Jan 10, 2020

The underdogs' path to the Super Bowl

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
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Logos: Sports-Logos.Net; Chart: Axios Visuals

It's been seven years since a wild-card weekend team won the Super Bowl.

Why it matters: The momentum being carried over from last week by teams like the Titans, the demise of home-field advantage and the lack of experienced quarterbacks in the field suggest that this could be the year of the underdog.

Vikings at 49ers
  • Kickoff: Saturday, 4:35pm ET (NBC)
  • Weather: 56°F, Partly cloudy
  • Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
  • Spread: SF -7
  • O/U: 44.5

How the underdog can win: By grabbing an early lead. Minnesota's offense is built around a power rushing attack led by Dalvin Cook and the play-action looks they get off that (Kirk Cousins excels in play-action). When they're rolling, the Vikings have one of the most efficient passing games in football, so a fast start would be huge.

Titans at Ravens
  • Kickoff: Saturday, 8:15pm ET (CBS)
  • Weather: 59°F, Overcast
  • Announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn
  • Spread: BAL -10
  • O/U: 47

How the underdog can win: By feeding the rookie. Tennessee squeaked out a 20-13 win over New England despite their passing offense hitting a wall. That can't happen against the high-powered Ravens (NFL-best 33.4 ppg), so Ryan Tannehill must target rookie WR A.J. Brown early and often and hope he can beat Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey and Baltimore's excellent man coverage.

Texans at Chiefs
  • Kickoff: Sunday, 3:05pm ET (CBS)
  • Weather: 32°F, Partly cloudy
  • Announcers: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson, Jay Feely
  • Spread: KC -9
  • O/U: 51

How the underdog can win: Run it back. The Texans narrowly beat the Chiefs in Week 6 by committing to the run (Deshaun Watson, Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson combined for 192 yards) which, in turn, limited Kansas City to just 47 offensive plays (vs. 83 for Houston). Perhaps they can execute that game plan once again in a cold weather game that might demand it.

Seahawks at Packers
  • Kickoff: Sunday, 6:30pm ET (FOX)
  • Weather: 22°F, Overcast (snow expected Saturday)
  • Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews, Chris Myers
  • Spread: GB -4.5
  • O/U: 46.5

How the underdog can win: Jadeveon Clowney. Seattle was 16th in pass rush win rate this year (D-line beat 43% of blocks), while Green Bay ranked first in pass block win rate (O-line held 72% of blocks). So the Seahawks will need their best athlete to step up and bother Aaron Rodgers, who completes 69% of non-pressured passes (vs. 45% under pressure).

Go deeper: Running the ball is back in the NFL

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