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5 Vikings-49ers Storylines to Watch

Minnesota's playoff run will continue Saturday, as the Vikings and 49ers face off in the Divisional round of the NFC Playoffs. Kickoff is at 3:35 p.m. (CT).

The Vikings earned a thrilling 26-20 overtime win over the Saints on Sunday in New Orleans, sixth-seeded Minnesota's first overtime playoff win in franchise history.

The 49ers had the weekend off, as top-seeded San Francisco has homefield advantage after going 13-3 and winning the NFC West in 2019.

Here are five Vikings-49ers storylines to watch on Saturday.

1. Plenty of pass rushers

Are you a fan of elite pass rushers? Then this is the game for you. The Vikings and 49ers each recorded 48 total team sacks in the regular season, which tied for fifth in the NFL. (The four teams above them are either out of the playoffs or did not make the postseason).

The Vikings will showcase the explosive duo of Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen, who wreaked havoc against the Saints with 1.5 sacks apiece. Hunter also forced a fumble by Drew Brees.

Hunter tied his career high with 14.5 sacks in 2019, while Griffen added 8.0 sacks. Minnesota also uses defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo in rush packages. He entered the season having played just one game with Arizona in 2018 but ranked third on the Vikings with 7.0 sacks this season.

The 49ers will counter with a group effort along a talented defensive front. Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and rookie Nick Bosa — a group that combined for 33.0 sacks — are all first-round picks.

Armstead led the 49ers with 10 sacks. Bosa had 9.0, Buckner recordedd 7.5 and Ford got to the quarterback 6.5 times.

The teams also feature a combined half-dozen other players who recorded at least 3.0 sacks in the regular season.

2. Quarterback journeys

The spotlight is always on the quarterbacks in the playoffs, but it gets brighter and brighter as teams advance to the following rounds.

The quarterbacks in Saturday's game know how to operate under scrutiny. They have traveled different paths since the teams met in Week 1 of the 2018 regular season.

That, of course, was Kirk Cousins' first-ever game with the Vikings. He threw for 244 yards and two scores with no interceptions for a passer rating of 95.1.

Cousins has endured some ups and down since then, but is currently riding high after delivering in the clutch in overtime Sunday against the Saints.

The 2018 season opener was a big moment for Garoppolo, too, as he was entering his first full season as a starter after getting traded to San Francisco during the 2017 season.

The quarterback didn't make it a month, however, as he suffered a torn ACL in Week 3 against the Chiefs and missed the rest of the 2018 campaign.

With Garoppolo healthy and thriving, the 49ers have been among the NFL's top teams in 2019. Now their quarterback gets a chance to make another statement in his first postseason start.

3. Ground and pound

While all eyes might be on Cousins and Garoppolo, there's also a chance they spend a good chunk of the game handing the ball off to their running backs. Or look for big pass gains with play-action fakes.

Saturday's game features two of the NFL's top rushing attacks. Minnesota ranked sixth in the league with 133.3 rushing yards per game, while San Francisco was second at 144.1 yards per game.

The Vikings will likely rely heavily on Dalvin Cook, who rushed for 94 yards and two scores on 28 carries Sunday. Alexander Mattison added 20 yards on five carries as Minnesota tallied 136 total rushing yards.

The 49ers feature a three-pronged attack, with each running back recording at least 123 carries in 2019.

Raheem Mostert tied for the team lead with 137 carries and had a team-high 772 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Tevin Coleman had 544 yards and six scores on 137 carries, and Matt Breida had 623 yards and a score on 123 attempts.

Want another indication both teams will feature the ground game?

The Vikings ran the ball on 49.43 percent of their offensive plays in 2019, the second-highest run-percentage rate in the league. The 49ers were third at 49.21 percent. (Both teams trailed the 14-2 Ravens, who ran the ball a whopping 56.02 percent of the time).

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the 49ers.

4. Plenty of coaching influences

The chess matches between the coaches in this one will be fascinating.

For starters, the head coaches include a veteran defensive mind in Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer … and a young offensive guru in 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan. Think of it as an old school-new school matchup between the two, each of whom calls respective defensive and offensive plays for their teams.

And when the Vikings have the ball, it's possible that two future head-coaching candidates will match wits.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski is 37 years old and has guided Minnesota's offense to a highly-successful season so far. On the other side, 40-year-old 49ers Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh has transformed the San Francisco defense into one of the league's top units.

And don't forget about Gary Kubiak, the Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor, who began his NFL coaching career in San Francisco back in 1994 with Hall of Famer Steve Young.

Kubiak, of course, soon went to Denver and was an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Broncos from 1995-2005.

Denver's head coach during Kubiak's stint in Denver? Mike Shanahan, the father of Kyle, who will be on the opposing sideline on Saturday afternoon.

Kyle Shanahan has undoubtedly put his own wrinkles on his offense, but if there is anyone who knows the basis of his scheme, it's Kubiak.

Shanahan was also on Houston's staff when Kubiak was the Texans Head Coach, and later was Washington's offensive coordinator when Kirk Cousins was on the team.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster for the 2019 season.

5. Keep the dream alive

Not many people gave the Vikings a chance in the Wild Card round against the Saints. But Minnesota found a way to get a gritty win against the No. 3 seed.

Now the challenge for the underdogs heads west to Levi's Stadium, a venue where the 49ers went 6-2 in 2019.

The Vikings are trying to replicate the run by the 1987 Vikings, who were the fifth seed (only five teams from each conference made it back then) and won at New Orleans in the Wild Card round before beating the 49ers on the road in a Divisional playoff game.

This will be the fifth all-time meeting in the postseason between the teams. The Vikings are 1-4 in those games, with the lone victory being the 36-24 win in January of 1988 when the teams were the same seeds as they are now.

The Vikings last played in San Francisco to open the 2015 season. Minnesota lost 20-3 in that game, but went on to win the NFC North and make the postseason.

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