Gregg Rosenthal went 3-1 on his predictions for Wild Card Weekend, bringing his season record to 165-94-1. How will he fare in the Divisional Round? His picks are below.
SUNDAY, JAN. 12
3:05 p.m. ET (CBS) | Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, Mo.)
The Chiefs know the Texans are dangerous when at their best, because they've seen it firsthand. The Texans have been chasing their Week 6 win in Arrowhead since it happened and have some reasons to believe they could do it again. J.J. Watt's presence made a huge difference for the Houston pass rush last week, with Watt and his buddy Whitney Mercilus combining for 13 pressures against Buffalo, including three drive-killing plays in the fourth quarter by Mercilus alone. Jenga piece Will Fuller appears to be on track to return for the game. Most importantly, Deshaun Watson is coming off one of his best games of the season despite difficult conditions. Those conditions, to be specific: his offensive line. After making great strides all season, Houston's O-linemen were a mess against Buffalo. They didn't communicate well or recognize blitzes. Sometimes they'd double-team two Bills defenders while allowing other rushers to go free. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil had his worst game as a Texan. This is a problem before a matchup against Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Spags has done a terrific job all season mixing up blitzes and coverages to confuse opposing passing attacks. That was easier to do when they had two outstanding safeties instead of one (Juan Thornhill tore his ACL in Week 17), but the Chiefs will test Watson's protection schemes. The Texans QB ran the ball a 2019 season-high 14 times against Buffalo because he had to, and it wouldn't be surprising to see a similar approach on Sunday.
Bill O'Brien knows his team will need more than 22 points this time around. Houston's secondary, outside of safety Eric Reid, is attackable. So is the Texans' run defense, which struggled to tackle and contain the edge last week against Buffalo. If Watt was rusty, it was in this area. Andy Reid is likely to hit Houston with all sorts of sweeps from his receivers, just waiting for the moment he can set up Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce deep in single coverage.
It's an upset that the Chiefs have the better pass rush and pass defense heading into the game, but the stats don't lie. Patrick Mahomes is getting more support from his team and his coaches than Deshaun Watson. And if Mahomes' supernova career has taught us anything, it's that he doesn't need that much support.
6:40 p.m. ET (FOX) | Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wis.)
This is only the second time this century that two teams that were outgained during the regular season have met in the Divisional Round. In other words, one of this year's "Are they really that good?" squads will be in the NFC Championship Game.
The Seahawks didn't answer their most pressing questions entering the postseason last week, even in victory. The offensive line without Duane Brown was mostly a mess, especially blocking for the run. Jadeveon Clowney looked closer to his normal self, but most of the team's pressure was created by Eagles QB Josh McCown, not the four players up front. They have a major step up in class against a veteran Packers front that has continuity and talent, especially on the edges.
Even in a playoff game where the Pack have a disadvantage at quarterback for the first time in the Aaron Rodgers era, it's hard to find the matchups that don't favor Green Bay. Za'Darius Smith, Kenny Clark and Preston Smith should be trouble for Seattle's line. I'll take Packers DC Mike Pettine calling plays against Seahawks OC Brian Schottenheimer. Perhaps the Seahawks' linebackers can limit Aaron Jones' effectiveness, but the overall winning recipe feels familiar for Seattle. The 'Hawks needRussell Wilson to be the best player on the field Sunday -- and not by a little bit. That's asking for too much.
I wrote earlier this week that the Titans were the most dangerous Divisional Round opponent possible for the Ravens. That doesn't mean Mike Vrabel's team will have an answer for Lamar Jackson.
Tennessee has a strong coaching staff, but it doesn't have the players to match up with the Ravens in the passing game. No team will completely stop this historic Ravens offense, but the best route during the regular season was employing a talented pass rush and secondary like the 49ers and Bills did, winning matchups through the air while using an extra defender to slow down the run, at least somewhat. The Titans were the No. 21 pass defense this year, according to DVOA, and their best pure pass rusher is Harold Landry, a solid enough defender who no one is game-planning for. Even if Mark Ingram can't suit up Saturday, there's little reason to think this Titans group will keep the Ravens far below their 33-point average.
This game will only stay competitive if the Titans' offense looks more like the group that ranked first in efficiency in the second half of the season and less like the one-dimensional group that went to Foxborough. Ryan Tannehill was incredible against the blitz all season (120.3 rating), and the Ravens are the blitz-happiest team in the NFL by far. Derrick Henry does his best work on outside runs, and Baltimore's secondary does its worst work tackling in space. The Titans have been in playoff-like games for two weeks, while the Ravens have essentially had two weeks off after a game in Cleveland that saw them go scoreless for the first 28 minutes. (They, of course, still finished with 31 points.)
The 49ers have done everything right to get to this point, with home-field advantage over a thinner-than-usual NFC field. They have overcome an avalanche of injuries all season and look healthier than ever, with pass rusher Dee Ford and linebacker Kwon Alexander expected to return, in addition to having both tackles, George Kittle and the defensive backfield at full strength. A sluggish late-season pass rush should be fresher after the bye. The Niners only lost three games all season, all in the final seconds. The team's offense made consistent strides late in the year.
If running Kyle Shanahan's offense is a test to be passed, Jimmy Garoppolo now comfortably knows the answers on third down. After starting the season with a five-receiver rotation, the team has a clear alpha in Emmanuel Sanders, a playmaking No. 2 in Deebo Samuel and a solid slot receiver in the red zone with Kendrick Bourne. General manager John Lynch and Shanahan did almost everything right the last three years to build the franchise to this very moment. Yet, I suddenly believe they are going to lose this week, because football.
The Vikings are not your average No. 6 seed. On pure talent, they are the second-best NFC team left (behind the 49ers) and have the fourth-best roster in the playoffs, after you also factor in the top two seeds in the AFC. They boast a singular amount of continuity on defense, with eight of their defensive starters having played at least five seasons together under Mike Zimmer. They can throw a lot of different looks at an offense with their top three safeties. That experience and talent allows them to adjust their plans weekly in the playoffs, like they did when they dominated the base Saints offense for three quarters. They are strongest in situational football, ranking second in red-zone defense and posting a +12 in turnover margin. The offensive brain trust of Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak is savvy, while the health of Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen together makes the top-heavy offense unlike the group we saw for much of the year. (Though the Vikings now have to monitor a bad ankle cut Thielen suffered in practice on Wednesday.)
Whether it's Danielle Hunter or Stefon Diggs or ballhawking safety Anthony Harris or Eric Kendricks, the most instinctive linebacker in football, the Vikings have athletes. Just like the 49ers.
The best game of the best football weekend of the year is the first one, and I can't wait for it. Season after season, we re-learn in the playoffs that teams don't advance based on the best resume. As much as I loved everything about this berserker 49ers team all season, I can't shake the feeling that it's not their time yet. This Vikings team looks ready.