NFL Playoffs 2020: Eight bold divisional round predictions, including Russell Wilson's cold weather collapse
After a wild first weekend of the NFL playoffs, things could get even crazier in the divisional round
After a wild opening round of the NFL postseason that saw two overtimes and two six seeds pull off upsets, don't be surprised if things get even crazier in the divisional round.
For one, the Seahawks are still in the playoffs, and as you've probably noticed this year, pretty much every game they play ends up being crazy. The Texans are also still alive and this is a big week for them because if they can beat the Chiefs, they'll advance to the AFC title game for the first time in franchise history.
Although playoff games are nearly impossible to predict, we're going to try and do that anyway by making eight bold predictions for the divisional round. Here's how things are going to work: Since there are four games on the schedule this weekend, we'll be making two bold predictions for each game.
Remember, these are bold predictions only. If you're looking for be sure to subscribe right here).. You can also listen to Pete Prisco, R.J. White and Will Brinson make all their picks against the spread on the Pick Six Podcast below (
With that in mind, let's get to the bold predictions.
Eight bold predictions for the divisional round
Saturday, Jan. 11
Minnesota at San Francisco, 4:35 p.m. ET (NBC)
Bold prediction: There will be at least one defensive touchdown in this game
The best way to get a defensive touchdown is to get after the quarterback -- because it could lead to a potential pick-six or even a fumble -- and both of these teams did a fantastic job of crushing opposing quarterbacks in 2019. The 49ers and Vikings both racked up 48 sacks during the regular season, which was tied for the fifth-highest total in the NFL. If both teams can get pressure this week, there's a good chance we could see a defensive touchdown, and that's because both quarterbacks in this game are prone to mistakes. On the 49ers' end, Jimmy Garoppolo threw 13 interceptions in 2019, which was tied for the eight-most in the NFL (he also threw one pick-six). Garoppolo also fumbled the ball 10 times during the season, which is tied for the most fumbles of any quarterback left in the playoffs. So who is Jimmy tied with? You guessed it, Kirk Cousins. Both quarterbacks finished the year with 10 fumbles, which was tied for the eighth-most in the NFL (to be clear: neither quarterback lost all 10 fumbles, but they did fumble it 10 times). Basically, both of these guys are a turnover waiting to happen, and the only question is whether or not the opposing defense will be able to capitalize on the turnover by getting a touchdown out of it. The 49ers scored five defensive touchdowns in 2019, which was tied for the second-most in the league.
One other thing to keep in mind here is that this game will mark the first playoff start of Garoppolo's career. Since 2013, quarterbacks are just 6-17 overall when making their first start, which means it wouldn't be surprising to see Jimmy get some postseason jitters that could lead to a Vikings defensive touchdown.
Bold prediction: Dalvin Cook hits a season high in rushing yards
If the Vikings have done their homework on the 49ers defense -- and I'm guessing they have -- then they already know that it's going to be difficult to throw the ball on San Francisco. During the regular season, there was no team better at stopping the pass than the 49ers, who surrendered just 169.2 yards per game through the air. To put that in perspective, no other team in the NFL gave up less than 180 yards per game and only three other teams surrendered less than 200 yards passing per game.
Since the 49ers defense will likely have Minnesota's passing game on lockdown, I'll be looking for the Vikings to exploit San Francisco's one weakness: Stopping the run. Although you can't throw on the 49ers, you can definitely run on them, as they gave up an average of 112.6 yards per game on the ground this year. In the three games this year where the 49ers gave up more than 140 rushing yards, they went 1-2 while going 12-1 when they gave up less than 140 yards on the ground. Basically, this means, I'm fully expecting the Vikings to go to Dalvin Cook early and often. Cook's season-high for yards was 154 and his season-high for carries was 28, and I won't be surprised if he tops both of those numbers against the 49ers.
Tennessee at Baltimore, 8:15 p.m. ET (CBS)
Although the AFC divisional round rushing record has stood for nearly 50 years, this feels like the season where it will finally go down. Back in 1972, the Dolphins (198 rushing yards) and Browns (165 rushing yards) combined to rush for 363 yards during a divisional round playoff game that Miami would end up winning 20-14 in a season where they would win the Super Bowl and finish with the only perfect record in NFL history.
After 47 years of waiting, this definitely feels like the year where that rushing record could fall. For one, this game will feature the NFL's best rushing team in the Ravens. Not only did Baltimore average 206 yards per game on the ground this season, but they also totaled 3,296 rushing yards as a team, which broke the NFL single-season rushing record, a record that had stood since 1978. On the Titans' end, they have the NFL's leading rusher from 2019 in Derrick Henry, who finished the regular season with 1,540 yards. As a team, Tennessee wasn't quite as good as Baltimore on the ground, but the Titans did rank third in the NFL with an average of 138.9 rushing yards per game. If both these teams can rush for 185 yards on Saturday for a total of 370, that would break the AFC divisional round rushing record, which seems like something these two teams are definitely capable of doing.
Bold prediction: There will be at least two missed kicks in this game
Of all the predictions on the list this week, this one might be the craziest, and that's because this game is going to feature the most accurate kicker in NFL history in Justin Tucker. Although it doesn't seem possible that there would be two missed kicks in a game that involves Tucker, I'm going to predict it anyway. I mean, these are BOLD predictions, right?
