The divisional round is a testament to old-school football, as the four best running teams in the NFL -– Ravens, Titans, Seahawks and 49ers -– are still alive. Elite quarterback battles are also featured: Houston’s Deshaun Watson aims for a second win this season over Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, and Russell Wilson hopes to lead the depleted Seahawks over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Yardbarker previews each game with a pick against the spread. Weekly point spreads are from BetOnline.ag. They are current as of 10 p.m. ET Tuesday. For the latest spreads, check BetOnline.ag.
NFL playoff schedule
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins
Chuck Cook -USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota (11-6) at San Francisco (13-3), Sat., 4:35 ET
TV: NBC LINE: San Francisco -7
What you need to know: Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins’ ability to handle San Francisco’s pressure will be key. He was pressured on 36.4 percent of dropbacks this season, per Pro Football Focus, and posted a passer rating of 84.9 when under pressure. (Regular-season average passing rating was 90.4.) Minnesota’s running game will also be key; Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison combined for 114 yards on 33 carries in the wild-card win over the Saints. San Francisco struggled to stop the run this season, ranking 23rd in yards per carry allowed. There is also reason for concern about San Francisco’s defense. After allowing one of its first seven opponents to reach 20 points, the Niners gave up 20 or more in eight of their past nine games. Richard Sherman has excelled for the Niners, finishing the season with the league’s highest coverage grade for a cornerback, per Pro Football Focus. Two of San Francisco’s three losses season came at home, and the Niners are just 3-2 in their past five games.
On the spot: Vikings RB Dalvin Cook. Cook wasn’t explosive against the Saints, averaging less than four yards per carry, but he did punch in two touchdowns, and was Minnesota’s most effective offensive player. He must be a workhorse again for Cousins, who will use play-action passing to keep the Niners’ rush at bay.
49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: His play has been a mixed bag over the past month; he was average in a loss to Atlanta, bad in a win over the Rams, and excellent in a division-winning effort against the Seahawks in Week 17. Minnesota matches up well with the 49ers, so Garoppolo’s play -– in his first playoff game -– may be the difference.
The pick: Vikings 27 49ers 24
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee (10-7) at Baltimore (14-2), Sat., 8:15 ET
TV: CBS LINE: Baltimore -10
What you need to know: In his past seven games, Titans RB Derrick Henry has rushed for 1,078 yards, including 182 in the wild-card win over the Patriots. Against New England, Tennessee QB Ryan Tannehill had his worst game (72 yards passing) since taking over as starter in Week 7. He’ll need to pick it up against the Ravens, who had the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense. Rookie WR A.J. Brown, who has emerged as Tannehill’s favorite target, had just one target against the Patriots. He’ll need to be more involved. Baltimore comes into the game riding a 12-game winning streak. The Ravens set the all-time team rushing record, with 3,296, and were held under 150 yards rushing in a game just three times. RB Mark Ingram (calf) did not practice Tuesday for the Ravens, but he is expected to play. CB Marcus Peters has five interceptions, three returned for touchdowns — best in the league. Baltimore’s tight ends have combined for 125 receptions, 1,522 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Ravens were one of the NFL’s surest-tackling teams this season; their 93 missed tackles were the fifth fewest in the league.
On the spot: Titans QB Ryan Tannehill. He was not a huge part of the game plan against New England, and didn’t have to be. The Titans probably must score plenty of points to beat Baltimore, so Tannehill, the NFL’s passer rating champion, must do more than go along for the ride.
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson: The Titans should be able to run on Baltimore, limiting the Ravens’ possessions, so the presumptive league MVP must capitalize.
The pick: Titans 30 Ravens 26
Texans running back Carlos Hyde
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Houston (11-6) at Kansas City (12-4), Sun., 3:05 ET
TV: CBS LINE: Kansas City -9.5
What you need to know: In Week 6 in Kansas City, Houston beat the Chiefs, 31-24. Carlos Hyde had a huge game for the Texans, rushing for 116 yards and a touchdown, and QB Deshaun Watson rushed for two TDs of his own. The Texans, who benefited from Buffalo QB Josh Allen’s inaccuracy in the wild-card win over the Bills, will have no such luxury against the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes, who has a 65.9 completion percentage. Kansas City’s defense is much improved since the first meeting. The Chiefs finished the regular season with the league’s seventh-best scoring defense, up from 24th last season. That said, the Chiefs are 29th in the league in yards per carry allowed (4.9) but are fifth best in net yards per passing attempt allowed ( 5.7). Mahomes’ numbers (4,031 yards passing, 26 TDs) weren’t as eye-popping as his 2018 MVP campaign, but he was better at protecting the ball, throwing just five interceptions. The Chiefs have held three of their past five opponents under 10 points.
On the spot: Texans RB Carlos Hyde. He was able to dictate terms and pace with his effort in the teams’ first meeting, and with Kansas City’s offense having rounded into form, he’ll need a similarly physical, between-the-tackles effort.
Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill: If Hill and Mahomes are able to connect on a deep ball or two early, Kansas City will be virtually impossible to stop. It would open room for Damien Williams, Travis Kelce and the rest of the receiving corps. Hill’s quick-strike ability may also be needed if Watson gets off to a fast start.
The pick: Chiefs 30 Texans 23
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Seattle (12-5) at Green Bay (13-3), Sun., 6:40 ET
TV: FOX LINE: Green Bay -4
What you need to know: Seattle desperately needs a running game against the Packers to take off pressure from Russell Wilson, who threw for 325 yards in the wild-card win over the Eagles. The Seahawks managed only 64 yards rushing against Philadelphia. The Packers, who lack the aerial firepower they’ve had in recent seasons, lean on the running of Aaron Jones (1,084 yards rushing) and the league’s ninth-ranked scoring defense. Jones finished the regular season with 1,558 yards from scrimmage, and his 16 rushing touchdowns and 19 total touchdowns led the league. Jones averaged 4.6 yards per carry, and the Packers’ only losses came when he was held in check. Aaron Rodgers didn’t have a huge season for the Packers — his passer rating was 95.4, his lowest since 2015. (League average was 90.4). But he took care of the ball as well as ever, throwing four interceptions on 569 attempts.
On the spot: Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch. He had seven yards rushing on six carries against the Eagles, but it is unlikely that the Seahawks can win with such an anemic effort. Lynch could have better luck against a Packers defense that ranks 24th in the league in yards per carry allowed (4.7).
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: On paper, the Seahawks have the advantage at quarterback; Russell Wilson is the likely MVP runner-up. Rodgers’ numbers this season (4,002 yards passing, 26 TDs) were off his usual pace, but Green Bay’s record suggests that its approach worked. The Packers are better, and a big game from Rodgers will prevent Wilson from stealing another win.
The pick: Packers 24 Seahawks 16
Chris Mueller is the co-host of The PM Team with Poni & Mueller on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan, Monday–Friday from 2-6 p.m. ET. Owner of a dog with a Napoleon complex, consumer of beer, cooker of chili, closet Cleveland Browns fan. On Twitter at @ChrisMuellerPGH – please laugh.