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1 reason to root for each NFL team in the Divisional Round

The NFL playoffs continue with four games this weekend to decide the divisions. Here’s one reason you can root for about all eight teams.

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The 2019 NFL playoffs are in full swing, and next up is the Divisional Round this Saturday and Sunday. The weekend kicks off with a big NFC matchup between the No. 1 seed San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings, who upset the Saints last week. The weekend ends with another huge NFC matchup in Seahawks-Packers. In the AFC, we’ve got Titans-Ravens to start things off on Saturday, followed with Texans-Chiefs on Sunday.

If you aren’t exactly sure who to root for this weekend, I’ve got some good reasons to cheer on each team playing this weekend.

Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers

Saturday, Jan. 11, 4:25 p.m. ET

Why you should root for the Vikings: Kirk Cousins.

Cousins has been in the league since 2012, but throughout his seven years in the NFL, he’s earned a reputation of not being able to win big games. That is until last week, when he led a game-winning touchdown drive to defeat the New Orleans Saints on the road in the Wild Card Round:

The win was Cousins’ first career playoff victory, and outside of postseason games, he hadn’t really done much otherwise in big games:

  • He’s 0-9 on Monday Night Football
  • 2-5 on Thursday Night Football
  • 7-15 in primetime games

After the win over New Orleans, he gave us another, perfect “YOU LIKE THAT?!”

Not too hard to root for a guy like Cousins, is it? If Cousins and the Vikings want to pull off an upset, starting fast on offense will be huge. He’s 7-30 against winning teams, including in the playoffs, but he has another chance to change that record this weekend.

Why you should root for the 49ers: They’re one of the most balanced teams in the league in all three phases.

Kyle Shanahan’s offense has been excellent this season. Jimmy Garoppolo has been helped mightily by the best tight end in football, George Kittle. Shanahan’s offense is the perfect place for the rookie receiver Deebo Samuel, a quick-twitch gadget player, to succeed. Raheem Mostert, a former undrafted practice squad body, looks like an All-Pro running in the offense.

Defensively, the 49ers have an aggressive pass rush led by rookie Nick Bosa and a secondary led by Richard Sherman, who is still one of the top corners in the league. He can both hype his team up on the sidelines and jaw with whatever receiver is lined up opposite him on the field.

On special teams, kicker Robbie Gould is coming off a month when he had a couple of game-winning kicks. He nailed a 30-yard field goal to seal a thrilling 48-46 victory against the Saints, and added another game-winning field goal in Week 16 against the Rams.

That balance makes the 49ers fun to watch — and dangerous.

Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens

Saturday, Jan. 11, 8:15 p.m. ET

Why you should root for the Titans: They eliminated the Patriots.

Maybe that’s doing a disservice to the cool redemption stories of Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry, but that’s the truth of it. The Patriots had appeared in four straight Super Bowls and eight straight AFC title games — and those streaks are over, thanks to the Titans.

The Titans were underdogs against the Patriots, but they won on the back of an amazing performance from Henry. Others played key roles, too.

Don’t overlook what punter Brett Kern did in that game. He booted a punt that was downed at the 1-yard-line, putting the Patriots in a bad position that led to Tom Brady throwing a pick-six from his own end zone before he could even start a potential game-winning comeback.

Head coach Mike Vrabel gaming the rules to run some clock off — a move Bill Belichick himself used — was just beautiful, too.

We don’t have to watch another Patriots game this season. Isn’t that wonderful? Go Titans.

Why you should root for the Ravens: LAMAR DEMEATRICE JACKSON JR.

It’s extremely easy to root for Lamar Jackson (and especially cathartic to dunk on everyone who made the erroneous claim that he shouldn’t be a quarterback). And it will be even more cathartic if Jackson can shake off the only thing still dogging him at this point: his poor showing in the playoffs as a rookie.

Against the Chargers last year, Jackson had completed just three passes going into the fourth quarter. John Harbaugh never pulled him, though, and Jackson responded by completing 11 more passes with a pair of touchdowns. It wasn’t enough to get them the win, so we’re still looking for Jackson’s first playoff victory.

