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Saturday NFL Playbook

History says 49ers, Ravens should advance as home favorites

If you trust statistics, then the National Football League's two best teams are the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, and they most likely will be the opponents in the Super Bowl. Both will be on display in Saturday's divisional games of the playoffs.

Statistically, they are the best balanced teams among the final eight. The 49ers are No. 2 in total defense, No. 1 against the pass. They are fourth in offense, No. 2 in rushing.

The Ravens are second in total offense, first in rushing offense and fourth in total defense.

The first of the four divisional games will have the Minnesota Vikings taking on the 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. It will be the 49ers' first postseason game in the stadium that opened in 2014. Super Bowl 50 was played there following the 2015 season. The last time the Niners made the playoffs was under Jim Harbaugh in 2013, when they lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC championship game.

The Ravens will be home against the Tennessee Titans at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore in the first of two AFC divisional matchups.
Both of Saturday's visiting teams scored upsets in wild-card games last weekend, and both did it behind a strong rushing attack. The Vikings defeated the Saints in New Orleans as Dalvin Cook ran for 94 yards and added 36 receiving yards. Tennessee knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, 20-13, behind a a 182-yard performance by NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry.

Baltimore, of course, is led by the electrifying combination of running and passing of second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is the likely winner of NFL Player of the Year honors.

Both Tennessee and Minnesota entered the playoffs as No. 6 seeds. It's the first time two No. 6 seeds have advanced to the divisional round since the 12-team playoff format was instituted in 1990. Two No. 6 seeds, the 2005 Steelers and 2010 Packers, won the Super Bowl.

A capsule look at Saturday's divisional playoff games:

Vikings (11-5) at 49ers (13-3)

TV: NBC, 4:35 p.m.

The line: 49ers (-7).

Record ATS: Vikings 9-7-1; 49ers 6-10.

Over/under: 44.

Times over/under: Vikings 10/7; 49ers 9/7.

The scoop on the Vikings: With the win in New Orleans, quarterback Kirk Cousins erased the "can't win a big game" tag. Cousins passed for 242 yards and the winning touchdown to TE Kyle Rudolph in overtime. Cook finished the regular season with 1,135 rushing yards, a 4.5 average and 13 rushing touchdowns despite sitting out two late-season games. WR Adam Thielen, who made big plays against the Saints, is doubtful for this game because of an ankle injury suffered in practice this week. Thielen makes WR Stefon Diggs all the more dangerous. Diggs, who shamed himself with his petulant behavior in the wild-card game, is a real deep threat. Diggs has 63 receptions for 1,130 yards and a 17.9 average per catch. ... Minnesota had 48 regular season sacks, the same as San Francisco. DE Danielle Hunter, a Pro Bowler, had 14.5 sacks and Everson Griffin on the other side has four postseason sacks in his career. The defense had 31 takeaways and has a plus-11 turnover differential. One reason, Cousins threw only six interceptions in the regular season.

The scoop on the Niners: Colin Kaepernick was the quarterback the last time the 49ers won a postseason game, 23-10 over the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round of the 2013 playoffs. San Francisco's last home playoff win was over Green Bay, 45-31, at Candlestick Park. Then they overcame a 17-0 deficit to defeat the Falcons in Atlanta in the NFC championship game. Frank Gore, now with the Bills, scored the last two Niners touchdowns, including the winner with 8:23 to play. ... QB Jimmy Garoppolo passed for 27 touchdowns and a 102.0 rating. Top receiver was tight end George Kittle, who had 85 catches, five for touchdowns. Leading rusher is Raheem Mostert, undrafted out of Purdue by the Eagles in 2015, who first made his mark with his special teams play. Veteran Emmanuel Sanders and Clemson rookie Deebo Samuel are the deep threats. The defense is led by two Pro Bowlers, veteran cornerback Richard Sherman and rookie pass rusher Nick Bosa, and two towering linemen from Oregon, 6-foot-7 Arik Armstead and 6-7 Deforest Buckner.

Outlook: The home team, the team with the benefit of a first-round bye, has lost only once (Dallas in 2016) in the NFC divisional round in the last seven seasons. Home teams have won 76 percent of divisional games since the 2002 NFL realignment. Have to respect that and the very physical San Francisco defense that allows 281.8 yards per game. 49ers, 23-17.

Titans (10-7) at Ravens (14-2)

TV: CBS, 8:15 p.m.

The line: Ravens (-10).

Record ATS: Titans 10-7; Ravens 11-5.

Over/under: 46 1/2.

Times over/under: Titans 9/8; Ravens 9/7.

The scoop on the Titans: Conventional wisdom wizards insisted that Ryan Tannehill was not a winning quarterback. Well, Tennessee's season turned around once coach Mike Vrabel made Tannehill the starter. After losing to the Bills (14-7) and getting shut out by Denver, the change was made. The Titans went 7-3 the rest of the way and looked like a postseason team. Tannehill passed for 22 TDs with six interceptions. ... Henry carried 34 times at New England last week. Will he be able to handle a heavy load effectively against the Ravens? Besides leading the league in rushing yards, Henry also led with 16 rushing touchdowns. ... Rookie A.J. Brown caught 52 passes for a 20.2 average and had eight TD receptions. ... A very physical Titans defense has a ball-hawking safety in Kevin Byard. Linebacker Harold Landry leads the team with nine sacks. ... Grand Island product veteran punter Brett Kern was an effective weapon at New England and had a 43.1 net average for the season.

The scoop on the Ravens: Baltimore's season total of 3,296 rushing yards, an average of 206.0 a game, is the most in NFL history. What the NFL overlooks is that two Bills teams in the Lou Saban II coaching era averaged more. The 1973 Bills had 3,088 yards (220.6) behind the Electric Company line. The 1975 Bills totaled 2,974 (212.4). The big reason for the Ravens' big number was Jackson, who ran for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns in addition to his 3,127 passing yards. Mark Ingram rushed for an additional 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns. Ingram is an injury question, which means the Ravens could end up depending on Gus Edwards and rookie Justice Hill. ... Jackson became the starter late in the 2018 season and was sensational until he got to the postseason, when he was sacked seven times and intercepted once and limited to 54 yards rushing in home loss to the Chargers. Can Tennessee duplicate that success? One of 12 Ravens to make the Pro Bowl is TE Mark Andrews, who had 64 receptions, a 13.3 average and 10 touchdowns. ... Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters allow the Ravens to play a lot of man coverage and pack the box, a factor in a rushing defense that allows only 93.4 yards per game.

Outlook: Unless Jackson runs wild, the Ravens could have a fight on their hands with a Tennessee team improved with each game late in the season. Baltimore wins, but it will not be that easy. Ravens, 20-16.

Last week: Favorite were 2-2; road favorite (Seattle) was 1-0. Only Vikings at Saints was over. The other three games were under.

Last week's results: 1-3 straight up; 3-1 against the spread with Houston winning outright and covering against Bills; and Vikings and Titans covering. Eagles did not win and did not cover.

Season's record: 150-92-1 straight up; 118-121-4 against the spread.

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