Last Sunday’s wildcard games shocked football fans around the country. Who would have thought that Carson Wentz would get injured in the first quarter? How many thought Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota offense would’ve not just performed better against New Orleans, but play their finest game of the season? How about Seattle winning by the same score against Philadelphia as they did in the regular season? Did you know the Saints are the first 13 win team eliminated from the playoffs on wildcard weekend history?
Both road teams Sunday will face their next challenges by playing the top two seeds in their conferences. Most analysts, including yours truly, didn’t give Minnesota a chance to win in New Orleans, and yet they have the daunting task of knocking off the 49ers in Santa Clara to open the divisional round of the playoffs. Which road team has a good shot to advance to the conference championship round?
#6 Minnesota Vikings v. #1 San Francisco 49ers
What’s still impressive about Minnesota’s win isn’t just how the offense showed up and did their job, but how the defense set the tone and dominated against the Saints’ front five. Coach Mike Zimmer did everything right, and the confidence level of the team will be felt for the start of this game. Running the ball consistently with Dalvin Cook, Mike Boone, Alexander Mattison & Ameer Abdullah can expose and possibly gut the 49ers interior if they have the chance.
There aren’t too many six seeds that match up well and have a good chance to take down a one seed, and this matchup is no different. The 49ers are the most complete team outside of their division, and they pummeled the NFC North winner Green Bay Packers on Sunday night months ago. The biggest issue the Vikings will have to face is the return of three 49er starters on defense who have been out for an average of a month and a half. Dee Ford, Jaquiski Tartt and Kwon Alexander are the boosts San Francisco needs to put away away their opponent and advance to the Championship game. Expect all three to look a bit rusty, but to pick up the pace around the second quarter and take control in the second half.
JD’s Pick: San Francisco wins 27-17
#5 Seattle Seahawks v. #2 Green Bay Packers
This matchup seems to be the polar opposite of the Minnesota-San Francisco matchup. While again we see an NFC West v. an NFC North showdown, there isn’t really a clear-cut winner. It’s been almost two decades since Seattle has won in Green Bay, but the Packers have struggled to win at home in the playoffs during that span. Russell Wilson has struggled against Green Bay throughout his career, especially in Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers has shown regression at a pace many didn’t expect. How do we find a winner here?
Green Bay ranks 23rd against the run defensively and offensively has looked mediocre at best. Running back Aaron Jones seems to be the most dangerous player for the Packers, and the Seahawks have proven to stop the run against their opponents. While Marshawn Lynch may not be the main back unless it’s near the endzone, Travis Homer has proven he can be a great first option. It’s possible that Duane Brown can return for this game. The left side of the offensive line played well against a great front for Philadelphia last Sunday, and anything that can help the interior bodes well for Russell Wilson and his timing.
Seattle’s receiving corp is another advantage. Davante Adams is the big target for Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Graham can handle some of the load, but outside of those two names, it’s a question of who may step up. Seattle won’t have to worry about a battered receiving corp. They can just disrupt past the line of scrimmage. On the flip side, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf will create problems against a mid-league defense regarding the pass. Jacob Hollister and David Moore are trusted to make clutch plays when neither Lockett or Metcalf have been open.
JD’s Prediction: Seattle wins 24-20
JD’s Postseason Picks so far: 3-1