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NFL Playoffs 2020: Updated Schedule and Divisional-Round Predictions

Megan ArmstrongAnalyst IIIJanuary 6, 2020

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is introduced onto the field prior to an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

The 2020 NFL divisional round looks different than most expected.

Wild Card Weekend lived up to its title, starting with the fourth-seeded Houston Texans completing a 16-point comeback to oust the visiting fifth-seeded Buffalo Bills 22-19 in overtime.

Saturday rounded out with the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans shockingly upsetting the third-seeded New England Patriots 20-13 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. 

For the first time since 2010, the Patriots will not be in the AFC Championship Game. 

But who will? 

The NFC wild-card slate Sunday saw both home teams lose. 

The sixth-seeded Minnesota Vikings again served the third-seeded New Orleans Saints heartbreak on a platter two years removed from the "Minneapolis Miracle." The Vikings defeated the Saints 26-20 in overtime to capture their first road playoff win since 2004.

The weekend was capped by the No. 5 Seattle Seahawks outlasting the No. 4 Philadelphia Eagles 17-9. The Eagles lost Carson Wentz to a head injury in the first quarter when Seahawks edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney's helmet drove the starting quarterback's head into the ground.

If these four games conveyed anything, it is that anything and everything could happen in the divisional round.

Below is an initial look at the upcoming playoff schedule as well as predictions for each divisional matchup.

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Updated Schedule

Divisional Round

No. 6 Tennessee Titans at No. 1 Baltimore Ravens: Saturday, Jan. 11, at 8:15 p.m. ET on CBS

No. 4 Houston Texans at No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs: Sunday, Jan. 12, at 3:05 p.m. ET on CBS

No. 6 Minnesota Vikings at No. 1 San Francisco 49ers: Saturday, Jan. 11, at 4:35 p.m. ET on NBC

No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 2 Green Bay Packers: Sunday, Jan. 12, at 6:40 p.m. ET on Fox

         

Conference Championships

AFC Championship: Sunday, Jan. 19, at 3:05 p.m. ET on CBS

NFC Championship: Sunday, Jan. 19, at 6:40 p.m. ET on Fox

             

Super Bowl LIV

Sunday, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. ET on Fox from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami

        

Divisional Predictions

Titans at Ravens

The Titans are going to need to transport every bit of magic used in New England to Baltimore.

Derrick Henry eviscerated the Patriots with 204 total yards from scrimmage, including 182 yards and one touchdown on 34 carries. That took pressure off of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who only needed to throw the ball 15 times.

That said, Henry's heroics led to only 14 offensive points for the Titans. That won't cut it against the league's top scoring offense (33.2 points per game) operated by MVP candidate Lamar Jackson:

The Ravens ended the regular season with the fifth-best rushing defense, which could force Tannehill into a more prominent role than was necessary in New England. And for all the talk about Henry, the league's regular-season rushing champion, Baltimore was the NFL's top regular-season running team.

Tennessee met the Patriots when they looked vulnerable. New England lost three of its last five regular-season games, including a historical upset loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 that sent them into Wild Card Weekend for the first time since 2009. The Titans won't have that advantage versus Baltimore, which hasn't lost since Sept. 29. 

The 14-2 Ravens are favored to win Super Bowl LIV and haven't shown any reason to doubt them against anyone. Tennessee, huge wild-card upset and all, is no exception. 

Pick: Baltimore 38, Tennessee 21

             

Vikings at 49ers

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins silenced doubters with his wild-card performance against the Saints:

But the 31-year-old Pro Bowler's work is far from done. 

According to ESPN's Kevin Seifert, Minnesota has dropped nine of its last 10 trips to San Francisco. 

Cousins' narrative aside, the Vikings' Pro Bowl running back, Dalvin Cook, will likely be the offense's X-factor in the game. The Niners were the top-ranked passing defense and second-ranked total defense in the regular season, but they are the 17th-best rushing defense.

Cook rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns on the fourth-ranked Saints rushing defense:

The Vikings' defense played lights out in New Orleans, too, holding Drew Brees to 208 yards, one touchdown and one pick on 26-of-33 passing and kept All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas out of the end zone. 

