Saturday’s Playoff Essentials

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Vikings at 49ers, 4:35 pm ET, NBC

Betting Odds: San Francisco -7, Total 44 ½
Lines provided by FoxBet (NJ and PA only)

San Francisco (13-3 SU, 9-6-1 ATS) returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, having finished atop the NFC with one of its best seasons over the past 35 years. This new version of the 49ers still has a lot to prove to garner further mention among the franchise’s top teams, much less the ones that reached three straight NFC championship games under Jim Harbaugh.

This is a new group that is tasting success for the first time. Jimmy Garoppolo, who struggled earlier in the season as he returned from an ACL tear, will be making his first postseason start. Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium will host the Niners’ entire run since they were able to edge the Saints in comeback fashion in New Orleans and then held off the Seahawks by an inch in Seattle. Mix in a dominant performance at home against Green Bay in Week 12 and the 49ers have definitely earned the right to remain at home for as long as they’re alive.

That didn’t do New Orleans much good against Minnesota (11-6, 10-7) last week in the biggest upset of Wild Card Weekend. The Vikings closed as a seven-point underdog and responded to blowing a late lead by breaking through with a touchdown to open overtime. The Vikes won 26-20 on Kyle Rudolph’s touchdown catch on third down and deserved to come out on top, controlling the game against the Saints with a strong performance from RB Dalvin Cook and his offensive line. A defensive backfield decimated by injuries held up against a Brees-led passing attack and Kirk Cousins put together a number of clutch throws to help deliver the upset.

The bye should certainly help the 49ers, who had multiple bumps and bruises they had to overcome throughout December, but don’t make too much of the Vikings coming in on a short week after winning last Sunday afternoon.

Although they do have a day less to prepare compared to the conventional week-to-week NFL grind, it’s not like Minnesota is being asked to turn around and play on a Thursday night. The Vikings won two of their three games without a full week’s preparation and covered all three times.

The 49ers opened as a -6.5/-7-point favorite, which is where the figure continues to hover at as kickoff approaches. It’s no secret that Minnesota will look to test its physicality against a team that has excelled at what Mike Zimmer terms “big-boy football,” getting lined up and blocking and attempting to establish the run. The Vikings finished sixth in the NFL in rushing, while San Francisco ended up as a middle-of-the-road run defense, coming in 17th.

A pass defense that was the best in all of football (169.2 ypg) ultimately allowed the 49ers to finish second in fewest total yardage surrendered, so you don’t have to wonder what Minnesota is hoping to establish. If they’re successful early in getting Cook going, they could effectively utilize play-action if Cousins can accurately throw downfield. Although his streak of losses in primetime games continued in 2019, he’s enjoyed an effective season and is 9-3 straight up in day games.

Cousins has props of 230.5 passing yards and 1.5 passing touchdowns available at the Westgate Superbook. He’s expected to have his full complement of receivers available with Adam Thielen set to play through an ankle injury. Cook’s rushing yard number was set at 80.5, which is a little risky since the Vikings are likely to mix in rookie Alexander Mattison early in order to ensure Cook will be fresh enough for a final push.

Garoppolo attempted a pass back in the 2014 postseason while winning a Super Bowl as a rookie with the Patriots but will come into this contest looking for his first completion. The Westgate placed his props at 20.5 completions and 1.5 touchdown passes. He’s favored to throw an interception (-145). My free pick here would to ride the ‘under’ on Garoppolo completions. Although there’s danger in him finding George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders and rookie Deebo Samuel on short routes, he’s only completed more than 20 passes in seven of his 16 outings and did so only twice over the last six weeks.

Minnesota’s pass defense finished 15th, but since the team’s strength lies in their pass rush, it’s likely that 49ers head coach Mike Shanahan employs the run often. Running it early to ensure Garoppolo can settle down makes a first-quarter ‘under’ attractive. Raheem Mostert has emerged as the primary back and figures to get plenty of work to try and neutralize a unit that finished fifth with 48 sacks and picked up 31 takeaways, ranking fourth in the NFL. A red-zone defense that ranked second in the NFL in keeping opponents out of the end zone could also present issues for the Niners. Mostert scored rushing touchdowns in six straight games and is -110 to do so again per the Westgate.

The Vikings come in with a depleted secondary after ruling safety Jayron Kearse out with knee and toe injuries. Corner Mackensie Alexander was unable to come back from a knee injury and had surgery on Thursday. Corner Mike Hughes was lost late in the season and veteran Xavier Rhodes has been picked on, so there could be opportunities if Garoppolo is sharp. San Francisco is much healthier, activating linebacker Kwon Alexander from a torn pectoral, the same injury that had sidelined Houston’s J.J. Watt. Alexander was the heart of the 49ers’ defense before going down. Pass rusher Dee Ford and safety Jaquiski Tartt are also back in the mix for an aggressive unit that excelled most of the season.

San Francisco is 4-1 in the playoffs against the Vikings, with every meeting coming in the divisional playoff round. None of that really matters, but it is worth knowing that the 49ers have only won one of the last five matchups against Minnesota over the past 12 years, last falling in Week 1 of 2018 by a 24-16 score. Garoppolo was intercepted three times despite throwing for 261 yards. Cousins threw for 244 yards and two scores in his first game as the Vikes’ quarterback. San Francisco won the lone meeting at Levi’s back in ’15, rolling 20-3.

The ‘over’ went 8-7-1 in 49ers games this season and went 8-8 in Minnesota’s games. For all “Total Talk” on Saturday’s Divisional playoff action, read Chris David’s piece click here .

Temperatures will be in the 50’s and wind gusts will be minimal in Santa Clara, so weather shouldn’t play a large role. For that reason, I also love the prop requiring both teams to knock down field goals of at least 33 yards to cash at +110 (Westgate) since both teams have accurate kickers and solid red-zone defenses.

