With one round of the postseason in the books, NFL fans have another weekend of playoff football to look forward to.
For the second straight week, games will be played on Saturday and Sunday, much to the delight of television audiences across America. Viewership for this year’s playoffs is already up from the previous season, and top teams like the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers haven’t even stepped onto the field.
This Saturday, watch to see if the underdog Minnesota Vikings can upset the 49ers, or if the Tennessee Titans can extend their habit of knocking off top teams when they face the Ravens.
Former backup QBs clash as Vikings take on the 49ers
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins came into the league as a back-up. Most quarterbacks do, but it’s usually a battle-tested veteran that’s number one on the depth chart, not a rookie.
Cousins started out as the Washington Redskins’ second option to Robert Griffin III, who won Offensive Rookie of the Year as Cousins watched from the sideline. (In case you need added intrigue for Saturday, the Redskins’ coordinator at the time is current San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan.)
But Cousins’ rookie season didn’t discourage him, as the Michigan native won the job from the oft-injured Griffin, and in 2018 became a coveted free agent signing for the Vikings. He hasn’t stopped improving, something running back Dalvin Cook noted after the Vikings overtime win against the Saints: “I’ve been around Kirk two years and he’s grown since he got here. That’s part of being in the NFL and getting better. Each year, each week that you’re in the game…I think Kirk’s been doing that.”
Minnesota will need Cousins at his best against the 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, a former second stringer for the New England Patriots. Garoppolo used to back up Tom Brady, himself notable for taking a starting role midway through his second season en route to a Super Bowl title.
Garoppolo would take over in 2016 when Brady was suspended for “Deflategate,” but his two game winning streak would end following a shoulder injury. With no storybook changing of the guard in New England, Garoppolo was traded to San Francisco, where he became the starter following an injury to C.J. Beathard.
Since then, all Garoppolo has done is win, becoming only the fifth quarterback in history to win at least 16 of his first 18 starts. Veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders knows that beyond the regular season, Garoppolo understands winning in the playoffs. Sanders laughed when asked at a presser if he had to talk to the quarterback about the intensity of the postseason: “I don’t have to talk to Jimmy about that…how many Super Rings that guy got?”
The answer is two, all while backing up Brady. Sanders thinks Garoppolo’s prior time on the sideline could help the 49ers become Super Bowl champs: “He knows what it takes to go all the way and win it all, he’s seen the preparation from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, he understands the process.”
Watch: Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers at 4:35 pm E.T. on NBC
Ravens put their 12-game winning streak on the line
If the Titans beat the Ravens Saturday night, it will be Baltimore’s first loss since September 2019.
With the NFL’s best record at 14-2, the Ravens have to be feeling confident in their chances against the 9-7 Titans. However, the New England Patriots were 4.5 favorites against Tennessee and that didn’t stop Mike Vrabel’s squad from handing the defending Super Bowl champs a resounding defeat.
Despite confidence in their team, the Ravens respect their opponent. Baltimore defensive tackle Michael Pierce was amazed at the performance of Tennessee rusher Derrick Henry in the Wild Card round: “Sitting in my hotel room, I was like: wow, this dude is on a roll. It was kind of reminiscent of what you saw his Heisman year at Alabama. We’re going to have our hands full.”
The Heisman Trophy, given to the best player in college football, was awarded to Henry in 2015. But the Ravens can trump that with three winners: Mark Ingram in 2009 and Lamar Jackson in 2016, along with backup quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2011.
Ingram thinks that Jackson should add MVP to his trophy case, giving his quarterback a hype-man speech in lieu of a press conference in November. Not only did Jackson throw for 36 touchdowns while setting a record for quarterback rushing yards this season, he added to a growing list of jaw-dropping plays. That’s something the Titans have taken note of, with safety Kenny Vaccaro observing: “He’ll juke you off the screen…you don’t want to end up on the highlight reel. You don’t want to be an individual tackler against him.”
That’s not to say the Titans don’t have a strong passing game of their own, turned around in Week 7 when Ryan Tannehill took over as quarterback for Marcus Mariotta. After a 2-4 start, Tennessee posted a 7-3 record in the second half of the regular season with Tannehill under center.
From Week 7 on, Tannehill accounted for 26 total touchdowns, second most in the NFL during that span. The only person he trailed leads the opposing offense Saturday, as Lamar Jackson paced the league with 30 total touchdowns from Week 7 onward.
Ravens rookie Marquise “Hollywood” Brown said Jackson gave him a little advice for the postseason, saying to stick to the game plan that brought the team 12 straight wins: “You don’t have to do anything you haven’t done so far. Let the game come to you.”
But that doesn’t mean Brown hasn’t noticed a change in atmosphere during playoff practices: “You can feel it. It’s up a level from the regular season.”
Watch: Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens at 8:15 pm E.T. on CBS