Minnesota will have its hands full with the Niners' weapons, though, namely All-Pro tight end George Kittle:

Jimmy Garoppolo is a lesser quarterback when Kittle is taken out of the equation. Seifert named Vikings linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks as X-factors "because at different points they'll have similar jobs: defending the 49ers' fleet of non-receiver pass weapons."

Seifert continued: "Minnesota won't be able to rely on safety Harrison Smith to defend tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. At one point or the other, Barr and Kendricks will have to do their part. When Kittle and Juszczyk get a step on defenders, the 49ers' offense is difficult to slow down."

In other words, this one should come down to whether Cook or Kittle is able to run free.

Pick: San Francisco 21, Minnesota 17

        

Texans at Chiefs

The Texans topped the Chiefs 31-24 in Week 6 at Arrowhead Stadium. 

Kansas City will have reinforcements when Houston visits this time:

Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes was not fully healthy for the Chiefs in Week 6, either, nursing an ankle injury. The 24-year-old quarterback still posted 273 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

While the Chiefs are overall in much better standing for this matchup, a season-ending torn ACL suffered by rookie safety Juan Thornhill in the regular-season finale is worrisome. Added pressure will be placed on All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu as well as cornerback Kendall Fuller and backup safety Armani Watts to contain Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson's connection with All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Hopkins recorded 90 yards on six receptions against the Bills, but it was Watson who ultimately delivered the dagger to Buffalo:

The QB matchup between Mahomes and Watson is the headliner:

Houston's defense will have a much tougher task handling the Chiefs' offensive weapons than the Bills' cast. Kansas City features tight end Travis Kelce alongside dynamic receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. 

Perhaps more significant, though, is how much better the Chiefs defense has performed since these two squads last met. The Bills effectively distressed Watson but ultimately lost the game, at least in part, because of poor quarterback play from Josh Allen down the stretch. 

The Texans can't bank on that from Mahomes:

All things considered, bank on the Chiefs extending their winning streak to seven and scheduling a much-anticipated clash with the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game. It would be Kansas City's first back-to-back conference title game appearances in franchise history.

The Chiefs are 2-0 against the Ravens dating back to last season—both regular-season games—most recently defeating Baltimore 33-28 at home in Week 3.

Pick: Kansas City 34, Houston 24

Seahawks at Packers

Seattle's last postseason trip to Green Bay resulted in a comeback 28-22 overtime victory in the 2014 NFC Championship Game, ending with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson finding Doug Baldwin for 35 yards before hitting Jermaine Kearse for the 35-yard game-winning touchdown pass.

Wilson has gotten better and better since then, while Packers All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers seems to have slightly regressed.

The veteran struggled in Green Bay's regular-season finale with 323 yards, two touchdowns and one pick on 27-of-55 passing:

However, the Packers have historically brought out the worst in Wilson:

And that's before he has had to face the Packers with defensive ends Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith in his face.  

The Packers' offense has evolved beyond Rodgers, though, with running back Aaron Jones. The rushing game figures to be an advantage for Green Bay, given the Seahawks are depending on 33-year-old Marshawn Lynch and sixth-round rookie Travis Homer. Seattle was held to 64 rushing yards against the Eagles, and Wilson was responsible for 45 of them.

Jones tied for the league lead in broken tackles with 32 in the regular season and became the first Packers back to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards since Eddie Lacy in 2014. The 25-year-old 2017 fifth-round pick is primed to take advantage of the Seahawks' 22nd-ranked rushing defense. If he can do that, first-year head coach Matt LaFleur will be able to stretch the offense for Rodgers and receiver Davante Adams.

But will that be enough to propel the Packers beyond Seattle? Not so fast. The Seahawks' 17-9 defeat of an extremely injury-hobbled Eagles squad is hardly a reliable gauge, but Wilson's connection with rookie second-round receiver D.K. Metcalf should put Green Bay on alert:

If Wilson is rolling with Metcalf and No. 1 receiver Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks won't need much from Lynch or Homer. Perhaps it's the upset-happy Wild Card Round speaking, but this feels like Seattle's game to lose.

Pick: Seattle 20, Green Bay 17

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