NFL Divisional Round Picks: 49ers Magical Season Continues

After last week’s 1-for-4 performance I’m squeamishly back to take a stab at the divisional round. On the surface, three of this weekend’s games feel one-sided enough to picks the winning team with both eyes open. That of course means trick plays, emergent scheming and injuries will result in a few upsets. Let’s throw up some confetti and give this another shot!

Minnesota at San Francisco, 4:35 ET, NBC

Remember in 2017 when the 49ers were slumming in winless hell during Kyle Shanahan’s first season and it was presumed that the organization would target free agent Kirk Cousins during the offseason? Then Bill Belichick let Tom Brady’s heir apparent walk for a second-round pick and well, the 49ers have been mostly golden ever since. 

Cousins, who stepped up last week in New Orleans, will try and make the case that the 49ers chose the wrong path under center. It could be tough given that the 49ers are almost at full health on defense. The return of Dee Ford should be a massive boost for the pass rush, and Kwon Alexander, even at less than 100%, could help in neutralizing Minnesota’s powerful run game. Even with the defense at full strength, stopping Dalvin Cook, who gashed the Saints for 94 yards and two scores last week, won’t be easy. Edge rusher Nick Bosa knows what his unit is facing in Cook:

“He’s really good. Not many people could just maintain the speed that he maintains through contact,” Bosa said. “He just makes cuts and never slows down. He’s physical. They’ve got two of them, so it’s going to be a challenge. We’ve played some good backs, but we haven’t played him. We just got to bring it.”

One issue facing the Vikings is the unknown health of Adam Theilen who suffered an ankle injury in practice this week. Whether or not Theilen is at 100%, expect Cousins to target the 49ers’ second corner who will be either Ahkello Witherspoon or Emmanuel Moseley, both of whom have been weak spots. 

But this game will likely boil down to whether the Vikings stout defensive line, who pulverized Drew Brees and the Saints last week, can do the same to Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers.  Kyle Shanahan’s master scheming and in game adjustments vs. this Vikings front is the type of chess match that should have football junkies salivating.  It’s hard to envision the same fate for Garoppolo, who has stepped in big games multiple times this season. When you add in that newly healthy pass rush that could pressure Cousins into mistakes, the home team looks poised the eke out a victory.

49ers 31 Vikings 27 (Count on at least one defensive touchdown)

Tennessee at Baltimore, 8:15 ET, CBS

Was last week’s stunner over New England the Titans’ Super Bowl?  Probably not for Derrick Henry who is playing his best football yet over the past 6 weeks. Henry had his way with the Patriots line last week, rushing for 182 yards and a score. Henry’s patience and vision can circumvent any defensive front and Baltimore’s is no different, even though they are fifth best in the NFL against the run. If the Ravens somehow neutralize Henry, Ryan Tannehill is going to need to play the best game of his life against a stout Ravens secondary. 

But the obvious question is how on earth will Tennessee stop Lamar Jackson? How on earth can anyone stop Lamar Jackson? This game should be a treat be a treat for rushing purists, and as long as Baltimore employs so many misdirections, Jackson (and Mark Ingram) should have a day. Couple that with the no. 1 seeds holding a significant 8-1 record over no. 6 seeds since 2010 and the Ravens are poised for a blowout.

Ravens 42 Titans 21

Houston at Kansas City, 3:05 ET, CBS

With Deshaun Watson under center, the Texans have a chance in virtually every game. But this one seems really tough for the Texans who may have bid adieu to this season had it not been for baffling football management by Bills QB Josh Allen last week 

The Chiefs are playing their best defensive football of the season, thanks to a makeover from defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. As evidenced by Buffalo in the first half last week, DeAndre Hopkins can be contained, especially with Will Fuller still gimpy. On the other side of the ball, the Texans simply don’t have the manpower to contain Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and co.  Another big advantage for the Chiefs is that Andy Reid is the maestro of their sideline. Reid’s a far superior in game coach than Bill O’Brien.

Chiefs 38 Texans 17

Seattle at Green Bay, 6:40 ET, FOX

This game has proven the most challenging for me to pick and that’s simply because Russell Wilson will be on the field. If almost any other quarterback was under center for Seattle, major advantage Green Bay. Of course they have Aaron Rodgers and an emerging Allen Lazard to pair with Davante Adams. The Seahawks counter with DK Metcalf who has emerged as an absolute beast (why did he fall to the second round again?) But what Seattle has gained in aerial productivity, they’ve lost in their once dominant run game. The loss of Chris Carson has been massive and Marshawn Lynch does not appear to be the answer. 

But the biggest mismatch heading into this one is Seattle’s run defense, ranked 26th, against Packers’ powerhouse rusher Aaron Jones. Jones should have a field day. Back to Wilson who is a proven magician, well, proven everywhere except for Lambeau Field where he is 0-3.  Sunday’s predicted 20 degree, possibly snowy weather, isn’t going to help him notch that first road win.

Packers 29 Seattle 28