Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

There’s never been a year in the NFL Divisional Playoffs that featured wins from all four road teams, but there’s always a first time.

Russell Baxter

The format has changed since the NFL merger in 1970. That was the first year of the Divisional Playoffs when four teams in both the AFC and NFC (three division winners and a wild card) battled for the right to reach the conference title game.

The league added a second wild card and a wild card round in 1978. For 12 years, each of the NFL’s six division winners received a week off. In 1990, the league went from 10 to 12 clubs in the postseason, with three division champions and three wild cards per conference.

In 2002, the NFL went from six to eight divisions, but continued its 1-6 seeding format, with the top two teams in each conference getting a bye and the other two champions hosting a wild card game.

Got all that?

Here’s the bottom line: we are now in the 50th year of playoffs since the merger. That includes 196 divisional games since 1970. The home teams own a combined 141-55 record, a healthy .719 winning percentage. And 11 times over those 49 seasons, the host club has completed a clean sweep of the weekend. In fact, you have to go back to 1971 to find the only time the road teams had a winning record (3-1) in this round.

So what about this Saturday and Sunday? Could we see a clean sweep by all four visiting clubs? Here’s how…

Vikings over 49ers if…

So what happened to San Francisco’s defense the second half of the season? The team got off to an impressive 8-0 start and in their first seven contests, Kyle Shanahan’s club allowed a total of 77 points and only seven offensive touchdowns. During the club’s 6-3 finish, it was a completely different story as the Niners permitted a surprising 233 points (25.9 average per contest) while Robert Saleh’s unit allowed opposing offenses to reach the end zone 27 times.

Only one opponent reached the 20-point mark during San Francisco’s 7-0 start. Meanwhile, Shanahan’s squad gave up at least 20 points in all but one of the final nine outings. The 49ers’ defense is ripe for the taking, especially if the combination of quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Dalvin Cook pick up where they left off last week at the Superdome.

Titans over Ravens if…

It’s only Mike Vrabel’s second season as an NFL head coach. But the former linebacker and part-time tight end knows a little something about winning championships and coming up big in the postseason.

We have seen high-scoring teams come up small in the playoffs over the years and the Baltimore Ravens not only led the league in rushing and points scored in 2019, but also set a new league record with 3,296 yards on the ground.

But the Titans have their own running threat in NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry, who just humbled the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots to the tune of 34 carries for 182 yards and one touchdown in his team’s 20-13 win last Saturday at Foxborough.

Is this the start of a run by a running back ala John Riggins in 1982 and Terrell Davis in 1997? Eleven years ago, it was the six-seed Ravens who stunned the No. 1 Titans at Nashville in the divisional round.

Texans over Chiefs if…

This is the only matchup of the four this weekend in which the clubs met during the regular season. Back in Week 6 at Arrowhead Stadium, Bill O’Brien’s squad overcame a 17-3 first-quarter deficit and went onto a 31-24 triumph. Of course, this is a different group of Chiefs. A 6-4 start has been followed by a six-game winning streak and a much-improved defense.

During that stretch, Andy Reid’s club has allowed only 69 points over that stretch, quite a departure from earlier in the year when Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive unit was trying to find itself. In these teams’ previous meeting, the Texans rolled up 192 yards on the ground, did not allow quarterback Deshaun Watson to be sacked while the Houston offense came up with 472 total yards.

O’Brien’s defense comes off an effort against the Bills in which they allowed only one touchdown in a 22-19 overtime win vs. the Bills. The Chiefs have had their issues in the playoffs over the years. Are the Texans headed to the AFC title game for the first time in their brief history?

Seahawks over Packers if…

After winning a total of 13 games the previous two seasons, the Green Bay Packers equaled that total in 2019 and captured the NFC North for the first time since 2016. The combination of Aaron’s Rodgers and Jones were key to the offense and a rejuvenated defense led by free agents Preston Smith,

Za’Darius Smith and Adrian Amos sparked paved the way for a bounce-back year. Meanwhile, it was an odd year for the Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks, who struggled at home but are a sensational 8-1 on the road. That latter number includes a 17-9 wild card win at Philadelphia last Sunday.

Matt LaFleur’s squad brings a five-game winning streak into this match-up but the Packers didn’t look sharp down the stretch and either held on rallied for their last four victories. And despite the improvements on defense, Mile Pettine’s unit has proven to be a little susceptible to the run. Could that play right into the hands of the Seahawks, who have spent the year engaging in their share of high-scoring affairs and prevailing in most of them.

During the regular season, Carroll’s club gave up nearly as many points (398) as it scored (405). Quarterback Russell Wilson is having one of those kinds of years when he’s been forced to rescue the ‘Hawks on numerous occasions. Does the eight-year signal-caller have another big performance in him?

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