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Straight Up Picks for the Divisional Round

by January 9, 2020

Wild Card Weekend produced four thrilling one-score games, two overtime games, and a bunch of upsets. For the second year in a row, the sixth seeds in both conferences moved on. However, this year’s group (Titans and Vikings) had to beat two of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game (Tom Brady and Drew Brees) to advance. All in all, last week’s picks went 1-3 amidst all the upsets. Does the Divisional Round have more surprises in store for us? Let’s dive in and pick the winners of all four games.

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Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers

The Minnesota Vikings were underdogs by more than a touchdown in New Orleans, but they knocked off the Saints 26-20 in overtime. The win was the franchise’s first road playoff win in 15 years. However, San Francisco has not been kind to the Vikings, as Minnesota has lost nine of their last ten games there.

This game will be closer than many expect, as the Vikings should find success on the ground. Minnesota was the league’s sixth-best rushing team and will face a 49ers defense that ranked 17th against the run (allowed 112.6 YPG). However, the 49ers benefit from a massive scheduling edge in this game. The Vikings will travel across the country on a short week, having played on Sunday, while the 49ers enjoyed a bye. In addition, the 49ers appear to be getting healthy at the right time. San Francisco expects to have the services of defensive end Dee Ford, safety Jaquiski Tartt, and linebacker Kwon Alexander, all of whom have all missed time with injuries. And with all the injuries on the defensive side, the 49ers still finished second in total defense. So with their full complement of players back, it’ll be too much for Kirk Cousins and the Vikings to overcome.

PICK: San Francisco 49ers

Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens

The Titans followed a very smart blueprint in their upset of the Patriots: give the ball to Derrick Henry. The league’s leading rusher touched the ball 35 times for 204 total yards, eventually wearing down the Patriots’ defense. New England outgained Tennessee but committed two costly turnovers, including a game-sealing pick-six.

If the Titans can stay close with the Ravens, they should be able to follow a similar gameplan and ride Derrick Henry. However, the Titans must be concerned with how quickly the Ravens start games. They have a league-best +97 first-quarter point differential. Look for the Ravens to lead early, thus rendering the threat of Henry less effective. If the game remains close throughout, Baltimore will lean on their fifth-ranked rush defense (93.4 YPG allowed) to neutralize the Titans’ biggest threat. In a game that could come down to which quarterback makes more plays, I will side with Lamar Jackson over Ryan Tannehill. Look for Jackson to get his first of many playoff wins in his career.

PICK: Baltimore Ravens

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs

The Texans- Chiefs matchup is a rematch of a game played in the regular season. Deshaun Watson accounted for three touchdowns (two rushing) and led the Texans to a 31-24 win in Arrowhead Stadium in Week 6. However, many things have changed since that game. Patrick Mahomes was hobbled back then, as he had just suffered an ankle injury the week prior. In addition, the Kansas City defense is currently playing lights-out compared to earlier in the season. In the ten games to begin the season, Kansas City was allowing 23.9 PPG. Over the last six games of the regular season, the Chiefs allowed just 11.5 PPG, including just 95 YPG on the ground. 

Houston was very fortunate to survive their game against Buffalo. The Bills had opportunities to put the game away early but instead settled for field goals instead of touchdowns. If not for a controversial blindside block call in overtime, the Bills may have attempted the game-winning field goal. The Texans have leaks in their defense that the Bills were not talented enough to expose. Houston allowed 33 passing touchdowns this year, fourth-most in the league. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense have the tools to move up and down the field consistently all game. Oh yeah, and there are stats out there that say head coach Andy Reid is pretty good off a bye (18-3 in his career, 11-1 at home). 

PICK: Kansas City Chiefs

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers

So far, we have picked three games and all favorites. We will not be making it four-for-four. One concerning thing about picking the Seahawks in this game is that they have lost their last eight games at Lambeau Field. However, these Seahawks are absolute beasts on the road. Their win over the Eagles improved their road record to 8-1. The Seahawks struggled to run the ball against Philadelphia but should find more success against a Packers defense that ranked 23rd against the run (120.1 YPG allowed). After last week’s game, the Seahawks have given the Packers another dimension of their offense to worry about. Rookie wide receiver DK Metcalf consistently broke free behind the secondary, en route to seven catches for 160 yards and a touchdown. With that effort, Metcalf set a franchise record for receiving yards in a playoff game.

Though the Packers went 13-3 this year, something seemed off about their offense all year. Aaron Rodgers finished the year ranked 20th in QBR, and the Packers were middle of the road in the NFL in terms of scoring, averaging 23.5 PPG. In a game that could go either way, one often picks games after analyzing which coach-quarterback duo they have more confidence in. If not for Lamar Jackson’s incredible season, Russell Wilson likely would be the frontrunner for MVP. Plus, I will take the Super Bowl-champion Pete Carroll over rookie head coach Matt LaFleur any day.

PICK: Seattle Seahawks

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Mike Spector is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeSpector01.