NFL Playoff Preview: NFC Divisional Round

Oct 27, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive back Emmanuel Moseley (41) celebrates with his teammates after intercepting the ball against the Carolina Panthers during the second quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

I think it’s safe to say this year’s NFL playoffs have done the opposite of disappoint so far. Last weekend saw all four wild card games end with the losing team down one possession, including two overtime games where the away team pulled through with the win. Who would’ve thought Brady and Brees would be eliminated in the first round, and Ryan Tannehill and Kirk Cousins would have a chance at making the conference championship? A truly entertaining Wild Card weekend now sets up an even more intriguing divisional round, especially in the NFC. So, that being said, here’s who I think will be suiting up for the NFC Championship Game. 

Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers (-4): Sun, 1/12, 6:40 PM

The Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers meet once again in the playoffs since Seattle’s miraculous fourth quarter comeback victory in 2015. However, this time around, Russell Wilson will be making a return to Wisconsin and face Aaron Rodgers in front of a rowdy crowd at Lambeau Field. As of now, there’s a snowy forecast for Sunday’s game which will make this dynamic duel even more interesting.

Both defensive fronts are going to be a huge factor in Lambeau. For Green Bay, the dynamic duo of Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith will be aiming to keep Wilson and Seattle’s run game grounded as the pair combined for 25.5 sacks in the regular season. The Seahawks, on the other hand, come off an impressive seven sack performance in Philly led by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney who tallied one sack and five solo tackles Sunday, including two tackles for losses. Clowney’s presence was felt in the Eagles’ backfield, drawing multiple offensive linemen on him, setting up his teammates for tackles, and consistently pressuring the quarterback. Although both Wilson and Rodgers are mobile, these defensive fronts need to perform if they want a shot at winning. Both Clowney and defensive end Ziggy Ansah are dealing with injuries, so I see the Packers front outplaying Seattle on this end.

In terms of offense, this quarterback duel will be explosive, yet I’m more excited to see the receiver duel between Davante Adams and D.K. Metcalf. Adams, although missing several games to injury, was merely three yards away from his second straight 1,000-yard season. Emerging as a top receiver in the league, his connection with Rodgers gives scary flashbacks of the unstoppable Rodgers-Jordy Nelson tantrum. For Wilson, his “Davante Adams” comes in the form of a 6’4”, 229 pound rookie drafted in the second round: D.K. Metcalf. Metcalf has been superb this season, totaling 900 yards receiving and 15.5 yards per catch while playing all 16 games this year. Metcalf has been playing with a chip on his shoulder after dropping to the second round in the past draft, but he proved himself this year and last Sunday, catching seven passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. He’s big-bodied, quick, and incredibly athletic; so I’d keep multiple eyes on Metcalf if I were Green Bay.

To be honest, this is the game I’m most looking forward to this weekend. I’d be vastly surprised if this game doesn’t end as a nailbiter. Green Bay’s home advantage will be prevalent on Sunday and Aaron Rodgers is due to have a spectacular game, yet I’m liking Seattle’s momentum after the road win in Philly and could see Russell Wilson leading a hungry Seahawks team to victory.

FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: Seattle Seahawks 27, Green Bay Packers 23

Minnesota Vikings @ San Francisco 49ers (-7): Sat, 1/11, 4:35 PM

It doesn’t seem too long ago since the world saw then Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Farve roll out to his right, dodge a defender, and throw a touchdown dime to Greg Lewis with two seconds remaining to beat the San Francisco 49ers 27-24. Well, here we are nearly 10 years after Farve’s miraculous play for a divisional round matchup in the Bay area for a spot in the NFC Championship Game. Can Kirk Cousins repeat Farve’s heroics? Or will DeForest Buckner, Richard Sherman, and the rest of the talented 49ers defense send the Vikings home?

Although the lowest playoff seed in the NFC, the Vikings are an extremely dangerous team as seen in last week’s insane upset over the New Orleans Saints. Their offense caught its stride in the second half of the regular season and stands out as an all-around attack on the ground and in the air. However, this 49ers defense is no joke whatsoever. Led by first team All-Pros DeForest Buckner and Richard Sherman, this defense is dominant when healthy. Injuries in the second half of the season slowed down the defense, but with linebacker Kwon Alexander returning from injury, the once terrifying 49ers defense could be seeing its return to peak form. And, of course, you can’t mention this starting eleven without one of it’s most impactful players, defensive end Nick Bosa. In his rookie year alone, Bosa recorded nine sacks, 16 tackles for loss, and 25 QB hits. The leading candidate for Defensive ROTY, Bosa’s speed and elusiveness have made him a nightmare for quarterbacks, and Kirk Cousins will make sure to keep an eye on him.

Now, the Vikings offense, like I said before, has been playing better than ever. Star receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, although dealing with injuries sustained earlier in the week, will be playing today and be key factors for the Vikings. The 49ers front seven will cause many problems for running back Dalvin Cook, so Cousins will have to be sharp with his receivers today for the Vikings to have a chance. The 49ers and quarterback Jimmy Garrapalo will also need to attack the passing game as the Vikings have been efficient in their rush defense as of late and their secondary is a little banged up. Tight ends George Kittle and Kyle Rudolph will have busy days as receivers and blockers, but it’ll be interesting to see who performs for their team although I see Kittle having the edge.

This #1 seed vs. #6 seed matchup will be one of the more closer games this weekend. If the Vikings want to pull off the upset, I see Kirk Cousins being the deciding factor yet again as his play will translate to the result. If the 49ers want to host next week’s NFC Championship, they’ll have to bring it on defense and get to the quarterback like they did in the first half of the regular season. As for my take, I predict an average to low scoring game where the 49ers defense will be too much for Cousins and Garoppolo slings for three touchdowns with two of them going to Kittle. 

FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: Minnesota Vikings 13, San Francisco 49ers 24

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