Scully’s NFL Saturday Divisional Round preview

Profile Picture: James Scully

January 10th, 2020

The No. 1 seeds in both conferences, Baltimore and San Francisco, will be in action Saturday against opponents coming off significant upsets. Tennessee defeated last year's Super Bowl champ, New England, and Minnesota derailed New Orleans. Both Saturday games are eligible to be high-scoring affairs.

Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers, 4:35 p.m. ET (NBC)

Minnesota Vikings
Over 44
San Francisco 49ers
Under 44
This game matches Dalvin Cook against San Francisco’s defense.

Minnesota’s defense came up big in the Wild Card Round, when it held New Orleans to 10 points over the first three quarters, and quarterback Kirk Cousins finally won a game of significance by making plays in overtime. However, Cook keyed Minnesota’s success with 28 carries for 94 yards. He caught three passes for 36 yards, as well, and the Vikings need to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.
New Orleans was missing two starters on its the defensive line, and San Francisco ranks second in total defense, but injuries took their toll down the stretch, as the 49ers allowed 31.75 points per game over their last four contests. They got healthy during the bye week, with three defensive stalwarts set to return—linebacker Kwon Alexander, edge rusher Dee Ford and safety Jaquiski Tartt—and the Niners will be committed to stopping the run at all costs.

With the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense, San Francisco will put cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon on an island and make Cousins beat them. I will bet against that proposition. Pass protection has been an issue for Minnesota's offensive line, which surrendered five sacks in a lopsided home loss to Green Bay in Week 16, and Cousins threw for only 179 yards in regulation against New Orleans. Must-pass situations are a no-no against the ferocious Niners pass rush.

San Francisco features outstanding balance on offense. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle are certainly capable against the vulnerable Minnesota secondary, and the Niners gash teams on the ground with Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, and Raheem Mostert. San Francisco ranks second in the league at 144.1 rushing yards per game. The Vikings have allowed an average of 146.3 rushing yards over their last three contests.

San Francisco will slow down Cook and win going away.

Pick: San Francisco -7

Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens, 8:15 p.m. ET (CBS)

Tennessee Titans
Over 46.5
Baltimore Ravens
Under 46.5
Derrick Henry is a beast. The NFL’s leading rusher ran for 182 yards on New England’s No. 1-ranked defense last week, and he will be the focus of Tennessee’s game plan once again this weekend.

However, it is a completely different challenge for the Titans this week. New England’s punchless offense didn’t get much going, but Baltimore can score early and often. Lamar Jackson, who led the league in touchdown passes and rushed for 1,206 yards, will have success against Tennessee’s 24th-ranked pass defense. The Ravens stretch the field vertically and utilize the tight end better than any team. They averaged more rushing yards (206) than passing yards (201.6) this season.
Tennessee didn’t play well defensively late in the regular season and lost its last two home games to Houston and New Orleans. Baltimore could score 50+ on the soft defensive unit. The Ravens led the league in scoring (33.2 points per game) and will take Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill out of his comfort zone by forcing him to throw more than 20 passes. Tannehill threw only 15 passes against New England, and the numbers were similar in late-season wins over Kansas City (19 passes) and Houston (20). In three losses since being named the starter, Tannehill has averaged 34 passes per game.

Baltimore’s fast and aggressive defense will be the difference. Fourth in defensive efficiency ratings (DVOA), the Ravens will run blitz every play to stop Henry. Tannehill will have some opportunities, but Tennessee can’t afford to get into a shootout with Baltimore.

I expect Baltimore to win in a rout.

Pick: Baltimore -10

James Scully’s 2019 NFL record ATS on BetAmerica heading into the Divisional Round: 49-42 (2-2 last week)