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Longhorns in the NFL: Divisional Round playoff preview

Earl Thomas’ 6th career postseason and quest for Super Bowl ring No. 2 starts today.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The divisional round of this year’s NFL playoffs offers multiple intriguing storylines and high-profile matchups involving former Longhorns. While Earl Thomas and Charles Omenihu face-off against the only Big 12 quarterbacks that have ever won a playoff game (both of which they played in college), the right legs of Justin Tucker and Michael Dickson will be bombing kicks on your television throughout the weekend. Here’s a preview of this weekend’s divisional round.

Saturday, January 11th

3:35 p.m. CT NBC San Francisco 49ers vs. Minnesota Vikings

Arguably the game’s brightest coaching mind in Kyle Shanahan versus Mike Zimmer and the old school Minnesota Vikings. In a matchup between the league’s top defensive fronts, time will be hard to come by in the pocket for quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo. These two teams predicate their offense around developing a run game and getting the ball out quickly to receivers.

Ultimately, this game probably comes down to how well the Vikings defend Niners tight end George Kittle. Kittle is a weapon with the ball in his hands and has yet to be held in check this season. Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith will likely draw the assignment of covering Kittle. This would leave Minnesota’s cornerbacks and hybrid safety Andrew Sendejo on islands against Deebo Samuel and the rest of the Niners receivers.

We’ll see what kind of role Holton Hill is in store for today against San Francisco’s quick passing game. He played pretty well on special teams and in coverage against the Saints on Sunday. Hill had four solo tackles last week.

Prediction: Niners 24, Vikings 14

7:15 p.m. CT CBSBaltimore Ravens vs. Tennessee Titans

The Baltimore Ravens are like the LSU Tigers of the NFL this season. While their MVP quarterback and championship coach have taken the high road and are focused on winning the Super Bowl, they’ve backed up the talking with dominate play on the field. As the leader of their secondary, Earl Thomas seems to be playing the role of K’Lavon Chaisson.

When asked about preventing the Titans from having success through play-action passes, Thomas said the key was stopping the run first so Tennessee can’t use it to their advantage. He also said, “If Tannehill tries to pass on us, I don’t think that will go in their favor.”

It comes to no surprise but the experienced safety certainly brings the utmost confidence in himself and his troops entering his sixth career postseason. It’s hard not to when you have a quarterback like Lamar Jackson, a coach like John Harbaugh, and kicker like Justin Tucker on your side. This Ravens team seems destined to do something special.

On the other side, Titans veteran safety Kenny Vaccaro is experiencing postseason football for the first time in his career. The last time Texas and Texas A&M played each other in football, Vaccaro was intercepting passes from his current NFL quarterback. Time remains a flat circle.

Prediction: Ravens 27, Titans 20

Sunday, January 12th

2:05 p.m. CT CBS Kansas City Chiefs vs. Houston Texans

While Andy Reid remains in search of significant success in the postseason, Bill O’Brien and the Texans are just lucky to be here. But with J.J. Watt back and DeShaun Watson at quarterback, there remains a glimmer of hope for Houston to advance.

Along with Watt, rookie Charles Omenihu will have to play a large role as a rotational interior defensive lineman in this game. Houston will need all the help they can get up front to disrupt Mahomes and prevent him from making plays with his feet.

If the Texans can somehow limit big plays down the field to Tyreek Hill, they have a chance. If not, Chiefs by 2-3 scores.

Prediction: Chiefs 31, Texans 17

5:40 p.m. CT FOXGreen Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks

Ah, another matchup between arguably the league’s best quarterbacks and teams that are known to get favorable calls in big games. Which one will prevail this time in freezing temps at Lambeau Field?

The last and only time these two foes met in the postseason was in the 2015 NFC Championship. In one of the most dramatic conference championship games in recent history; Seattle battled back, recovered a last-gasp onside kick, and took a 22-19 lead with over a minute remaining. Mason Crosby forced overtime for Green Bay, but Aaron Rodgers never touched the ball after that. Russell Wilson’s infamous 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse walked it off for Seattle.

This year’s Seahawks team features four former Longhorns — recently-acquired safety Quandre Diggs, punter Michael Dickson, rotational defensive tackle Poona Ford, and backup tight end Tyrone Swoopes. As a former Detroit Lion, Diggs brings plenty of experience playing in Green Bay. He’s played there in each of his first four seasons.

I’ll take Matt LaFleur over Pete Carroll in this day and age, though. Coaching and management seem to be holding Wilson and the Seahawks back from attaining even greater success these days.

Prediction: Packers 23, Seahawks 17