Plus, it sure is nice seeing the Ravens be good AND exciting, as opposed to the team that sent both Joe Flacco and Trent Dilfer to the Super Bowl.

Jackson is so damn good we can’t stop writing about the soon-to-be MVP. Here’s a selection of words we’ve published about him, and this isn’t even all of them!

Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, Jan. 12, 3:05 p.m. ET

Why you should root for the Texans: If you want to see a team that’s never even played in a Super Bowl reach one.

Not only that, but Houston hasn’t even made it to a conference championship game since its inaugural franchise season in 2002. Every other team currently in the AFC has. The Texans have won five AFC South (2011, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019) but have failed to make it to the conference championship. Their first-ever playoff game came just eight years ago, when they beat the Bengals 31-10 in the Wild Card Round.

The Texans are coming off of an exciting 22-19 overtime win over the Bills, so we’ll see if Houston can keep this momentum going.

The Texans are 0-3 in divisional playoff games, so this will be the first time in franchise history they’d advance to the AFC Championship if they can knock off the Chiefs on the road. The Texans are currently 9.5-point underdogs, so they have their work cut out for them.

Why you should root for the Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes can get a second chance at winning the AFC Championship.

While the quarterback of the 2019-20 season is obviously Jackson, Mahomes is having another huge year. The Chiefs are in the top five in the league in total pass yards, pass yards per attempt (8.1), pass touchdowns per game (1.9), and average team passer rating (104.4).

Last year, Mahomes won the NFL’s MVP Award, and led the Chiefs to an AFC Championship Game. Kansas City ended up losing 37-31 in overtime to the Patriots, and thanks to the NFL’s stupid OT rules, Mahomes didn’t have a chance to counter New England’s overtime touchdown. Luckily the Chiefs won’t have to play the Patriots in the championship this year, and they can get a second chance to win the conference if they beat the Texans. Perhaps the football gods give us Mahomes vs. Jackson in the title game this year, too!

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers

Sunday, Jan. 12, 6:40 p.m. ET

Why you should root for the Seahawks: They know how to play an ... interesting game.

It’s probably a massive understatement to call Seahawks games “interesting.” In fact, they’re downright distressing if you’re a fan of them or the team they happen to be playing. All but four of their games this season were one-score games, and they were 10-2 in them.

Their flair for the dramatic was present in their last meeting against the Packers in the playoffs. In January 2015, the Seahawks came back from down 19-7 with under three minutes to go before they won in overtime.

Seeing Russell Wilson in his element — willing his team to victory in a high-stakes game — is always a great time, especially when that opponent is Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers and Wilson are both no stranger to the playoffs, with each quarterback having nine career postseason wins as a starter. They also hold the two highest passer ratings in the playoffs in NFL history with Rodgers at 102.4 and Wilson at 101.2. The quarterback duel should be a treat, and considering the Seahawks are involved, it’ll keep you on the edge of your seat.

Why you should root for the Packers: If you’d like to see Aaron Rodgers one-up Brett Favre with a Super Bowl win.

Rodgers and Favre both have one Super Bowl victory in their careers. Favre won his first and only one in Super Bowl XXXI in 1997, when the Packers defeated the Patriots. He then lost in the Super Bowl the following year. Rodgers won his first and only appearance nine years ago with a win over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Rodgers was asked this week about winning a second Super Bowl.

“It’s on my mind every day,” Rodgers said via Sports Illustrated. “That’s why we play the game. That’s why you put in the time in the offseason, that’s why you do the little things. It’s to put yourself in this position, where we’re two games away from being able to compete for that. I’m 36. I know what this is all about. This is an important opportunity for us.”

Eight quarterbacks have won exactly two career Super Bowl wins, including former Packers QB Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Jim Plunkett, John Elway, Bob Griese, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger. The Packers are 4.5-point favorites against Seattle at home. Rodgers’ opposing quarterback, Wilson, has never won at Lambeau Field, either.

If Green Bay can beat the Seahawks, the Packers will then go on to the NFC Championship Game to give Rodgers another chance to advance to his second Super Bowl.