2020 NFL Playoff Bracket Projection: Vikings stun 49ers before falling to Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV
Predicting the 2020 NFL playoffs all the way through the Super Bowl
Wild Card Weekend, man. It did nothing short of living up to its name, checking in as most certainly WILD. My original playoff bracket projection -- which again, is merely a projection! -- was given the old blowtorch treatment. And thanks to our awesome CBS Sports social team putting it on Instagram, people started letting me know as soon as the Bills coughed up a 16-0 lead on Saturday afternoon. Things only got worse from there, as I managed to lose one Super Bowl contestant (the Saints) to my preseason Super Bowl pick (the Vikings) and get just one wild-card pick selection (the Seahawks) correct. Yay.
Onward and upward. This should be a little bit easier in theory because we have three huge favorites. As I noted in my Divisional Round picks story yesterday, that doesn't mean you will see all of them cover. In fact, it's hard to cover as a huge favorite in these spots. I think we could see some upsets this week. That will probably feel foolish come Sunday, but let's give it a whirl anyway.
Make sure and check out our daily NFL podcast -- the Pick Six Podcast -- for more info, including a playoff QB ranking with myself and Danny Kanell on Thursday and me/R.J. White/Pete Prisco picking every game against the spread on Friday. Hit play in the player below and subscribe right here.
(6) Vikings at (1) 49ers -7: Sat., Jan. 11, 4:35 p.m. ET (NBC)
The Vikings have a major mismatch on their offensive line against the 49ers defensive line. But I think they can win this game if they mitigate pressure from Nick Bosa and Co. How does that happen? In my opinion, the best way is to use a) the screen game to Dalvin Cook to slow down the pass rush and b) bootlegs with Kirk Cousins to move the pocket and force the Niners to adjust. If they can do that early and get some points on the board, the 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo could be playing from behind and the Vikings pass rush can uncork. They did WORK against the Saints last week. If they show up again against San Francisco, it could make for a long day for Jimmy G in his first playoff start. This is also Kyle Shanahan's first playoff game since the Falcons' loss in the Super Bowl so maybe there are nerves on that side of the ball. Adam Thielen being injured or even limited could be a big problem for the Vikings, but I think they can overcome it with some smart game planning.
PROJECTED SCORE: Vikings 24, 49ers 21
Speaking of game planning, Pete Prisco had a great point on the Pick Six Podcast (coming for Friday's edition, subscribe here to get it first thing in the morning every single day!) about Dean Peas scheming up the Ravens defense against Greg Roman and Colin Kaepernick against the 49ers back in 2012. Peas is now with the Titans and has the same task of using Harold Landry and Rashaan Evans to try and stop the combo of Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram. I'd argue it's a lot harder than the Kap/Frank Gore combo, but the same principles apply here. To me, this game gets decided based on who is up in the first quarter, or who gets to a double-digit lead first. That team will get to run downhill and unleash a potent run game against a defense that might not be able to hold up in defense. I think it's the Ravens but the Titans keep it close.
PROJECTED SCORE: Ravens 31, Titans 24
This game, however, will not be close. The Chiefs have an explosive passing offense and they're coming off a bye with Andy Reid coaching and looking to strike early and often. Reid isn't going to, I hope, get up early and let Deshaun Watson storm back a la the Bills last week. The Texans can't do what they did against the Bills in Kansas City either, because the Chiefs defense is not the same old Chiefs defense and the offense will keep scoring. This feels like it could get out of hand a la the Colts-Chiefs game last year. Similar team for the Texans too. Trying to come in and do anything other than let Deshaun Watson cook is a major mistake.
PROJECTED SCORE: Chiefs 31, Texans 14
(5) Seahawks at (2) Packers -4: Sun., Jan. 12, 6:40 p.m. ET (Fox)
A fascinating matchup of the two luckiest teams in football. The Packers two worst games this season came against Cover-3 style defenses from the Pete Carroll school, against the Chargers (Gus Bradley) and 49ers (Robert Saleh), and I think this Seahawks defense can create some issues, especially if Jadeveon Clowney continues to create havoc on the defensive front. Russell Wilson is cooking right now and D.K. Metcalf is making a lot of people look very stupid. The Packers could make me look very stupid too and light up the Seahawks secondary while also seeing Aaron Rodgers morph into old school Aaron Rodgers. That could happen! I just think the Seahawks will find a way to keep this game close -- like every Seahawks game -- and then sneak something out in the end. Yes, I'm purposely giving it a weird score.
PROJECTED SCORE: Seahawks 17, Packers 16
(2) Chiefs at (1) Ravens -3: Sun., Jan. 19, 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
If this matchup doesn't happen, people are going to be legitimately upset. And by people, I mean my bosses' bosses' bosses, who definitely want to see Lamar vs. Mahomes. Also, football fans NEED this. It's like a new age Brady vs. Manning. Make it happen, captain. The Chiefs already beat the Ravens this year. It won't be easy to beat them again, and I'm not entirely sure how they're going to stop Lamar Jackson. But I don't know if the Ravens can slow down Patrick Mahomes either. I'll take the dog in this spot in Baltimore because I believe the Chiefs are about to take over and run the table.
PROJECTED SCORE: Chiefs 24, Ravens 21
(6) Vikings at (5) Seahawks -3: Sun., Jan. 19, 6:40 p.m. ET (Fox)
IMAGINE THE CHAOS. Russ vs. Cousins. Five vs. Six. Cats vs Dogs. Or something. Either way, this would be a crazy matchup, with the two best teams in football on one side and two literal wild cards on the other. This possibility is why you might consider taking the AFC -3 right now if it's available to you. Just saying. I think the Vikings can take care of business and get revenge on Russ for winning in Seattle the last time these teams played. It could be an incredible shootout OR a situation where the Vikes defense just takes over again. I'll take the latter this time around while Minnesota is still alive.
PROJECTED SCORE: Vikings 24, Seahawks 23
Super Bowl LIV
(2) Chiefs -6 vs. (6) Vikings: Sun., Feb. 3, 6:05 p.m. ET (Fox)
Is this the matchup America wants? Probably not. But it's the matchup I want to see. Shoot it in my veins. Although the downside here would be John Breech hitting his prediction perfectly and people not realizing I hit MY Vikings pick, so I would be a little concerned about that. Whatever, I'll take the Vikings vs. Chiefs as two of my favorite teams this year, both of whom are underrated on one side of the ball (Vikings offense and Chiefs defense). I don't know if the Vikings can cook up enough against the Chiefs, however, and I might lean towards the AFC side of things in this matchup. I love Kirk Cousins but I can't bet against Patrick Mahomes.
PROJECTED SCORE: Chiefs 31, Vikings 24
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