Last updated: January 9th at 2:06pm ET.
Team Totals: 49ers 26, Vikings 19
Not the imposing defense they feigned early on, San Francisco’s per-game points allowed skyrocketed from 11.0 in Weeks 1-8 to 25.9 in Weeks 9-17 as 49ers DC Robert Saleh’s unit faced a parade of injuries, superior opponents, and schematic holes. Over the 49ers’ last five games, opposing quarterbacks completed 120-of-188 (64%) throws with a 12:1 TD-to-INT ratio and two additional rushing scores, while 7-of-9 signal callers to finish the year banked top-ten fantasy results against Saleh’s defense. Kyle Shanahan’s background with Kirk Cousins suggests he’ll be able to give Saleh pointers on how to exploit Cousins’ weaknesses more than most, but this matchup isn’t as worrisome as it may initially appear. Just like last week, Cousins is a viable DFS-tournament play, especially with Adam Thielen back near 100%.
Fully back from shoulder/chest injuries that essentially kept him out of 2 ½ of the Vikings’ final three regular season games, Dalvin Cook was a Wild Card moneymaker with 130 yards and two scores on 31 touches in Minnesota’s road upset of New Orleans, his fresh legs evident in the win. Cook will almost certainly remain the focal point of OC Kevin Stefanski’s Week 19 game plan, especially after the Niners coughed up four rushing TDs and 98.3 total yards per game to enemy backs over the last month. Cook’s bellcow usage and versatility make him Week 19’s top RB1 play over Derrick Henry and Aaron Jones.
UPDATE: Adam Thielen suffered cut on his ankle in Wednesday’s practice serious enough that he required stitches to close the laceration. Thielen did not practice on Thursday and is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game. Thielen still sounds likelier than not to play. On the off chance he does not, Stefon Diggs, Olabisi Johnson, Kyle Rudolph, and Irv Smith‘s fantasy outlooks would elevate at San Francisco. Dalvin Cook took on a more prominent passing-game role in Thielen’s 2019 absences, too.
UPDATE II: After looking more into Adam Thielen‘s ankle laceration, I’d be willing to play him aggressively in DFS tournaments, using the injury as a means of creating leverage on the field. It doesn’t sound like the cut should cause any problems for Thielen’s availability or effectiveness.
Cousins’ Week 18 target distribution: Thielen 9; Kyle Rudolph 7; Cook 5; Stefon Diggs and Olabisi Johnson 3; Alexander Mattison 2; Tyler Conklin and Alex Hollins 1. … Making his first true impact since Week 6, Thielen shook off a horrific first half that consisted of drops, penalties, and a lost fumble to log 7/129/0 receiving including a sensational 43-yard over-the-shoulder bomb that helped seal Minnesota’s upset at New Orleans. … Neither Vikings wideout sees a favorable Week 19 draw – San Francisco allows the NFL’s fourth-fewest yards per game to enemy wideouts (131.9) – but I’m betting on Diggs to retake Minnesota’s receiving lead as the Divisional Round’s squeaky wheel. Diggs wasn’t afraid to express his frustration with last week’s light receiving load on the Superdome sideline. Diggs’ route quickness will be difficult for plus-sized 49ers perimeter CBs Ahkello Witherspoon and Richard Sherman to handle; PFF charged inconsistent Witherspoon with 21 completions allowed on 28 targets (75%) for 244 yards (8.7 YPA) and five touchdowns over the final four regular season weeks. … Held to 50 yards or fewer in 15-of-17 games, Rudolph’s fantasy appeal continues to be touchdown driven, while 49ers TE stopper Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) is due back for the Divisional Round. Tartt has given up two touchdown catches since Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season. … Held to 35 yards or fewer in ten straight games, Johnson lacks dart-throw fantasy appeal at San Francisco. … Rookie TE Irv Smith somehow was not targeted on 17 pass routes run in last week’s Wild Card Round. He’s a low-volume role player on a run-heavy team.
Takes backing Jimmy Garoppolo as one of Week 19’s top DFS quarterback plays may be sparse, but Jimmy G’s environment, resume, supporting cast from coaching staff to personnel, and elements of his matchup keep Garoppolo firmly on the Divisional Round tournament radar. Garoppolo finished 2019 with four top-six fantasy QB1 scores and is well positioned to capitalize on Minnesota’s deficiencies in wide receiver and tight end coverage. The Vikings’ defense has flashed pass-funnel tendencies, while schematically savvy OC Kyle Shanahan catches Mike Zimmer’s unit at home with an additional week to prepare. Jimmy G was a low-floor but high-ceiling QB play in 2019. He should be treated similarly here.
Raheem Mostert never lost his late-season hold on San Francisco’s lead back job, but his Weeks 13-17 touch counts (21 > 12 > 15 > 11 > 11) on part-time playing-time clips (73% > 59% > 53% > 54% > 54%) leave Mostert with little margin for error, and Mostert’s capped receiving involvement heightens his touchdown reliance. He hasn’t caught more than two passes in a game since Week 2, while Tevin Coleman and to a lesser extent Matt Breida are siphoning enough usage to lower Mostert’s floor and ceiling. Excluding Week 17 where the Vikings rested starters, Zimmer’s run defense was a game-by-game adventure over the last month a half; it got clobbered by Packers (29/187/2) and Seahawks (39/205/2) backs but stymied Lions (22/70/0), Chargers (19/62/0), and Saints (12/42/1) RBs. Ultimately, Mostert’s touch projection lands in the 11-15 range, and he’ll likely need an end-zone trip to pay off.
Garoppolo’s Weeks 13-17 target distribution: George Kittle 44; Emmanuel Sanders 29; Deebo Samuel 26; Kendrick Bourne 12; Mostert 9; Kyle Juszczyk 8; Breida and Coleman 4. … The Vikings conceded the NFL’s eighth-most catches (84) to tight ends in 2019, then a perfect 5/54/0 receiving line on five targets to Jared Cook last week. With 85-plus yards and/or a touchdown in 9 of his last 11 games, Kittle is neck and neck with Travis Kelce as the Divisional Round’s top tight end play. Playing both in the same lineup is one viable DFS-tournament approach. … A boom-bust producer since his acquisition from Denver, Sanders has managed 41 yards or fewer in 7-of-10 games as a 49er but mixed in slate-breaking eruptions against Arizona (7/112/1) and New Orleans (7/157/1). As the Vikings’ primary defensive deficiency remains cornerback play, fourteen different enemy wideouts cleared 60 yards versus Minnesota over the last nine weeks. After a first-round bye that allowed Sanders to nurse his body back near full strength following a nicked-up season, Sanders’ chances of booming rather than busting should be elevated versus the Vikings’ pass funnel. … Samuel has likewise been a volatile box-score presence, but his creative run-game usage by Shanahan has quietly elevated Samuel’s floor. Samuel averaged 24.4 rushing yards and scored twice on the ground over San Francisco’s final five games, showing big-play chops whenever he touched the ball and nearly equaling Sanders in targets during that span. More consistent than Sanders, Samuel opens the playoffs with 75-plus yards and/or a touchdown in six of his last eight games. Choosing which of the Niners’ top-two wideouts has a bigger game may be critical on this week’s slate. … This is how routes run were distributed among 49ers pass catchers in their Weeks 16-17 wins over the Rams and Seahawks: Sanders 56; Samuel 51; Kittle 49; Bourne 30. Slot man Bourne did almost nothing in the yardage column all season but did catch five TDs and is worth touchdown-or-bust punt-play consideration with Vikings slot CB Mackensie Alexander (knee) sidelined.
Score Prediction: 49ers 24, Vikings 23