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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports


Five Keys to Victory and Score Prediction: Divisional Round Edition!

Matt Andruscavage
Jan 10, 2020 at 1:44 PM1


The playoffs are here and for the first time since the 2013 season, the San Francisco 49ers will not be preparing for the Draft or free agency, but rather, will be preparing to host the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings are coming off an impressive win in New Orleans and have some momentum as they travel to California, poised for an upset. While it appears that many pundits are once again doubting the 49ers, implying this would not be an upset if Minnesota won, this is nothing new. The Niners have been considered underdogs or not good enough the entire season. They were Vegas underdogs in Week 2 in Cincinnati, if you can believe that! It doesn't matter.

The 2019 San Francisco 49ers are far and away a legitamite contender, much improved over last season, and have the necessary personnel to get the job done on Saturday against Minnesota. Before going over the keys to the game, here is the latest on the injury front.

For the 49ers, safety Jaquiski Tartt is a full-go since his rib injury a month ago in Baltimore. Linebacker Kwon Alexander has been medically cleared to play since he suffered a torn pectoral against Arizona on October 31st. Guard Mike Person has had a neck issue that caused him to miss the last couple of games, but reports state that he will play. Defensive tackle Kentavius Street was moved to IR, probably to make room for Alexander. Finally, defensive end Dee Ford is a game-time decision with his nagging hamstring issue that was re-aggravated against New Orleans. Besides Ford and Street, this is by far the healthiest the 49ers have been since Week 2 and it could not have come at a better time.

Minnesota is a bit of a different story as it has some issues in the secondary. Cornerback Mackensie Alexander is out due to surgery for his meniscus. Safety Jayron Kearse is out. Receiver Adam Thielen is listed as questionable with an ankle injury suffered in Wednesday's practice, but will play. Stefon Diggs missed two days of practice with the flu, but isn't listed on the injury report and will play.

When and Where: Saturday January 11, 2020 - 1:35 PM PST - Levi's Stadium

Here are the keys to the game:

1) Limit Dalvin Cook


The Vikings are primarily driven offensively by what Dalvin Cook is able to do on the ground. He is extremely dangerous and has the ability to take over games, which is why it will be paramount for the defense to not allow him to control the tempo and get chunk yardage.

Minnesota is more effective when it gets big yardage out of Cook. This is where Jaquiski Tartt's return is really big. Tartt has been great against the run all season and his strength is making open field tackles. Kwon Alexander will also be able to contribute against the run. If the 49ers can limit Dalvin Cook on the perimeter, it will go a long way in slowing down the Vikings' offense.

The defensive ends' ability to set the edge and not allow those big plays will be huge, so it's good the 49ers have Nick Bosa. It will be a team effort all the way around against the run and the front seven is definitely equipped to get the job done.

Another way the 49ers can limit what Dalvin Cook does is to get an early lead and make the Vikings play catch-up all game.

2) Protect Jimmy Garoppolo


The Vikings have tremendous ability to rush the passer, with Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen leading the way. Minnesota was able to pressure Drew Brees and severely hamper the Saints' offense. It will be vital for the 49ers' very capable offensive line to keep Garoppolo's jersey clean and open up running lanes for the backs.

Early on, the 49ers will probably try to get some short passes completed to get the offense in rhythm, but for the rest of the way, San Francisco cannot afford to allow the Vikings to dictate what happens in the trenches, especially if the score is close.

The first half will be key in allowing Garoppolo and the offense to make those big plays that they have made all season and get an early lead, much like what Minnesota was able to do last week in New Orleans. If Jimmy G has a relatively clean jersey, the score should reflect that.

3) Grab an Early Lead


San Francisco needs to come out swinging and seize the game early. If the defense can make an early "splash" play off a turnover and either score or set the offense up for a quick score, it will go a long way in making things very difficult for the Vikings. If the defense can even just get Minnesota off the field and allow the offense to get going, we should see the 49ers do what they did so many times this season - get the early lead and strangle the opposition.

With Minnesota limited in the secondary and with Xavier Rhodes not looking like the dominant player he used to be, expect the passing game to take advantage.

If San Francisco can build the lead, it can focus more on running the ball and completing short passes to keep the Minnesota defense on the field and wear it out. The best way to beat Dalvin Cook and the potent receiving corps is to keep them on the bench.

4) Bring the Heat


With Kentavius Street going to IR, it could be a sign that Dee Ford will be ready to go. Dee Ford's return will mean everything on third down, allowing Nick Bosa to either work one on one or punishing Minnesota for double-teaming when Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner are rushing up the middle.

If the defensive line can be anything like it was early in the season, Kirk Cousins is in major trouble. This is where grabbing an early lead and forcing Cousins to throw on third and long can be critical. If the defense can set up the Vikings to be in these kinds of situations, especially early, there will be sacks and even turnovers.

The Saints were not able to get to Cousins early and it cost them. Don't expect San Francisco to fail in this area, especially if Dee Ford is out there on third downs.

5) No Turnovers Offensively


There are many areas where the 49ers have an edge, but much of that is predicated upon grabbing an early lead and, most importantly, not turning over the football. If San Francisco takes care of the football, this should be a win, but if not, the Vikings are more than capable of stealing a road game.

Jimmy Garoppolo cannot afford to make a bad throw, which seems to happen at least one time per game (but didn't against Seattle). It's also important we do not see one of those attempted catches by a receiver get popped up into the air. Almost half of Jimmy G's interceptions were tipped passes and this week will be paramount to not allowing those kinds of mistakes.

I'm calling it now: if the 49ers don't commit a turnover, they will win the game.

Score Prediction


The Vikings must not be taken lightly, but the 49ers are the better team. They have been in this situation several times this year, except this time, they are healthy and rested. There will be a big play early for the 49ers, they will get an early lead, and the offense will not commit a turnover. Dee Ford will have a sack in limited snaps, Nick Bosa will have a big day and Jimmy Garoppolo will get his first playoff victory.

San Francisco 34, Minnesota 24
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


1 Comment

  • Sean
    I'll take it, I hope you're right! GO NINERS!!!
    Jan 10, 2020 at 4:30 PM
    1

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