Titans at Ravens, 8:15 pm ET, CBS

Betting Odds: Baltimore -10, Total 47
Lines provided by FoxBet (NJ and PA only)

Baltimore (14-2 SU, 11-4-1 ATS) opens its run as Super Bowl favorite, currently 2-to-1 at Caesars, at home in what could be a rainy Saturday night. Upset-minded Tennessee (10-7, 10-7) arrives instead of the Texans, which also means Tom Brady and the Patriots won’t come knocking again.

The Ravens had their coming-out party in Week 9, dominating New England 37-20 after a well-timed bye. As November opened, the AFC still looked like the Patriots Invitational due to an elite defense and the presence of Brady. That game was not only an eye-opener, it sent the teams in completely different directions. Baltimore hasn’t lost since Sept. 29, going 9-2-1 against the spread during its 12-game win streak. Quarterback Lamar Jackson will be named NFL MVP.

The Titans defeated the Patriots in Foxborough last week, clamping down defensively and riding a ground game led by NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry to a 20-13 win that would’ve been a one-point squeaker if not for a Brady pick-six to close the game out. Tennessee has now won and covered six of eight, a stretch that actually includes a perfect mark over four road games. Tennessee’s run began with a home win over Kansas City and includes a Week 17 victory over a Houston team resting starters, so Mike Vrabel’s team will have plenty of confidence if it can survive to play for an AFC Championship on the road next Sunday.

Tennessee’s current Super Bowl odds at Caesars are 35-to-1 and it is currently the lone double-digit underdog playing this weekend unless Houston ends up in that role on Sunday. As of late Friday, the Chiefs were still a 9/9.5-point favorite for Sunday’s matchup with the Texans.

The number for this game opened with the Ravens laying 10 points but that was quickly bet down to nine points, even reaching 8.5 at Circa and FanDuel. Around Tuesday, the action started coming in on Baltimore, pushing the spread to 10 and potentially climbing.

Titans QB Ryan Tannehill won his postseason debut despite having never won at Gillette Stadium coming into this postseason. He’s now 8-3 as the team’s starter. Lamar Jackson will be looking to get on the board after falling his first time out, struggling to get anything going against the Chargers at home in an eventual 23-17 loss in the Wild Card round last year. The Ravens fell behind 12-0 and 23-3 before a pair of late scores. Jackson ran nine times for 54 yards and finished 14-for-29 for 194 yards and the two fourth-quarter TD passes.

He then went to work and became the NFL’s most prolific offensive weapon. Jackson set a league record for a quarterback with 1,206 rushing yards. He threw 36 touchdown passes while Baltimore set a league record with 3,296 rushing yards. After opening the season with a 59-10 rout of Miami, the Ravens barely slowed down. They’ve scored 28 or more points in eight of their last 10 contests and finished with a league-best 531 points (33.2 ppg). This total of 47 is consistent with where oddsmakers have kept Ravens games all season, placing them within three of that number in 12 of their 16 contests. The ‘over’ is 9-7 in Baltimore games.

Jackson has props of 17.5 completions and two passing touchdowns available at the Westgate Superbook. The number set on his rushing prop is 74.5 yards, which is a figure he’s eclipsed in five of his past six games. Despite that, he’s got just one rushing TD over the last six contests. Keep that in mind if you’re enticed by banking on ‘yes’ at a return of +115 (-135 for ‘no’).

By comparison, Henry’s odds of reaching the end zone have been at set at -150, which is still a nice bet considering the Titans are unlikely to get shut out and he’s scored in seven of the last eight games he’s played in. He’s got 13 touchdowns since the beginning of November and looks healthy after taking Week 16 off to rest an ailing hamstring. Henry’s rushing total has been set at 95.5, a figure he’s topped in six of seven after racking up 182 yards at New England last Saturday night. He closed the regular season with 211 yards on 32 carries at Houston. The Ravens finished with the league’s fifth-best run defense, which will definitely make things interesting.

Baltimore’s pass defense finished sixth, while the Titans finished 24th stifling teams through the air. If inclement weather is part of the action, it may not be as easy for Jackson to dissect Tennessee. The 238 yards he passed for against the Browns in Week 17 were his highest output since late September. Tight end Mark Andrews has emerged as his favorite target and should play despite likely being at less than 100 percent with an ankle injury. He’s caught seven of Jackson’s 24 touchdown passes over the past seven weeks and is even money to score on Saturday (‘no’ -120)

Preparing for Jackson is an impossible task, but the Titans have been working against the elusive former No. 2 overall pick Marcus, Mariota to try and replicate what they’re about to face. Tannehill finished 8-for-15 for just 72 yards against the Patriots, so his passing yards number (225.5) is suspiciously high. If you’re of the belief that Baltimore will go up early and the Titans will have to abandon their plans to feed Henry and consume clock, be sure to check and see just how hard the rain is falling as kickoff approaches and get a more accurate forecast for potential in-game showers.

AP notes worth knowing include the Ravens coming in 72-24 at home under Harbaugh throughout his tenure, allowing only 16.8 points per game. Baltimore 14-1 in home primetime games, while Jackson threw 11 TDs with no picks in his three evening games this season.

Mark Ingram (calf) is listed as questionable to play, but the Ravens’ top running back returned to practice on Thursday and is expected to suit up and play. Gus Edwards would be in for an increased workload if Ingram can’t get loose or is ineffective. The Ravens are otherwise healthy and should see Ingram and Edwards gut it out through their usual roles. Tennessee has ruled out linebacker Jayon Brown, who hurt his shoulder against the Patriots. Backup WR Adam Humphries is also sidelined. Corner Adoree Jackson and LB Kamalei Correa will play.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at

Odds Subject to Change

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