If the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs is going to be anything like Wildcard Weekend, then we’re in for a treat with some fantastic games.
Now, the top-seeded teams will look to defend their home field looking to inch closer to Super Bowl LIV. While the survivors of Wildcard Weekend will look to keep their momentum heading into hostile environments.
No team that remains is perfect and we’ve seen that anything can happen, but knowing there is no tomorrow sometimes brings out the best — and, perhaps, the worst — of teams once January hits.
Without further ado, here is one lingering question each team must answer to prove they belong.
One Lingering Question for Each NFL Divisional Round Team
Minnesota Vikings: Are They for Real or Was It a Fluke?
The Minnesota Vikings went into New Orleans on Sunday and left with an overtime victory leaving thousands in the stadium and around the world in pure shock. Kirk Cousins played nearly flawless football in a game where a lot of pressure was put on his shoulders.
Cousins and company took firm control of the game early and often, and despite letting New Orleans hang around, didn’t blink in overtime when it mattered most.
But can they reproduce that same level of efficiency in another hostile environment against the San Francisco 49ers? It’s not impossible to argue against it knowing that Dalvin Cook will be a force to be reckoned with, and their defense, that waivered going into the playoffs, shut down the high-powered offense of the Saints.
They may have stumbled a bit entering the playoffs, but it’s Minnesota that moved on from Wildcard Weekend. Can they shock the world again in the Divisional Round?
San Francisco 49ers: Will They Live Up to the Hype?
The San Francisco 49ers suffered some close losses down the stretch but never lost sight at the NFC West division title and the top seed in the NFC. Now, Jimmy Garoppolo and company will look to prove to everyone they weren’t a one-trick pony in 2019.
However, all eyes will be on San Francisco in the Divisional Round as a lot of newcomers will be playing in their first-ever playoff game. The regular season is tough enough, but the postseason can be an entirely different beast.
And, of course, there’s the unstoppable George Kittle.
The question remains if the lights will be too bright for Kyle Shanahan‘s bunch, or will this incredibly talented team dominate the way we’ve seen all season long?
Seattle Seahawks: Road Warriors to the End
The Seattle Seahawks finished the 2019 season with a 7-1 road record and just won a playoff game in Philadelphia — albeit against a severely hurt Eagles team — to keep their season humming.
Russell Wilson has been a magical one-man show, but how far can you get relying on his attributes the deeper you go into the playoffs? Wilson is no stranger to playoff runs, and also is he no stranger to burdening the load to help his team win.
But for every ugly Seattle performance this season, it’s usually followed with a win. Their win over Philadelphia wasn’t pretty until a few late plays put it away. But much like the opponents they are set to face, winning ugly doesn’t matter in the slightest in the playoffs.
Will their road warrior-like mentality take them to the Super Bowl or has the road finally closed for good?
Green Bay Packers: Can They Win Ugly All the Way to the Super Bowl?
Aaron Rodgers said he has no problem winning ugly if it results in a Super Bowl championship. And why should their narrative be any different in the playoffs? The Green Bay Packers have won ugly and lost ugly, but the fact remains that they finished with a 13-3 record and the number two seed in the NFC.
Many don’t believe that this 13-win Green Bay team has what it takes to win the Super Bowl, or rather games against Seattle or San Francisco. Knowing how hard it is to win one game, let alone 13 games, teams have had their shot to upset them, and all but three did.
Another factor that’ll greatly benefit Green Bay will be Lambeau Field and the cold. Green Bay is 7-1 at home this season and will welcome a Seattle team that wasn’t contested in their win prior.
While Rodgers hasn’t had the super season we’re accustomed to seeing, he simply doesn’t need to be Superman this season. Aaron Jones has been a scoring machine and Preston and Za’Darius Smith have been a wrecking crew.
Green Bay will have their hands full with a team they’re still seeking playoff revenge on, but whether it’s ugly or in control, can this Packers team prove ugly wins will still take you to the Super Bowl?
Tennesee Titans: Can Derrick Henry Run to a Victory?
It’s no secret that a lot of the Tennesee Titan’s success has come from the legs of Derrick Henry. And it’ll be no secret that if Tennesee upsets the number one seeded Baltimore Ravens this weekend, it’ll be because of King Henry.
Ryan Tannehill has resurrected his career with Tennessee and has been rewarded for it with a good team playing sound football on both sides. As long as Tannehill can take care of the ball and make sound throws, then who knows what could happen on Saturday.
But the big story will continue to be if Tennesee can run down the throats of Baltimore the same way they did New England a week prior.
Henry’s 200+ total yard performance will no doubt see heavy run packages and screens against a Baltimore team you cannot fall asleep on. Keeping the ball away from Lamar Jackson by having Henry run it early and often could spell the upset Tennesee is looking for.
Baltimore Ravens: Can Lamar Jackson Do it All?
Jackson has been criticized as being a running back more than quarterback in his early career with Baltimore. But for as tired as that notion has become, Jackson has proven to be a capable thrower just as well when he runs it. That’s what makes him almost impossible to cover.
His speed and ability to keep his eyes down the field is a rare combination in the NFL not seen since the likes of Michael Vick. His ensemble cast of Mark Andrews, Mark Ingram, and Marquise Brown have given him plenty of options to throw to when staying in the pocket.
If there’s one concern you have with these type of mobile quarterbacks is the risk you run having them take one hit too many. You never want to put Jackson in danger but head coach John Harbaugh is letting Jackson run his game the way he wants to.
Jackson has been their ace of spades this season — and is most likely the league MVP –but asking him to do everything in the playoffs could blowup on Saturday. But if he performs the way he has all year, then look out, because you can hope to contain him for only so long.
Houston Texans: Can They Avoid a Slow Start?
It’s easy now to say the Houston Texans were able to withstand their slow start in favor of a playoff victory, but like Icarus found out the hard way, you fly to close to the sun and you burn.
Deshaun Watson and company have to find a gear they’re comfortable with and full throttle it because another slow start could end it before it even begins. Knowing that they’ll have to go into Kansas City and play near-flawless football is a tall task for any team, but the kicker is … Houston has already done it this season.
Houston is more than capable of holding their own with the big boys of the NFL but they always seem to hit a brick wall once the playoffs start. And if not for Watson’s heroics in overtime, they wouldn’t even be in this situation.
Houston knows what’s at stake in this game — especially given they’ve never made it past the Divisional Round in franchise history. Head coach Bill O’Brien needs to instill whatever Karate Kid speech he needs to because J.J. Watt‘s energy isn’t going to matter if they fall behind early.
Kansas City Chiefs: Can They Erase Last Year’s NFL Playoffs Demons?
The world almost crumbled on the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this season when Patrick Mahomes dislocated his knee cap. Instead, they emerged as the two-seed in the AFC and welcome a Houston team not known for starting fast.
Still, after being on the doorstep to last year’s Super Bowl, Kansas City is in a prime position to get back to the AFC Championship Game with a win on Sunday. The question will be if they can overcome last year’s heartbreak in overtime?
Obviously, that was a season ago and the makeup of the 2019 team is different, but playoff losses never go away. They can linger over a franchise no matter how talented they may be.
The only cure is to win playoff games the following season. Windows open and windows close, and you never know how a season might play out, but stamping your name in the playoffs makes a lot of doubt disappear.
The road for Kansas City will be a tough one, but Andy Reid has coached teams with their fair share of ups and downs in these situations. Their offense has been explosive behind Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.
And their defense led by the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, has Kansas City oozing on both sides of the ball. Can they get back to the promised land and can they put past playoff defeats to bed?