers desperately needed a week off to get to full strength, and now, their defense will be fortified with the returns of edge rusher Dee Ford and linebacker Kwon Alexander. Essentially, they have the linebacker needed to slow down running back Dalvin Cook, and now, their pass rush will be able to torture Kirk Cousins, who is oblivious under pressure. Meanwhile, although Minnesota was actually the best team in the NFL versus tight ends in the regular season, which is key to slowing down George Kittle, injuries have thinned out their cornerback depth- they’ll have trouble containing receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel, while their run defense will struggle against a 49ers rushing offense that is very explosive. The talent gap isn’t as extreme as usual for a #6 seed versus #1 seed matchup, but still, the 49ers should pull through with a victory to get one step closer to the Super Bowl.
Saturday, 8:15 PM ET: Titans (10-7) at Ravens (14-2)
Spread Pick: BAL (-9.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (47.5)
Score Prediction: Titans 17 Ravens 40
In my post-Week 17 power rankings, I slotted the Titans as the fifth-best team in the NFL. Therefore, them winning in New England wasn’t a shock, as they’re a disciplined team with a lot of talent. However, they also have their flaws, and unfortunately for them, they’re about to be exposed in a major way. Maybe they were able to slow down arguably the league’s slowest offense, but with no threat of a pass rush, declining run defense, and vulnerability to explosive plays, Baltimore’s dynamic offense should be able to get out to an early lead, and will also be able to continue to score. That’s not ideal for a team that leans so heavily on running the ball offensively, and if they get away from their play-action passing (it’s hard to get the opposing team to bite when you’re down by multiple scores), then it limits quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s effectiveness; Tannehill has also been really poor at managing pressure, and the Ravens generate a lot of it by constant blitzes. Tennesee has had a great season, but their luck will run out this game, as Baltimore is simply on another level compared to them and will put this game away by halftime- this is just a very poor matchup for the Titans.
Sunday, 3:05 PM ET: Texans (11-6) at Chiefs (12-4)
Spread Pick: HOU (+9)
Over/Under Pick: Over (51)
Score Prediction: Texans 29 Chiefs 34
When the Texans and Chiefs played in Week 6 in Kansas City, Houston came out victorious. However, that won’t resemble this playoff game at all- the Chiefs should easily win. In that first matchup, not only was Houston peaking, but practically Kansas City’s whole team, most importantly Patrick Mahomes, was injured, which limited their effectiveness and explosiveness. However, they’ll be well-rested this time around after a bye, where head coach Andy Reid has always dominated, and simply put, they’re the much better team. Houston has a legitimate bottom-five defense that struggles versus passes to running back and explosive passes, which is where Kansas City excels; if the Bills had success against the Texans, imagine what Mahomes and co. are going to be able to accomplish. Now, Deshaun Watson and Houston’s offense should have some success as well, but the Chiefs at least have some resemblance of a defense, and regardless, Watson has been inconsistent at best and is prone to a few in-game mistakes. I think Houston gets the back-door cover in garbage time, but for most of this game, Kansas City should have at least a two-score lead as Reid gets even closer to getting his first-ever Super Bowl victory.
Sunday, 6:40 PM ET: Seahawks (12-5) at Packers (13-3)
Spread Pick: SEA (+4.5)
Over/Under Pick: Under (46.5)
Score Prediction: Seahawks 20 Packers 23
Every year, no matter what, it feels like the Seahawks and Packers are facing off in a meaningful football game. That rivalry will be renewed this weekend- they’ll do battle in Green Bay in the last game of the week. Both of these teams aren’t as strong as their record would indicate, so this should be a very hard-fought game- Seattle should be able to cover the spread as a 4.5-point underdog. However, when it’s all set and done, it’ll be the Packers, who have the luxury of coming off a bye while the Seahawks had to play late Sunday in Philadelphia, who’ll move on to the next round. Green Bay’s defense isn’t perfect, but their pass rush and strong secondary should be able to contain Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ passing attack enough, especially since said pass rush will dominate against a porous offensive line. Plus, if there is anywhere the Packers are weak, it’s with misdirection and over the middle field, which is definitely not where Seattle excels at; head coach Pete Carroll has already made a commitment to run the ball more with Marshawn Lynch, which will continue to make their offense inefficient. Plus, although Aaron Rodgers has been pretty close to an average quarterback this season, he should be able to turn back the clock a little against a very weak Seahawks pass defense, which won’t be able to pressure him at all; they’ve had trouble containing this Shanahan-style of offense, which could mean a huge day for Rodgers, running back Aaron Jones, and receiver Davante Adams. Any games the Seahawks participate in will come down to the wire, but Green Bay is more talented, at home, and has some pretty sound schematic advantages, and as a result, will pull through in the closest game of the weekend.