The NFL wildcard round was every bit as dramatic as we’ve come to expect. Expectations are high for the Divisional Round this weekend, which sees the Niners face the Vikings, the Ravens host the Titans, Texans visit the Chiefs and the Seahawks head to Lambeau Field to face Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers.
Nothing quite matches the NFL playoffs. They are unpredictable, they are tense, and often brutal for the losers. Four teams will be left to wonder what might have been this weekend. The four victors will be just one game away from the Super Bowl in Miami.
Below, we identify the key to each game…
Seattle Seahawks @ Green Bay Packers
A bunch of online betting sites have the Packers as 4-point favourites over the Seahawks this weekend. Such a close spread should come as no surprise, as these two franchises have played out some all-time great games over the years, including Seattle’s 12-point comeback and overtime win the 2014 NFC Championship game.
It might be cliché to make this about Aaron Rodgers, but there’s no doubt the Packers need him at his best if they are to fulfil their Super Bowl ambitions. Rodgers wasn’t performing at his highest level in the regular season – the Lambeau faithful will hope he can produce another epic postseason performance this weekend.
Minnesota Vikings @ San Francisco 49ers
Dee Ford and Nick Bosa are a threat to any opponent. The Minnesota Vikings have shown vulnerability against elite defensive ends and they will face two of the best this weekend when they head to north California.
Robert Saleh’s defence has attracted plaudits league-wide, and it could take control of the game. The Niners were third in the NFL in the regular season in expected points contributed by the defence and ranked in the top 10 in the league in average yards per opponent pass attempt.
The Vikings might have stunned the Saints last weekend, but they are underdogs against a Niners’ defence that could carry them to the Super Bowl.
Tennessee Titans @ Baltimore Ravens
Henry was the league’s leading rusher, Jackson broke all manner of quarterback rushing records. The Ravens’ offence is crafted around Jackson using options, the Titans’ offense relies on establishing Henry from the backfield.
Baltimore were one of the best run defences in the NFL during the regular season – Tennessee were firmly middle of the pack. How the Ravens’ defence deals with Henry could decide the outcome in Maryland.
Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs
The Houston Texans travel to Arrowhead to face Patrick Mahomes’ fearsome Kansas City Chiefs this weekend. Deshaun Watson was masterful in the wildcard round and starred when the teams met earlier this season – Kansas City’s rushing defence leaves plenty to be desired, and Watson’s mobility could be crucial.
This is a quarterback showdown, a game that will be defined by the respective – although different – performances of Mahomes and Watson. It should be a high scoring game, and one that could well flip on how two of the league’s most exciting talents perform under pressure.