Minnesota Vikings (10-6) at San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
Saturday, January 11th, 4:35 pm EST
This isn’t the game we expected to see this weekend.
All signs pointed to the Saints winning last weekend, but a few brilliant moments from Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen were enough, paired with a stout defensive effort, to send the 13-3 Saints home. So, the sixth-seeded Vikings will head to the lion’s den to face the top-ranked 49ers in Santa Clara. The question now becomes: Do the Vikings stand a chance? The answer is yes, but they’ll need a few things to fall into place.
First and foremost, Adam Thielen needs to be in the mix. He got stitches on Wednesday for a cut on his ankle. If he can’t go, or is significantly hampered by the laceration, the Vikings will struggle against the league’s second-best defense (and the best defensive unit left in the playoffs).
Second, Stefon Diggs missed two practices this week with the flu. Once again, if he can’t go, or is dragging…you see where this is going. The Vikings offense is dangerous because of its versatility. If they’re missing pieces, moving the ball will become much, much harder. Lastly, that Vikings front will need to be as disruptive as it was last weekend, when they gave Drew Brees nightmares and forced him into two giveaways.
As for San Francisco, following the bye week, they’re as healthy as they can be. Sideline to sideline linebacker Kwon Alexander is active, and edge rusher Dee Ford is now listed as questionable with that sore hamstring. Getting both of those guys back will make the Niners a far tougher unit. I expect that after the Vikings shocking upset over New Orleans, the 49ers will take no chances. Jimmy Garoppolo is a wild card in his first playoff action, but with the Niners second-ranked rush offense, I suspect that Kyle Shanahan won’t ask him to do too much.
Prediction: It’s trendy to pick the Vikings in this one, and why not? Kirk Cousins is entertaining when he gets worked up, and he has the best receiver duo in the league. That being said, I don’t like the Vikings unless both those guys are at 100%, and I just don’t see that happening.
49ers 24 – Vikings 17
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Image Source: AP Images