49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s Big Test
This is a long-awaited day for San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He was Tom Brady’s backup on two Super Bowl championship teams, but this is his first playoff action, so who knows how he will respond to that pressure. Garoppolo, 28, has a 19-5 record as a starter in the regular season and is an excellent game manager who gets the ball out quickly as he whistles short slants over the middle for big yardage. Red Flags? He threw 13 interceptions this year but only three in his last six games. Perhaps the biggest knock on Jimmy G. is that he has small hands; he dropped the ball 10 times this year, half of which went to the other team.
The Vikings’ Potent Weapon: Dalvin Cook
For Minnesota, the key to the game is to run the ball with Dalvin Cook — mostly up the gut against the 49ers fast, sideline-to-sideline defense. Cook had 94 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints but San Francisco held him to 40 yards on 16 carries when they played last year. If Cook gets rolling, it will open up the passing game, particularly for throws off fake runs (known in football parlance as play-action passes), one of Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins’s best grooves. Cousins is also adept at rolling out to either side, which keeps defenses from overcommitting. But all of this predicated on pounding with Cook, because when the 49ers defensive line, led by Bosa and Arik Armstead, knows a pass is coming, it hunts quarterbacks. The Niners averaged three sacks per game, fifth most in the N.F.L.
Injuries Could Stymie the Vikings
The Vikings go into the game with a few health issues, most notably receiver Adam Thielen, whose ankle was strafed in practice by the cleat of a teammate during the week leading up to the game. The injury required stitches and Thielen will no doubt play. But his mobility could be hampered, especially if a cagey defensive back looks to get his feet tangled up with Thielen’s at some point. Thielen is good, but he only caught 30 passes this year and the 49ers will be more focused on wideout Stefon Diggs, who missed practices Tuesday and Wednesday with an illness. He is also expected to play and be fine. More worrying for the Vikings, their secondary is depleted with cornerback Mackensie Alexander out with a knee injury and safety Jayron Kearse listed as doubtful with toe and knee injuries.
The 49ers Last Home Playoff Game? 2013
This is San Francisco’s first home playoff game in seven years. The last one? A win against Green Bay, 45-31, in a divisional round game. The 49ers quarterback was Colin Kaepernick. He ran for 181 yards, a record in the N.F.L. in a regular or postseason game. He passed for 263 yards and two touchdowns. The 49ers went on to beat the Falcons in the conference championship game but lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl, 34-31. Kaepernick, of course, has since become an emblem of player protests against social injustice. He has not played in the N.F.L. since 2017 after kneeling during the national anthem at games, inspiring a host of other players to do the same. He settled a case accusing N.F.L. owners of colluding to keep him out of a job, and this past season conducted a workout under chaotic circumstances that left him and the N.F.L. pointing fingers.