Anyway, there are basically two reasons why I see this happening. For one, Ravens coach John Harbaugh is comfortable having Tucker attempt a field goal from almost any distance, which is an easy way to lead to a miss. The ground is expected to be soggy in Baltimore on Saturday night and if Harbaugh sends Tucker out to attempt any field goal over 50 yards, it's not going to be an easy kick. Just last year, we saw Tucker miss a 50-yard field goal during the Ravens' playoff loss to the Chargers, so the guess here is that if Tucker misses a kick, it will come on a long-distance attempt (the Titans also led the NFL in blocked field goals in 2019).
The other reason I'm predicting two missed kicks is that there was no team better at missing kicks in 2019 than the Tennessee Titans. The Titans hit just 8 of 18 field goals this year, marking the first time since 1983 that an NFL team didn't make at least 50 percent of its field goal attempts over the course of a season. The Titans are already on their fourth placekicker this year (Greg Joseph), and guess what: HE HASN'T ATTEMPTED A SINGLE FIELD GOAL ALL SEASON LONG. Having a kicker in the divisional round of the playoffs who hasn't attempted a field goal on the season is almost unheard of, and there's no way to know how Joseph will respond to the immense pressure that comes with playoff kicking. Joseph's last field goal attempt in an NFL game came on Dec. 30, 2018 -- more than a year ago -- and coincidentally, it came in Baltimore while Joseph was playing for the Browns. In a 26-24 win by the Ravens, Joseph hit just one of two field goals for Cleveland (The miss came from 46 yards away).
Sunday, January 12
Houston at Kansas City, 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS)
Bold Prediction: Tyreek Hill breaks AFC divisional record for most receiving yards
Tyreek Hill has already torched the Texans defense once this year, and the prediction here is that he does it again on Sunday. When these two teams met back in Week 6, Hill finished the game with five catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns, and although that might not sound like a huge game, it definitely was, and that's because Hill only played roughly half of Kansas City's offensive snaps. That's right, Hill did all that damage while only playing half the game. The reason Hill wasn't on the field full-time against Houston is that the Chiefs were easing him back into the offense. The Week 6 matchup marked Hill's return to the lineup after missing five weeks due to a clavicle injury.
This time around, the Texans are going to have to deal with a completely healthy Hill, which isn't good news for a Houston secondary that has been struggling all year. To break the AFC divisional record, Hill is going to have to rack up at least 178 yards, which definitely seems within his reach. The record is held by former Broncos receiver Steve Watson, who caught 11 passes for 177 yards during a 24-17 loss to the Steelers in 1984.
Bold prediction: Chiefs score a season high in points
When these two teams met back in Week 6, Tyreek Hill wasn't the only Chiefs player dealing with health issues. During the 31-24 loss to Houston, the Chiefs didn't have Chris Jones (who led the team in sacks this season), left tackle Eric Fisher didn't play and Patrick Mahomes spent more than half the game hobbling around on an injured ankle. Despite all the health problems, the Chiefs were still able to put up 24 points.
With everyone healthy, the prediction here is that the Chiefs offense is going to go wild on Houston. The Chiefs season-high for points was 40, which they did twice this season, and it won't be a surprise at all if they're able to beat that number with Mahomes going up against a Texans secondary that has been below-average for nearly the entire year. Although Josh Allen wasn't able to take advantage of Houston's secondary last week, you can bet Mahomes' mouth is watering at the thought of going up against them.
Seattle at Green Bay, 6:40 p.m. ET (Fox)
Bold prediction: Russell Wilson throws more interceptions than touchdowns
It's not often we see Russell Wilson struggle, but if there are two instances where the Seahawks quarterback seems to have trouble on the field, it's when he's playing in cold weather and when he's playing in Green Bay, which definitely isn't ideal since he's going to be dealing with both of those things on Sunday.
The temperature at kickoff on Sunday is projected to be around 23 degrees, and that could be a bad thing for Wilson because he's struggled in cold weather. In three career games where the kickoff temperature was under 30 degrees, Wilson has thrown four touchdown passes, six interceptions, completed just 56.7% of his passes while also only averaging just 186.7 passing yards per game (Wilson's career completion percentage is 64.5% and he's averaged 232.3 yards per game in his career, so his cold-weather numbers are far below his career numbers). Wilson is 1-2 all-time when the temperature is under 30 degrees, but that one win only happened because Vikings kicker Blair Walsh shanked a 26-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds to preserve a 10-9 Seahawks win during the wild-card round of the 2015 playoffs.
As for his career in Green Bay, Wilson is 0-3 with losses in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Although I'm predicting that Wilson throws more picks than touchdowns, it's something that almost never happens. The Seahawks quarterback has only done it twice over his past 32 games. Also, he's only done it once ever in his 14-game playoff career, and coincidentally, it came against Green Bay during a Seahawks 28-22 win in the 2014 NFC title game.
Bold prediction: This game goes to overtime
After watching two games go to overtime during the wild-card round, this might not seem like a bold prediction, but the reason it definitely qualifies as bold is that divisional-round games almost never go to overtime. Since 2007, only two of out of 48 divisional round games have gone to OT. Coincidentally, the last divisional game to go to OT actually involved the Packers (Green Bay lost to the Cardinals in January 2015), and the lost overtime game in a Sunday divisional game actually involved the Seahawks (Seattle lost to Chicago in January 2007).
The reason I feel good about this prediction is because the Seahawks have basically perfected the art of playing in close games. Of Seattle's 17 games this season, including last week's playoff win, 13 of them have been decided by one score. The Seahawks also had two games go to overtime this year, which was tied for the most in the NFL. As for the Packers, they've also played in multiple close games as nine of their 16 games were decided by one score. Also, the last time we saw these two teams on the field together during the playoffs -- in the 2014 NFC Championship Game -- that game went to overtime, so it would be almost fitting for it to happen again.
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