The divisional round of the NFL Playoffs gets started Saturday afternoon when the San Francisco 49ers take on the Minnesota Vikings. At home, the top seed in the NFC is a seven-point favorite over Minnesota, with an over/under of 44.5 points.
The Vikings are responsible for the most surprising result of Wild Card weekend. After losing back-to-back games heading into the playoffs, the Vikings traveled to New Orleans and came away with a win against the Saints, who were favored by more than a touchdown. Of course, Minnesota still needs to win two more games on the road to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 1977.
Meanwhile, the 49ers got to relax at home last weekend. San Francisco eked out a Week 17 win against the Seahawks to claim the top seed in the NFC. After an impressive 13-3 regular season that began with eight straight wins, the 49ers now face the pressure of a must-win game if they want to reach their second Super Bowl in the last eight years.
The Big Stage
This will undoubtedly be the biggest game in Jimmy Garoppolo’s career. He didn’t have many big moments in New England, so a few FCS playoff games while at Eastern Illinois are the closest he’s come to playing with such high stakes. To his credit, Garoppolo played well down the stretch, including that vital Week 17 game in Seattle.
However, he had some ups and downs this season and did throw 13 picks, which is a potential concern for San Francisco.
Naturally, the 49ers will try to take the pressure off Garoppolo with their trio of great running backs. However, the Minnesota defense is no pushover. The Vikings took away the New Orleans rushing attack last week, and, outside of a few great plays by Taysom Hill, they kept the Saints in check all game.
If the Minnesota defense can continue to hold up against the run and force Garoppolo to beat it, it will feel good about its chances.
Back to Basics
The biggest question facing the Vikings heading into the playoffs was the health of running back Dalvin Cook. With 94 yards on the ground and two rushing touchdowns, Cook looked healthy against the Saints and should be a focal point of the Minnesota offense moving forward.
Of course, Kirk Cousins ended up stealing the show with his play in overtime against New Orleans. The Vikings will also be pleased with the re-emergence of Adam Thielen, who had 129 yards receiving after being a non-factor late in the year following his injury.
That being said, they don’t get much better than the San Francisco defense, which allowed less than 20 points per game this season. The 49ers are loaded with first-round talent on the defensive line, which helps them to dominate games at the line of scrimmage.
If the Vikings can’t hold up on the offensive line, Cousins and his skill players will have a hard time getting going.
Cutting It Close
While their 13-3 record looks dominant, the 49ers were locked in a lot of close games in December and were only 3-2 down the stretch. With the way the Vikings can run the ball and play defense, San Francisco isn’t going to get much separation unless Garoppolo can raise his game to another level.
Bet on the Vikings to at least beat the seven-point spread and perhaps pull off another road upset.