Biggest Winners and Losers of NFL Divisional Playoffs

dan-mennella
January 13, 2020 - 7:00 am
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After an eventful Wild Card Weekend to start the NFL Playoffs last week, the Divisional Round did not disappoint.

The Kansas City Chiefs rallied from a 24-point deficit in a wild start for Sunday's pair of games, while the AFC’s top seeded Baltimore Ravens suffered a major upset to the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night.

The Titans, who upset the Patriots in the Wild Card round, again pounded the ball on the ground behind running back Derrick Henry while containing and at times frustrating Ravens QB Lamar Jackson. The Ravens were favored by 10 points at kickoff.

Over in the NFC, the 49ers wore down the Vikings to cruise to a comfortable win and their first NFC title game berth since 2013. Minnesota was coming off an impressive upset road win against the Saints but couldn’t recreate the same magic. San Francisco’s defense was fast and suffocating against the Vikings’ anemic offense, while 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan's zone-block run scheme was ruthlessly effective -- death by a thousand cuts.

Here's a look at the winners and losers from the weekend:

Winners

Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur, Packers

Aaron Rodgers, Matt LaFleur
The Packers are a win away from playing in the Super Bowl. Photo credit (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

In their first season together, Rodgers and LaFleur are headed to the NFC Championship Game. Between 2017 and 2018, the Packers won just 13 regular season games. In case you forgot, things didn't end on a positive note for Rodgers and Mike McCarthy. But, in LaFleur's first season, the Packers have now won 14 total games and are a victory away from playing in Super Bowl LIV. - Tim Kelly

Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson had the best season of his career in 2019. Photo credit (Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

Russell Wilson: QB, Seattle Seahawks

Wilson is heading home, but the 31-year-old cemented himself as a future Hall of Famer in 2019. In the NFL's most competitive division, he led the Seahawks to 11 regular season wins and a Wild Card victory in Philadelphia. He's going to finish runner-up to Lamar Jackson in NFL MVP voting in all likelihood. Even Sunday, he kept the Seahawks in a game where they clearly were outmatched in terms of talent. From an individual perspective, this was the finest season of his illustrious career. - Tim Kelly

Kansas City Chiefs Offense

Going down 24-0 early in the second quarter was just the framework of a record-setting day for the Kansas City Chiefs. In a blink of the eye, the Chiefs erased the 24-point deficit, and then some, scoring a touchdown on seven consecutive drives – a new NFL postseason record. Patrick Mahomes threw for 321 yards and five TD passes. TE Travis Kelce had three of those TDs, along with 10 catches and 134 yards receiving.

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes celebrates a TD pass with Tyreek Hill.
Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes celebrates a TD pass with Tyreek Hill. Photo credit Getty Images

It started with the Chiefs scoring 21 points in a 3:18 span in the second quarter, getting some help via a turnover and questionable play-call by the Texans. By halftime, the Chiefs led 28-24, and by the time Houston scored again Kansas City had put up 41 unanswered points. The Chiefs’ frenetic comeback made for one of the most entertaining halves of football this season, and reminded everyone that their offense is a force to be reckoned with as they head into the AFC Championship Game. -John Healy

No. 6 seeds

The Titans are the seventh No. 6 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed, and the first since the Jets upset the Patriots in the 2010 playoffs. Sixth seeds had lost 10 consecutive games against top seeds, including the Vikings’ loss the 49ers, before Tennessee ended the streak. In a season in which it felt like the Ravens were the closest thing to a team that distinguished itself as a cut above the rest, it’s only fitting they should fall to the unlikeliest of opponents, and give hope to all underdogs henceforth. -Dan Mennella

Derrick Henry: RB, Tennessee Titans

Titans RB Derrick Henry stiff arms Earl Thomas out of the way on a big run.
Titans RB Derrick Henry stiff arms Earl Thomas out of the way on a big run. Photo credit Getty Images

The legend of Derrick Henry is nearly eclipsing his enormous frame. The Titans’ bruising back, fresh off a huge game against the Patriots, rumbled to 195 yards on 30 carries, and even threw for a touchdown pass on a trick play at the goal line. A free agent after this season, Henry couldn’t have picked a better time to power his team to its first AFC title game since 2002. Henry is very good but not as good as he’s been recently, so the usual sample size caveats apply. However, he appears to have earned himself a lot more money than he could have counted on even just a few weeks ago. -Dan Mennella

Robert Saleh: Defensive Coordinator, 49ers

Saleh is reported to be among the finalists for the Browns’ head coaching vacancy.

No candidacy comes down to a single game or event, but sometimes timing is everything, and if Saleh’s prospective employers were keeping tabs on this game, it’s hard to consider it anything but a success for him.

