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Opposing Viewpoint: 49ers Writer Answers 5 Questions About San Francisco

The Vikings playoff show continues Saturday on the road.

The Vikings and 49ers will meet in the Divisional round of the NFC Playoffs, with kickoff at 3:35 p.m. (CT) from Santa Clara, California.

The Vikings advanced to the Divisional round with a 26-20 overtime win over the Saints. Minnesota, the sixth seed, went 10-6 and finished second in the NFC North in the regular season.

The 49ers are the No. 1 seed after going 13-3 and claiming the NFC West. San Francisco had a first-round bye.

And while there has been plenty of coverage on the Purple in the past week, Vikings.com chatted with 49ers reporter Keiana Martin for a glance at what the other side is thinking before Sunday's contest.

See photos of the Vikings equipment staff readying the team's uniforms for Saturday's Divisional Round matchup with the 49ers.

Here is the Divisional round edition of Opposing Viewpoint:

Thanks for helping out, Keiana. We'll start with a rested and ready 49ers team. How did the team spend its well-earned first-round bye, and what did players and coaches say about the benefit of not having to slug it out in the Wild Card round.

KM: Thankful is the best term to describe the week off for this 49ers team. It had been 13 straight weeks of football since the team last had time off – their untimely Week 4 bye to be exact. The week off was important in particular for a guy like Emmanuel Sanders, who became the ninth player in NFL history to play in 17 games in a regular season, given the timing of his Week 8 trade from the Denver Broncos.

This team knew how vital the first-round bye would be in the return of several key starters, including edge rusher Dee Ford, safety Jaquiski Tartt, guard Mike Person and potentially the anticipated return of linebacker Kwon Alexander. For the first time, perhaps all season, all 53 players were available during the week's practices, which is crucial facing a hungry Vikings team eager to silence critics.

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When I was at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, I couldn't help but notice George Kittle's fun-loving personality at the podium. Turns out he's a star on the field, too, as he was named as a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2019. How does Kittle's presence help the 49ers offense, and what kind of energy does he bring to the team in the locker room and on the field?

KM: I just mentioned Kwon Alexander in the previous response, who, if you asked around, is unanimously one of the core leaders of the defense. If you asked the same about San Francisco's offense, everyone would undoubtedly point to Kittle. Kittle's presence, or lack thereof, was widely apparent in the 49ers back-to-back divisional matchups against the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals in Weeks 10-11. This team, who had dazzled all season long, appeared to have lost its spark with their tight end out with a foot and ankle injury. While his talent on the field is virtually impossible to overlook, his intangibles are just as impactful.

What you see is exactly what you get when it comes to the tight end. There's no façade. He loves the game of football and it shows — whether it's smiling while blocking a defender eight yards into the end zone or carrying multiple defenders with him 15 yards downfield. His energy and passion are contagious, and this young team certainly feeds off of it.

It's hard to believe this is Richard Sherman's ninth season in the NFL. (A fun note: Sherman and I actually ran hurdles against each other at a track meet back in the spring of 2006. And yes, I lost badly). Anyway, he's another All-Pro and has been elite his entire career … what makes him so special? And have the 49ers given any indication about whether or not he will shadow either Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs, or will he be assigned to just one side of the field?

KM: What also stands out about Sherman is that he is back to playing his best football just two years removed from that season-ending Achilles injury in 2017. Sherman continues to be one of the more difficult corners to pass the ball against as he's surrendered just 227 yards into his coverage, the third-best mark of any cornerback this season, and has yet to be beaten on a pass longer than 25 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

In Week 17 against the Seahawks, Sherman was not targeted once all game. There have been seven games over his last two years in San Francisco where he was either not targeted or didn't allow a single reception. The 49ers typically leave the veteran corner on the left side of the field, but in the NFL, and specifically against playmakers like Thielen and Diggs, anything can happen.

The Vikings know 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan well. He worked with Gary Kubiak in Houston, and Kubiak, of course, worked with Mike Shanahan in Denver for seemingly forever. Kyle Shanahan also was with Kirk Cousins when the Vikings quarterback broke into the league. What makes Shanahan such a dynamic offensive coach, and how has he put his culture stamp on the franchise in his three years in the Bay Area?

KM: Savvy, genius, mastermind — all words I've seen used to describe Shanahan's wizardry on offense. Every week there's something electric that continues to leave people (myself included) in awe. From misdirections, explosive play-action and crafty schemes, Shanahan has the mix of the right players and right plays to keep defenses on their toes.

What also works in his favor is that players are genuinely excited to play for him. Shanahan brings a unique perspective to the game. He's youthful, relatable (Emmanuel Sanders was amazed his new head coach wore Yeezy's to practice) and more importantly, experienced – from his days of being a ball boy on Kubiak's staff back in 1994 to earning his first coordinator job under the esteemed coach. Sanders said it best in his introductory press conference, this 49ers team is a reflection of him. Shanahan has surely changed not just the culture but also the perception surrounding the 49ers organization in his three short years in San Francisco.

And finally, pick a Vikings player on each side of the ball you are most looking forward to watching Saturday afternoon.

KM: This is a good one. I'm not going to go with the obvious names here (Diggs, Thielen, Cook), who are all certainly exciting to watch. However, I'm looking forward to seeing Minnesota's tackles, Riley Reiff and Brian O'Neill. Nick Bosa will make his first playoff appearance on Saturday after a spectacular rookie campaign. Bosa told the media this week he took full advantage of the bye to rest and heal up before the Divisional round showdown. But the rookie understands this will not be a cake walk against the Vikings bookends that managed to neutralize New Orleans Saints daunting pass rusher Cameron Jordan.

On defense, I'm eager to watch the league's No. 1 defense against tight ends go head-to-head with the No. 1 tight end in the league. Safety Anthony Harris has been key in Minnesota's defense that has allowed a passer rating of just 60.3 to opposing tight ends this season, the lowest mark in the NFL. Another name I'll throw in there is linebacker Eric Kendricks. Kittle is a headache to contain. Of his 1,053 yards on the year, over 600 came after the catch, the third-best mark in the NFL behind running backs Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler. Kittle against Minnesota's stout defense has the makings for an exciting battle come Saturday.

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