NFL WELCOMES SEVEN NEW TEAMS TO DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS
The NFL’s 100th season has reached the Divisional playoffs, and new teams abound.
Seven of the remaining eight clubs in contention for the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl LIV in Miami were not in the Divisional playoffs last year. That’s the largest year-to-year turnover in the Divisional round since 1990, when the NFL instituted the current 12-team playoff format. In other words, 15 teams have been one game from advancing to the AFC or NFC Championship Game since the beginning of the 2018 playoffs.
This weekend’s schedule:
All four clubs in the NFC – the GREEN BAY PACKERS, MINNESOTA VIKINGS, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS and SEATTLE SEAHAWKS – are new to the NFL’s final eight. In the AFC, the BALTIMORE RAVENS, HOUSTON TEXANS and TENNESSEE TITANS join the group, while the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS represent the only club to make a second straight appearance in the Divisional playoffs.
The No. 6-seeded Titans, whose 20-13 win at New England last week ensured that the NFL will have two new Super Bowl teams for the first time in four years, earned a trip to face the AFC’s No. 1 seed, Baltimore, Saturday in primetime (8:15 PM ET, CBS).
Meanwhile, the NFC’s No. 6 seed, Minnesota, earned a 26-20 overtime victory at New Orleans last week to advance to the Divisional round, where No. 1 seed San Francisco awaits in the first game on Saturday (4:35 PM ET, NBC).
The No. 6 seeds are now 4-0 over the past two seasons. For the first time in NFL history, all four No. 6 seeds have advanced to the Divisional playoffs in consecutive years, including INDIANAPOLIS and PHILADELPHIA in 2018.
YOUTH UNDER CENTER
The average age of the eight quarterbacks scheduled to start this weekend is 28 years, 271 days old, the youngest average age of starting quarterbacks in the Divisional playoffs since the 2010 season (28 years, 197 days).
CULTURE OF COMPETITION
Since Super Bowl LI, when New England topped Atlanta, 34-28, in the first overtime in Super Bowl history, postseason games have been fiercely competitive. Beginning with that Super Bowl, the last 27 postseason contests have been decided by just 8.1 points on average.
Four of the NFL’s last seven postseason games have gone to overtime.
Road teams are a combined 8-6 over the last 14 NFL playoff games (excluding the neutral-field Super Bowl LIII).
Seven of the league’s eight remaining teams finished among the NFL’s top 10 in turnover margin this season. GREEN BAY (+12) and SEATTLE (+12), which tied for third in the NFL during the regular season and meet Sunday at Lambeau Field (6:40 PM, FOX), have the best turnover margins among the remaining teams. MINNESOTA (+11, fifth), BALTIMORE (+10, sixth), KANSAS CITY (+8, tied-seventh), TENNESSEE (+6, ninth) and SAN FRANCISCO (+4, tied-10th) also ranked in the top 10 this season.
A closer look at each of the Divisional Playoff games:
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (13-3) vs MINNESOTA VIKINGS (11-6) – Saturday, 9:35 PM UK
Minnesota and San Francisco have met five times in the postseason with the 49ers holding a 4-1 advantage. The Vikings prevailed in the 1987 Divisional playoffs but San Francisco rebounded to win Divisional matchups with Minnesota in each of the next two seasons, 1988-89, winning consecutive Super Bowls in the process. The 49ers also won a 1997 Divisional playoff and, in their only playoff meeting outside of San Francisco, beat the Vikings at Metropolitan Stadium in 1970.
The Vikings defeated New Orleans in a Wild Card game last week, 26-20, in overtime. Minnesota quarterback KIRK COUSINS orchestrated a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in overtime, completing the march with a 4-yard pass to tight end KYLE RUDOLPH. Minnesota running back DALVIN COOK had 130 scrimmage yards (94 rushing, 36 receiving) and two rushing touchdowns in the win.
The 49ers won the NFC West for the first time since 2012. Quarterback JIMMY GAROPPOLO (102 passer rating) joined Pro Football Hall of Famers JOE MONTANA and STEVE YOUNG as the only 49ers players to finish a season with a passer rating of 100 or higher since 1950. Tight end GEORGE KITTLE (2,945 receiving yards) surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer MIKE DITKA (2,774) for the most receiving yards ever by a tight end over his first three NFL seasons.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (14-2) vs TENNESSEE TITANS (10-7) – Sunday, 1:15 AM UK
The Titans and Ravens have three prior playoff meetings, with Baltimore holding a 2-1 lead. On their way to a Super Bowl XXXV victory, the Ravens picked up a win at Tennessee in the 2000 Divisional playoffs. The Ravens also won a 2008 Divisional playoff in Nashville, while the Titans won a 2003 Wild Card game in Baltimore.
