NFC Divisional Preview: Minnesota Vikings Look to Upset San Francisco

This weekend, the Minnesota Vikings travel to San Francisco to take on the top-seeded 49ers in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. Minnesota upset the New Orleans Saints in the wild card round to advance. This will be the sixth time San Francisco and Minnesota will match up in the postseason. Minnesota is 1-4 in those matchups. The most recent matchup occurred in 1998.

Divisional Round Drama

Minnesota narrowly escaped New Orleans with and overtime win over the Saints. The game ended on a Kirk Cousins touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph. New Orleans fans were not happy, as it appeared that Rudolph committed offensive pass interference to secure the catch. Upon further review, the league deemed the contact incidental and the catch stood, sending the VIkings to the next round. It was the third consecutive season that the Saints were sent home on a walk-off score.

Captain Kirk Comes Through

After losing to Philadelphia in the NFC Championship game in 2018, Minnesota decided to make a change at the quarterback position. That change came in the form of Kirk Cousins. Cousins was given a huge contract with $84 million guaranteed over three seasons. This did not translate into instant success, however, as Minnesota failed to make the playoffs in Cousins’ first season with the team. Cousins also struggled in big games, including going 0-8 on Monday Night Football.

All that changed last Sunday, however. Cousins was victorious in possibly the biggest game of his career and in one of the NFL’s most hostile environments. Cousins finished Sunday’s game 19 of 31 for 242 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, Cousins did not turn the ball over. The Vikings’ quarterback managed the game, giving his team the chance to win at the end. When the moment came, Cousins seized it.

The Running Game

The Vikings were wise in relying on Dalvin Cook and the rushing attack to help Cousins carry the team to victory. The Vikings rushed the ball 40 times for a total of 136 yards. The successful rushing attack allowed Minnesota to control the clock, which limited Drew Brees and the Saints. Minnesota will need to run the ball successfully again this weekend to topple the 49ers.

Keys to Victory This Weekend

Minnesota’s pass rush versus the San Francisco offensive line will be the most intriguing matchup of the weekend. The 49ers’ line gave up 36 sacks this season, while the Minnesota defense, led by Danielle Hunte recorded 48 sacks during the regular season. Last week, Hunter strip-sacked Drew Brees, which ended a potential scoring drive for New Orleans. If Hunter and the defense can get to Jimmy Garoppolo early, it could be a long day for the San Francisco quarterback. This will be Garoppolo’s first playoff start, so Viking pressure will only make his debut more challenging.

Another key will be which team can establish the running game. Both teams rank in the top five in the NFL in rushing (Minnesota is fifth, San Francisco is second), so this game will likely be a low-scoring affair. Being able to grind out yards and control the clock will enable Minnesota to pull off the upset this weekend. Scoring touchdowns in the red zone instead of field goals will also be a big factor for Minnesota. Running back Dalvin Cook rushed for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns, so his ability to find the end zone will be crucial for Minnesota this weekend. Last weekend, many of the teams that had to settle for field goals in the red zone were eliminated.

Kickoff is set for 4:35 p.m. EST on Saturday, Jan. 11.

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