Wild Card Weekend lived up to its name to kick off the 2019 NFL Playoffs, and in more ways than one.
All four games ended as tight one-score affairs – two of which required overtime to settle things once and for all – and both #6 seeds notched impressive road upsets to advance. That sets the stage for this weekend’s Divisional Round, where the four elite teams who enjoyed a first-round bye eagerly await.
The fun begins on Saturday with a doubleheader featuring #6 vs. #1 showdowns across both conferences. And as per usual, the betting previews below utilize the latest point spreads and moneyline odds posted by online sportsbook Bovada.
#6 Minnesota Vikings (11-6) @ #1 San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
Saturday at 4:35 p.m. EST on NBC
Two years ago, the Vikings defeated the New Orleans Saints (13-4) on the last play of the game in a wild finish which was instantly dubbed the “Minneapolis Miracle.”
And last Sunday, history repeated itself somewhat when the Vikes scored an opening drive touchdown in overtime to send the Saints packing once again. That back-corner jump ball to tight end Kyle Rudolph hasn’t been christened with a nickname just yet, but Minnesota’s second playoff game ending touchdown toss in three years was just as meaningful.
The sixth-seeded Vikings escaped the Superdome and stamped their ticket to the Divisional Round, where a battle by the Bay against the top-seeded 49ers awaits.
Minnesota will be forced to play on short rest this Saturday following the Sunday tilt, lending San Francisco a decided advantage given the team’s two full weeks of rest and recuperation.
So goes the NFL Playoff pecking order though, as the Niners will reap the benefits of a hard-earned first-round bye secured on the final play of the regular season thanks to a goal line stand against the Seattle Seahawks (12-5). Along with that extra week off, San Francisco holds home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs – a meaningful distinction after going 6-2 at Levi’s Stadium on the year.
With head coach and play-calling whiz kid Kyle Shanahan harnessing the abilities of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to perfection, the 49ers acquitted themselves admirably in a postseason audition of sorts to close the regular season.
Squaring off against fellow playoff contenders over the last two months, San Fran has beaten the Green Bay Packers (13-3), the Saints, and the Seahawks to solidify the team’s reputation as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Throw in a hard-fought 20-17 loss to the AFC’s top-seeded Baltimore Ravens (14-2), and the 49ers are surely battle tested as they begin their playoff quest.
The Vikings are as well thanks to their huge upset over the Saints, and if embattled QB Kirk Cousins can continue last week’s clean play, they just might have a shot at reaching their second NFC Championship game in three seasons.
If anyone knows how to prepare a game plan for Cousins, however, it’s Shanahan – his former offensive coordinator during their tenure on the Washington Redskins.
San Francisco has the benefit of that prior experience on its side, not to mention home field and an extra week of rest, so the oddsmakers like them as (-7) favorites. As for the moneyline, the Niners are big-time (-330) faves against (+255) for the Vikings.
#6 Tennessee Titans (10-7) @ #1 Baltimore Ravens (14-2) – Saturday at 8:15 p.m. EST on CBS
In order to enter the postseason tournament as the AFC’s sixth seed, Tennessee had to hit the road and beat their South division rival Houston Texans (11-6) in Week 17.
Head coach Mike Vrabel did just that in a 35-14 laugher, but as a reward, his Titans were sent to Foxboro to face the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (12-5). Vrabel won three titles during his time as a Pats linebacker, and his tutelage under New England’s legendary leader Bill Belichick certainly provided dividends.
The Titans dethroned the Patriots in a 20-13 nail-biter on Wild Card Weekend, and Vrabel even outfoxed the wily Belichick by employing the latter’s obscure penalty usage strategy to kill clock late in a close contest.
Tennessee QB Ryan Tannehill had a forgettable game in ousting New England, going 8 for 15 for just 72 yards with one touchdown toss offset by a badly thrown interception. That subpar output didn’t matter much though, thanks to a prolific rushing attack led by running back Derrick Henry.
The NFL’s regular season rushing leader put on an absolute clinic against the Patriots, putting up 182 yards on 34 carries and plunging in for the go-ahead touchdown. Combined with his epic 32 carry, 211-yard and 3-TD game against Houston two weeks ago, Henry has gashed two stout defenses for nearly 400 yards to almost singlehandedly drag the Titans to the Divisional Round.
Nonetheless, he might not be the best runner on the field when Tennessee touches down in Baltimore this Saturday. That’s because Ravens quarterback and odds-on MVP favorite Lamar Jackson – who finished in sixth place among all NFL rushers with 1,206 yards despite carrying the ball only 176 times – will be in the mix.
Along with that league-leading 6.9 yards per carry average, Jackson topped all NFL passers with 36 touchdowns through the air – and he didn’t even play in a meaningless Week 17 win for the Ravens.
With two rush-first, defensive-oriented teams capping off Saturday’s postseason slate, it’s Baltimore holding the edge as heavy (-9) favorites. Moneyline bettors can back the Ravens at a steep (-440) price, while Titans believers are getting (+320) worth of value.