Tennessee won a playoff game for the second time in three seasons with a road triumph at New England last week. The Titans are the fourth team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to feature the league’s top-rated passer and rushing champion. Quarterback RYAN TANNEHILL led the NFL with a 117.5 passer rating during the regular season, while running back DERRICK HENRY – who led the league with 1,540 rushing yards – rushed for 182 yards and a TD last week, the most rushing yards in a postseason game since Green Bay’s RYAN GRANT (201) on Jan. 12, 2008, in a 2007 Divisional playoff win over Seattle at Lambeau Field.
The Ravens, who led the league with 33.2 points per game, had a league-high 12 players named to the Pro Bowl after a franchise-best 14 wins. Baltimore broke the NFL’s single-season record with 3,296 rushing yards, including 1,206 from LAMAR JACKSON, the most single-season yards by a quarterback in NFL history. Tight end MARK ANDREWS led NFL tight ends with 10 receiving touchdowns and caught a team-best 64 passes. Cornerback MARCUS PETERS in 2019 had five interceptions.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (12-4) vs HOUSTON TEXANS (11-6) – Sunday, 8:05 PM UK
The Texans and Chiefs have played just one postseason game, a 2015 Wild Card game won by Kansas City. The Chiefs from 1960-62 were known as the Dallas Texans before relocating to Kansas City in 1963. In Week 6 this season, Houston beat Kansas City, 31-24, at Arrowhead Stadium.
Down 16-0 to Buffalo in the third quarter last week, Houston came back to win, 22-19, in overtime. Quarterback DESHAUN WATSON escaped two defenders to complete a 34-yard pass to running back TAIWAN JONES and set up the game-winning field goal. Houston wide receiver DEANDRE HOPKINS tied for the AFC lead with 104 catches in 2019. Texans linebacker WHITNEY MERCILUS has seven sacks in seven career postseason games, while defensive end J.J. WATT has six sacks in seven career postseason games.
The Chiefs won the AFC West for a fourth straight season. Head coach ANDY REID makes his 15th career appearance in the playoffs. Quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES is the first player in franchise history to pass for at least 4,000 yards and 25-or-more touchdowns in consecutive seasons. TRAVIS KELCE became the first tight end in NFL history with at least 1,000 receiving yards in four consecutive seasons.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (13-3) vs SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (12-5) at – Sunday, 11:40 PM UK
The Seahawks and Packers have met three times in the playoffs, with Green Bay holding a 2-1 advantage. In 2003, Green Bay beat Seattle in the Wild Card round by returning an early overtime interception for a touchdown. In the 2007 Divisional playoffs, the Packers topped the Seahawks in a snowy Lambeau Field game. And in their most recent postseason meeting, the 2014 NFC Championship, Seattle earned a Super Bowl appearance by overcoming a 16-point halftime deficit to win in overtime.
Quarterbacks AARON RODGERS (99.4 passer rating) and RUSSELL WILSON (96.0) rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in postseason passer efficiency, minimum 100 attempts. They’re also the only remaining starting quarterbacks among playoff teams who have won Super Bowls.
The Seahawks had seven sacks in their Wild Card win at Philadelphia last week, establishing the franchise’s single-game postseason record. In eight of his 10 seasons as head coach, PETE CARROLL has guided Seattle to the playoffs. Wilson passed for 325 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Eagles. Running back MARSHAWN LYNCH has 10 rushing touchdowns in 12 career playoffs games. Wide receiver DK METCALF last week had a touchdown catch and 160 receiving yards, most by a rookie in a postseason game in the Super Bowl era.
Green Bay won the NFC North for the first time since 2016 and tied Baltimore for the NFL lead with seven home victories. MATT LAFLEUR joined JIM CALDWELL (2009), JIM HARBAUGH (2011), STEVE MARIUCCI (1997) and GEORGE SEIFERT (1989) as one of five head coaches in league history to win at least 13 games in his first season at the helm of a team. Quarterback AARON RODGERS ranks fifth in NFL postseason history in touchdown passes (36). Running back AARON JONES tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns (16) and scrimmage touchdowns (19). Linebackers ZA’DARIUS SMITH (13.5) and PRESTON SMITH (12) are the first pair of Packers teammates to each record at least 12 sacks since the individual sack became an official statistic in 1982.