The 49ers’ defense settled down after getting burned on a first-quarter touchdown toss from Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs. Cousins was sacked four times and tallied just 151 yards passing despite completing over 70 percent of his passes. He also threw one pick. The Vikings’ run game was nonexistent – held to a measly 21 yards on 10 carries.

Saleh has an easy sell in his next interview. -Dan Mennella

Richard Sherman: Cornerback, 49ers

Sherman’s postseason began with a bye, but he still managed to make headlines.

The ex-Seahawk took to Twitter to troll those who criticized his low-base, incentive-laden contract with San Francisco after hitting several performance-based escalators.

Perhaps not the most gracious move, but then Sherman went out and made a big postseason play – just as he always seems to do. Sherman’s interception of Cousins came on the drive after a 49ers field goal that extended their lead to seven points.

The pick then set up a touchdown drive that basically sealed the game. Who better than Sherm to author that moment? - Dan Mennella

Losers

Texans HC Bill O'Brien and DC Romeo Crennel

Bill O’Brien may not be able to live this one down in Houston. The Texans were up 21-0 early in the second quarter and had a fourth-and-inches on the Chiefs’ 13-yard line. They appeared ready to go for it and stick the dagger in Kansas City early, but took too long to get the offense organized, called a timeout and instead settled for the easy field goal to go up 24-0, keeping it a three-possession game.

That seemed to be the turning point of the game. The ensuing kickoff was returned 58 yards and the Chiefs were soon on the board. On Houston’s next possession, it was forced to punt on fourth-and-four from its own 31. O’Brien opted for a fake punt but the Texans were stopped short of the first down, allowing the Chiefs to score three plays later to make it 24-14 and were fully back in the game.

Texans coach Bill O'Brien clamors for a timeout.
Texans coach Bill O'Brien clamors for a timeout. Photo credit Getty Images

It is not just O’Brien who is going to feel the heat from this game. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel oversaw a unit that allowed seven consecutive touchdown drives — an NFL postseason record — which may be tough for him to survive. - John Healy

Special Teams

Special teams was an absolute wild card on Sunday in the Chiefs-Texans game. perhaps it can be argued it should be a winner, but it seemed like the big plays were due more to mistakes. There were 21 points in the first half scored off special teams miscues — a blocked punt, muffed punt and fumble on a kickoff return. The sloppy special teams play was the ultimate variable in what was a roller-coaster of a first half at Arrowhead Stadium. -John Healy

Kevin Stefanski: Offensive Coordinator, Vikings

As we said earlier, one game shouldn’t make or break a candidate, but Stefanski’s offense sputtered at a rather inopportune time for him personally, as he too is reported to be a candidate for the Browns job. The 49ers defensive front smothered Dalvin Cook and the Vikings rushing attack, and Stefanski and Cousins appeared to have no answer for it. Cousins managed to connect on 21 of 29 pass attempts, but averaged only 5.9 yards.

Stefanski’s offense ran into something of a buzzsaw in this one, but it also didn’t put up much of a fight in response. - Dan Mennella

Ravens offense

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson hangs his head after a frustrating night.
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson hangs his head after a frustrating night. Photo credit Getty Images

From Mark Ingram’s calf injury to Lamar Jackson’s erratic play, the Baltimore offense was out of sync all game. Despite a great game for Jackson running the ball, he completed only 31 of 59 passes, threw two picks, coughed up a fumble, and took four sacks. Jackson was better than he was in last year’s postseason flop against the Chargers, but was still a far cry from the player that has made him the favorite to win NFL MVP. The Titans defense also stopped the Ravens twice on 4th-and-1, forcing turnover on downs both times. -Dan Mennella

Mike Zimmer: Head Coach, Vikings

By all accounts, Zimmer has been successful in his six seasons with the Vikings, reaching the playoffs and notching double-digit wins three times. Included in those runs were gripping upsets and a berth in the NFC title game. It’s no secret that Zimmer is a good coach – the Vikings were a trendy upset pick coming into this game because, among other reasons, there’s a perception Zimmer typically gets the most out of his teams even if they’re not the most talented.

Zimmer, like his quarterback Cousins, is a victim of his own success in this backhanded way – as the narrative goes, he’s good enough to be in it but perhaps not good enough to win it. After the Vikings’ defeat in the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the hands of the eventual champion Eagles, they signed Cousins as an upgrade over Case Keenum. Now, even with the better quarterback, the Vikings were eliminated from the playoffs in a game in which they weren’t even competitive. The question is, how do Zimmer and the Vikings go from a team that can catch you sleeping if you’re not careful, to a team that can go all the way? - Dan Mennella

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