Jazz: I suppose the second half of the wildcard weekend went a bit better than the first. I managed to break even and go 1-1, bringing my postseason record to a less than impressive 1-3. But it was at least good enough to have me writing the first NFL post this weekend. Can I scrape and claw my way back to a second trophy for the season? Time will tell. What’s probably more interesting is whether or not Tom Brady will be wearing a helmet next season or a headset as a commentator for one of the sports coverage networks. Somehow I kind of doubt he wants to go out on a sour note like the one he rang up last week.
Ed: I too went 1-3 on opening weekend, thanks to surprising wins by the Vikings and Titans, and a not-so-surprising-to-anyone-but-me win by the Seahawks. (That’s the last time I listen to Jake Tapper on a football pick.) Now that we’re in the divisional playoffs, there should be fewer surprises. Or should there?
Jazz: Our first game today sees the Vikings traveling to San Francisco to challenge the 49ers (4:35 pm, NBC). If you look at this game strictly on paper, the outcome is obvious. The Vikings have put in one heck of a season, but now they’re running into the buzzsaw that’s been the 49ers all year. San Francisco scored way more points all season than Minnesota, while both allowed roughly the same amount on defense. Vegas has the 49ers as a favorite by a touchdown. But this postseason has been turning out to be full of surprises so far and the rollercoaster ride isn’t over yet. Minnesota’s defense has more playoff experience and they’ve been surging in the last third of the season. Vegas be darned, I’m going with the upset. Vikings over 49ers 27-21.
The late game has the Titans heading to Charm City to take on the Ravens (8:15 pm, CBS). Tennessee has been pulling off a series of miracles to get where they are now and they deserve plenty of credit. But now they’re up against Lamar Jackson and there just doesn’t seem to be a solution to that puzzle for anyone this year. Tennessee has done a great job and they deserve serious props for making it this far given the low expectations that were set for them at the beginning of the season, but this is the end of the road. Somebody may stop Baltimore before the end, but it won’t be Tennessee. Ravens over Titans 34-17.
Ed: Jazz thinks the Vikings are going to surprise the 49ers, but I just don’t see how. San Francisco won its two final games and three of its last four, including wins over playoff-bound teams like the Saints and Seahawks — both on the road, by the way. Coming off a bye at home, they’re now pretty healthy, while two of Minnesota’s receivers got limited practice time this week. Stephon Diggs was sick but Adam Thielen injured his ankle and is questionable for today’s game. Minnesota has Dalvin Cook healthy and San Francisco only has a middling rush defense, so the Vikings should be able to make it close. Overall, though, the 49ers have the second-ranked defense in the league this year and #1 against the pass. They also have the fourth-ranked offense overall, and score four more points a game than Minnesota. 49ers 30-23 over the Vikings, but I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong in this case. Again.
I’d be a little more receptive to the idea of a Titans upset over the Ravens, but that’s a stretch too. Tennessee is a gutsy team and the Ravens are perhaps at risk for coming out flat after their bye week, but … this is a team that hasn’t lost since getting stunned by the then-competitive Browns in week 4. Their only other loss was to the Chiefs the week previous to that, and they’ve won twelve straight games since. In that streak, the Ravens have beaten the following playoff teams: Seahawks on the road, Patriots at home, Texans at home, 49ers at home, and the Bills on the road. Other than their playoff win last week and a throwaway game against Houston the week before when the Texans sat their starters, Tennessee’s only win against a playoff team this year was against the Chiefs when Patrick Mahomes was dinged up. The Ravens are just too much for the Titans on both sides of the ball. Ravens 35-20 over the Titans.