For Saturday’s games, we have the conferences’ top-seeds facing off against two wolves-in-sheeps’-clothing, pseudo-underdogs that prevailed Wild Card Weekend. Despite being on the road last week, I predicted that Tennessee would send New England packing, while I thought that Minnesota should beat New Orleans, but I couldn’t quite summon the faith to actually pick them. What can I say? The Vikes have burned me before.
Despite these two teams being on the road again this week against the best competition these playoffs have to offer, you can’t rule either team out.
My take: both teams experienced signature wins last week, but they will have the opposite effect for each team.
Ok, let’s break them down:
Minnesota at San Francisco
One of the big questions being asked of Minnesota’s defence entering the postseason was how would their secondary hold up without its two top CBs, and with Xavier Rhodes having a bad year? I contended last week that the Vikes’ depth at Safety would help out significantly, and that’s how things played out. Elite Safety tandem Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris played well, and backup S Andrew Sendejo also saw significant playing time. With Sendejo often lining up in the slot, Smith and Harris were able to be a huge part of the effort that held Michael Thomas to only seven catches. As a result, crybaby/suckface Drew Brees had a lot of completions, but not a lot of yards, as he was under pressure a lot from Minnesota’s superb DL, and had to settle for quick-hitters (i.e.: Alvin Kamara had 8 catches for only 32 yards). Minnesota absolutely has the personnel to slow down Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco offence. Minnesota’s defensive front doesn’t need a lot of help to get pressure on the passer, and their depth at LB helps out in run support. Minnesota will probably use some combination of S/LB to disrupt George Kittle, and rely on its pass rush to disrupt Garoppolo before Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel can get separation. San Fran’s offence is too good not to be able to move the ball, but if Minnesota’s defence plays as well as it did against New Orleans, San Fran will have difficulty scoring a lot of points.
This game will be won or lost by the matchup between Minnesota’s offence and San Francisco’s defence. San Fran is tough against the pass, with an effective pass rush of their own, and a secondary that has played well for most of the season. However, they’re not quite as tough against the run. Minnesota’s ability to win this game will be determined by who is on the field. Dalvin Cook is in fine form, and should be able to move the ball against San Fran. Kyle Rudolph is one of the better pass-catching TEs in the league. The big concern entering this contest is the health of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Both are nursing nagging injuries, and both absolutely have to play for significant amounts if Minnesota is to have a chance. Diggs and Thielen keep defences from stacking the box against Cook, as well as providing big plays out of play-action looks.
This looks like it has the potential to be a great game. I’m counting on Diggs and Thielen to put it all on the line. I’m also betting on last week’s performance by Kirk Cousins to be a galvanizing force that gives the team confidence and propels them to another superlative effort.
Tennessee at Baltimore
This game is in prime-time, I’d guess because of the excitement surrounding the performance of MVP-to-be Lamar Jackson. I suspect that it won’t be as good a game as the afternoon game.
Not that it couldn’t be. Derrick Henry seems to have transcended elite RB status, and has become a full-fledged force of nature. Watching Ryan Tannehill hand off to Henry again and again against an excellent Pats’ defence, when the defending champs knew what was coming, only to have Henry continue to gain yardage was breathtaking. We know what Henry can do, and so does Baltimore. That’s why Baltimore has to do everything they can to slow Henry down, and force Tannehill to beat them. Tannehill has played extremely well, and the ability and endurance of Henry makes play-action a huge opportunity for Tennessee. Unfortunately for Tennessee, they’re thin at wideout, and Baltimore’s secondary is talented.
Tennessee’s defence performed excellently last week against the Pats. However, New England’s offence wasn’t nearly as much of a challenge as Baltimore’s will be. We all know what Lamar Jackson has done this season. Baltimore’s running game is solid, even if Mark Ingram can’t go. Between Baltimore’s depth at RB, and the threat of designed runs by Jackson, quick-hitters to the TEs out of play-action are also a significant part of Baltimore’s offensive repertoire.
The bottom line on this game is that Tennessee’s defence probably isn’t good enough to limit Baltimore’s diverse offence to any great extent. Tennessee’s best defence will be slow, methodical drives by its offence keeping Jackson and Co, off the field. Tennessee had to fight just to get into the playoffs, and last week, they rolled into Foxborough and beat the champs, which for most teams, is like winning a championship. They’ve peaked, and once you peak, there’s nowhere to go but down.