The Playoff GPS, Week II: Oh, Henry! Does Titans' run end in Baltimore?
GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEKEND
TENNESSEE @ BALTIMORE, Saturday, 8:15 p.m. (EST)
The line: Ravens by 9-1/2
The weather: Cloudy, high of 67
The story: Virtually no one gives Tennessee a chance, and why should they? Baltimore hasn’t lost since September. But no one gave Tennessee a chance last week in New England, either. And look what happened. Derrick Henry, that’s what. With 204 yards from scrimmage, he produced 75 percent of the Titans’ offense. And with New England held to 13 points that was enough to pull the upset. One difference here: The Ravens will put up more … maybe a lot more … than 13 points. They averaged a league-high 33.2 this season. That puts the heat on Ryan Tannehill, and surprise, surprise: He might be up to it. The guy is 8-3 as a starter and led the league in passer rating. Of course, Baltimore is 19-3 with Lamar Jackson, including 13-2 this season.
Something to consider: During the Ravens’ 12-game winning streak they’ve allowed the fewest yards (268.9) and points (15.2) per game. They also allowed an NFL-low 10 passing TDs this season and tied Tampa Bay for the most defensive touchdowns with six.
THREE OTHERS WORTHY OF HALL OF FRAMING
MINNESOTA @ SAN FRANCISCO, Saturday, 4:35 p.m. (EST)
The line: 49ers by 7
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 57
The story: The last time the Vikings won multiple playoff games in one season was 1987. Ironically, that’s the year they beat New Orleans, then went to San Francisco and upset the 49ers. That team had Anthony Carter. This one does not. These Vikings have Stephon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and both missed practice time this week. Diggs was ill, and Thielen lacerated his ankle in a practice crack-up. Both should play, but Thielen is listed as “questionable” – and, considering Thielen’s setback … that the Vikings play on a short week … that the 49ers had two weeks off … and that they haven’t been this healthy since the start of the season, with Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander, Jaquiski Tartt and Mike Person back at practice … this looks like an easy pick. Of course, so did Minnesota’s playoff opener with New Orleans.
Something to consider: Since their bye in Week 13, the Vikings have a league-leading 17 takeaways – six more than their closest competitors (Buffalo and Tampa Bay, each with 11). Included are an NFL-high nine fumble recoveries and eight interceptions.
HOUSTON @ KANSAS CITY, Sunday, 3:05 p.m. (EST)
The line: Chiefs by 9-1/2
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 37
The story: I/m not sure why, but people have fallen asleep on Kansas City. Big mistake. The Chiefs are on a six-game roll that is part Patrick Mahomes/part defense. Mahomes you expect. But defense? Not so much. It kept the Chiefs out of the playoffs a year ago and was a question mark entering this season. Not anymore. Over the past six games, the Chiefs have been rock solid on that side of the ball, with opponents averaging 10.5 points per game. Nobody has been better. In fact, only one wide receiver – Jacksonville’s D.J. Chark – had 100 yards receiving against them all season. And I know what you’re thinking: Yeah, but this is a Houston team that beat the Chiefs this season. Correct. But that was three months ago. A lot has changed … with the Chiefs’ defense at the head of the class. Plus, Andy Reid has had two weeks to get ready for this game, and you should know about Reid and byes. He’s 18-3 after them.
Something to consider: Under Bill O’Brien, the Texans are 17-1 when they commit no turnovers, including 3-0 this season.
SEATTLE @ GREEN BAY, Sunday, 6:40 p.m. (EST)
The line: Packers by 4
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 33
The story: This is what we know about Green Bay: It has Aaron Rodgers. It has Aaron Jones. It’s the NFC’s No. 2 seed and won its last five games. No NFC team won more in that span. What’s more, only one team, period, had a better record (Baltimore at 14-2). So why don’t we trust the Packers? Good question. They don’t have one Aaron who can beat you. They have two. And their defense is vastly improved, with their last five opponents averaging 14.1 points per game. So they can run. They can pass. And they can tackle. But can they beat a Seattle team that was much better on the road (8-1) this season than it was at home (4-4)? It may not be Aaron Rodgers or Aaron Jones who answers that question. It could be the Green Bay defense.
Something to consider: Seattle never won more than one road playoff game in any season.
OUR BEST BETS
RON BORGES – Seahawks (+4). Packers are the softest 13-3 in history, and the Seahawks will prove it.
CLARK JUDGE – Seahawks (+4). They play everyone close, and they’re 8-1 on the road.
RICK GOSSELIN – Ravens (--9-1/2). Welcome to the Lamar Jackson MVP tour.
THE WEEKEND OMG
In his last seven games, Tennessee’s Derrick Henry has outrushed all but one team. His 1,098 yards rushing work out to a per-game average of 154.0 and exceed everyone but Baltimore (207.1).
THE WEEKEND OMG, PART II
The Titans allowed only two quarterbacks the past four years to rush for more than 50 yards -- Deshaun Watson (70) in 2018 and Jameis Winston (53) this season. Lamar Jackson was held under 50 only three times this year.
FIVE GUYS TO WATCH
DERRICK HENRY, RB, Tennessee. With another 150 yards rushing, he becomes just the fourth player in playoff history to run for 150 in consecutive games. The others are three Hall-of-Famers (Franco Harris, Terrell Davis and Emmitt Smith) and Le’Veon Bell. Henry can also become the first player since the 1970 league merger to rush for 180 yards in three consecutive regular-season and/or playoff games.
AARON RODGERS, QB, Green Bay. He’s thrown at least two TD passes in each of his last five playoff games. Plus, he’s completed 71.9 percent of his passes for 1,138 yards, with eight TDs and one interception, in his last four starts vs. Seattle.
D.K. METCALF, WR, Seattle. With 83 yards he surpasses Hall-of-Fame finalist Torry Holt for the most receiving yards (242) by a rookie in the playoffs. Metcalf had 160 last weekend.
MIKE VRABEL, head coach, Tennessee. He can become the franchise’s first head coach to win two playoff games in his first two seasons since Lou Rymkus (1960-61). That’s so long ago that the Titans weren’t the Titans. They were the Houston Oilers.
J.J. WATT, DE, Houston. He has 9 tackles for losses, six sacks and five pass deflections in seven playoff games.
TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO REMEMBER
1. Minnesota and Tennessee can become the first sixth seeds to reach the conference championship games since 2010 when Green Bay and the New York Jets did it.
2. If Seattle and Minnesota win, it would mark the first time a fifth and sixth seed meet for a conference championship game since the NFL went to a 12-game playoff format in 1990.
3. Road teams are a combined 8-6 over the last 14 playoff games (excluding Super Bowl LIII).
4. The Tennessee-Baltimore game marks the fourth time in playoff history that the team that led the league in rushing plays the team with the league’s leading rusher.
5. Green Bay is 6-1 at home in the divisional round of the playoffs.
6. The past six years, No. 1 seeds are 11-1 in the divisional round of the playoffs. The only loser: The 2016 Dallas Cowboys, 34-31 to Green Bay.
7. Tennessee punter Brett Kern led the league this season in punts inside an opponent’s 20 with 37. He had only two touchbacks.
8. Since 1990, when the current playoff format began, the 49ers are 6-1 in playoff openers when having a first-round bye.
9. The 49ers ranked third in the NFL in takeaways (27) and led the league in forced fumbles (21).
10. Including last weekend, Houston has a league-leading 16 comeback wins the past two seasons.
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