After one of the best wild card weekends in recent history, it’s time to shift our focus to the divisional round. Opening up the weekend in the Saturday afternoon time slot is a showdown between the number one seeded San Francisco 49ers (-6.5) against the six seeded Minnesota Vikings. After pulling off the upset in New Orleans as 8 point road dogs on Sunday, do the Vikings have the ammo to come into Candlestick and upset a rested niners squad? Let’s get into it.
Ultimately, it feels like this game will come down to two things for the Vikings: first, can their defense put up a stellar performance on the road against one of the most innovative offensive minds in the game for the second week in a row? Mike Zimmer’s defense was able to hold Sean Payton’s Saints to just 20 points– their lowest point total in the dome, this year, in a game Drew Brees started. A huge part of the defensive performance was their ability to get off the field on third down as they held the Saints to just a 4/11 conversion rate on Sunday. Third down success will be key again this weekend against a Kyle Shannahan led 49ers team that ranked 5th in the league in third down efficiency this year.
Second, Kirk Cousins is going to have to be the effective game manager that he was for a lot of the year. He finished the season with 26 TD passes and 6 interceptions– a good season definitely. $28 million a year good? Not by a long shot but that’s a different conversation. Regardless, Kirk isn’t going to come out slinging and win this game for the Vikings, nor will he be expected to. The Vikings are a fundamentally sound, defensive team who centers their offense around one of the top running backs in the league– Dalvin Cook. Last week against the Saints was the first time both Cook and Adam Thielen (WR) were on the field at the same time since week 6. Really, Cousins is going to have to get the ball out of his hands quickly (49ers are fifth in sacks and first in hurried %) and into the hands of his playmakers– if he doesn’t, Stefon Diggs will no doubt remind him.
Despite a great performance last week though, I’m still not convinced Kirk Cousins and this Minnesota team can pull off another upset. My main concern with the Vikings is that they’re in such a tough spot. They played Sunday in New Orleans, got back to Minnesota Sunday night, and are going to have to fly to California for the early game Saturday. Not only do the 49ers have the bye week, but Minnesota’s on a short week that’s bookended by cross-country travel. Kirks inconsistencies in big games throughout his career coupled with the fact that Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers get an extra week of preparation makes me lean San Fran. Also, the 49ers are getting some key guys back from injury– notably linebacker Kwon Alexander, defensive end Dee Ford, safety Jaquiski Tartt, and potentially right guard Mark Person.
In the past 10 seasons, the road team in divisional round games that take place on Saturday are 2-18 SU and 5-14-1 ATS. (courtesy of @JTFOz)
Right now the line sits San Fran -6.5 with the O/U at 45 after opening at 46. Funny enough, the last time these two teams faced each other in a meaningful game was week 1 of last season in Minnesota and the home Vikings were favored by 6.5. The score? 24-16 Vikes. I think we get close to the opposite here. 49ers move onto the NFC Championship game to face the winner of Seattle Green Bay after winning→
Prediction: 49ers: 27 Vikings: 16