NFL Playoffs: Divisional Championship weekend preview

There are just eight teams left in the race to Super Bowl LIV in Miami, so Matthew Crist looks at what can we expect from the four divisional games this weekend.
Matthew Crist  |  11th January 2020

After a frantic wild card weekend,  just eight teams remain in contention to make it to Miami on the first weekend of February and the action continues to come thick and fast, kicking off with four games that will decide next week’s Championship matchups.

So here’s a look at each of the encounters taking place on Saturday and Sunday, all of which offer some curious contests and delicious looking duels to keep us all on the edge of our seats throughout one of the most exciting two days in sport.

Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers 

Saturday, 21:35, Live on Sky Sports Action

Jimmy Garoppolo and the top-seeded Niners will play host to a reclaimed Cousins and the wild-card Vikings in the first playoff game played at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium.

Minnesota pulled off another stunning playoff victory over the Saints last week and will now face the current Super Bowl favourites on their home turf as their reward for what has been a pretty impressive season so far.

These two last met during Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season with the Vikings posting a 24-16 win at home with Jimmy Garoppolo making his debut for the 49ers in a game to forget, as he tossed three interceptions in a 24-16 loss.

However, for Garoppolo to be on the losing side this time around, the Vikings will have to be at the top of their game with Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Dalvin Cook – who posted 286 combined yards last week – pivotal to if they are to progress while Kirk Cousins is yet to convince as a big-game player.

If there is one weakness in the 49ers ranks, though, it’s the defence who allowed just over 19 points per game in the regular season but have given up an average of almost 32 points per game in the final four weeks of the season – not great for a team looking to win its first Super Bowl since the early 1990s.

Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens 

Saturday, 01:15, Live on Sky Sports Action

The AFC Divisional playoff action begins with Tennessee visiting Baltimore on Saturday night with the Ravens well rested having not played a meaningful match since Week 16 while the Titans defeated defending Super Bowl champion New England during Wild Card action last week.

Star of that win over the Pats for the Titans was Running back Derrick Henry, who racked up 182 rushing yards and one TD on a career-high 34 rushing attempts while Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was a human handoff machine as he completed 8 of 15 pass attempts for 72 yards and one Touchdown.

Baltimore finished first overall in the NFL and earned a bye during the first round of the playoffs and following a 33-28 road loss to Kansas City in Week 3, plus a shock 40-25 home loss to Cleveland in Week 4, the Ravens enter this contest riding a franchise-record 12-game winning streak.

Without doubt, a first-round playoff bye has helped Baltimore no end as they enter this contest pretty much at full strength with RB Mark Ingram, who suffered a calf injury in Week 16, expected back for this crucial contest while TE Mark Andrews is expected to play after recovering from an ankle injury.

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs

 Sunday, 20:05, Live on Sky Sports Action

The Chiefs host Houston in the second AFC Divisional duel on Sunday at what is bound to be a bitterly cold Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City

Kansas City have enjoyed a week break after winning AFC West and securing the 2nd seed, setting up a showdown with the Houston Texans on Sunday and that might be vital in this matchup.

It could be said that the Chiefs are fortunate to be here and looked far from their best in first half in their Wild Card game against the Buffalo Bills last week, unable to register any points in the first half before notching the 19 they needed to take the game into overtime.

As for the Texans, they rallied to post a 22-19 OT win at home against Buffalo during AFC Wild Card playoff action last week after falling behind 16-0 before the offence started to break through the Bills defense early in the third quarter to take the game to overtime before Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked the winning field goal.

Kansas have been at home since Week 16 and with the game-time temperature is expected to hover around 25 degrees Fahrenheit home-field advantage is bound to be an advantage against a Houston side who lost 34-16 in a freezing New England during the 2017 Divisional playoffs.

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers 

Sunday, 23:40, Live on Sky Sports Action

Closing out the NFC Divisional playoff round, Seattle visit Green Bay on Sunday at Lambeau Field in a rematch of the 2015 NFC Championship game, which Seattle won 28-22 in overtime.

As the NFC second seed, the Packers enjoyed a first-round bye while the Seahawks defeated the Eagles in Philadelphia during Wild Card action.

Seattle arrive in Green Bay following a 17-9 Wild Card win over the Eagles in Philadelphia in a bruising contest that saw Carson Wentz taken out of the game with a concussion during the Eagles third drive.

Russell Wilson posted 325 passing yards with one TD, plus he led the Seahawks with 45 rushing yards. Rookie receiver D.K. Metcalf had a season-high 160 receiving yards and one TD.

As for the Packers they enjoyed a bye week during the opening round of the playoffs having closed the regular season with five straight wins that included victories against NFC North division rivals during the last three games to claim the No 2 seed.

So if the fully rested Packers can shut down the Seahawks receivers and make life miserable for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson it’s difficult to see past a home win, though Seattle were road game specialists in 2019 and won’t be intimidated by a trip to frosty Wisconsin.

 

 

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