With the NFL’s regular season officially over, 20 teams have hit some golf courses and started their offseason planning.
For 12 teams, there is still a Vince Lombardi Trophy to chase, and a crown of “Super Bowl Champions” to strive for. With the start of the postseason, comes Wild Card Weekend, where 8 of the 12 playoff teams will face off to advance to the Divisional Playoffs round.
Here is a look at each of the 4 games that will be going on this weekend in the NFL.
Seattle Seahawks @ Minnesota Vikings- Sunday, January 10th, 1:05 PM
In Week 13 of 2015: Seattle torched the overwhelmed Vikings, 38-7. Minnesota only scored when they returned a kickoff for a touchdown late in the third quarter.
Seattle (10-6) enters this postseason in 2016 in a rare place in recent years: as a wild card team. After several years of dominating the NFC West, the Seahawks lost out on the division title in the regular season. However, the Seahawks have been playing their best football late in the season, and no team has played better than Seattle in the last 5 weeks. Led by a suddenly red-hot quaterback in Russell Wilson and his equally as red-hot receiver Doug Baldwin (11 of Baldwin’s 14 touchdown receptions came after Week 11), the Seahawks have become a point-scoring machine averaging 32 points per game in the last 8 weeks. Baldwin gets a tricky matchup, as the Vikings boast a very underrated group in the secondary, but if Seattle wants to move on, Baldwin will see tons of targets once again. Also, Seattle’s offense gets a much needed return from running back Marshawn Lynch, the NFL’s active leader in rushing yards in the postseason. The Seattle defense has turned a bad start to their season, becoming the top scoring defense once again, allowing only 17.3 points per game. However, all they need to really focus on is stopping former NFL MVP and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. They used this plan to great success back in Week 13, and would be wise to do so once more. The way this team has been playing, there is no other team in the NFC that teams want to avoid. Seattle, not know for their offense in recent years, boasts the #5 passing attack and #4 offense in yards and points per game.
Minnesota (11-5) finally turned the corner that they needed to in 2015, with a young team taking the NFC North division crown from their rivals, the Green Bay Packers, in the last week of the season. Minnesota used a blueprint that is similar to Seattle’s: a great defense (5th in the NFL allowing 18.9 points per game), a great running game (Peterson led the league in rushing with 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns) to break in a young quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater’s passing attack was 31st in the NFL). However, the Vikings got a horrible reward for winning the NFC North by getting to host the Seahawks, the very team who their roster’s makeup is based off of. After losing 38-7 in the last game, the Vikings need to prove they’re for real. Easier said than done, as the Seahawks know that Minnesota’s 16th-ranked offense goes through Peterson. When Peterson was held to 60 yards or less, the Vikings were 1-3 and averaged a putrid 9.75 points per game in those instances, including the Seattle loss, where their only points came from special teams. For the Vikings to have a chance, their top-5 defense needs to fix the lapses they encountered with the red-hot Seahawks offense, as the 38 points scored by Seattle against Minnesota was the most points allowed by the Vikings in a game all season. Led by a secondary with underrated cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith, the Vikings defense must hold strong to keep Minnesota in the game.
What happens in this game: Seattle’s defense is too good and experienced in the playoffs to have a mental lapse against Minnesota here, even if Peterson triples his 18 yards rushing from the Week 13 game. While Seattle gets Lynch back, the offense has been rolling through Wilson lately. While the Vikings will be able to contain some of Seattle on offense, they would need to score points of their own, as the Seahawks will stifle Bridgewater and the Vikings offense.
THE PICK: Seattle probably puts some fans of playoff football to sleep in the early game. The SEAHAWKS win another playoff game, this time in convincing fashion, 31-10.
Green Bay Packers @ Washington Redskins, Sunday January 10th, 4:40 PM
This is the first game between these two teams this season, Washington and Green Bay haven’t played each other since Week 2 of 2013, Green Bay won that game 38-20.
The Packers (10-6) are reeling, which could be the understatement of the season. Green Bay has lost two straight, but also barely held on against the 7-9 Oakland Raiders and needed a Hail Mary that was horribly defended by the 7-9 Detroit Lions to beat them. The struggles of the Packers are mirrored by the struggles of their quarterback, former NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is having serious issues with his surrounding cast, and is suffering in his play as a result. His offensive line allowed 47 sacks, and the loss of wide receiver Jordy Nelson this season led to a career low in passing yards for a season where he started all 16 games (he was injured in 2013 and also didn’t start in 2005-2007). Green Bay’s running game has had to rely on James Starks helping a struggling Eddie Lacy, and the receivers have been playing poorly as well, highlighted by the drop-happy Davante Adams. The Packers defense boasts the 12th-best scoring defense, with the Packers ranked 6th in passing yards allowed per game. They’ll need to be on point, as they will face the NFL’s leader in passing completion percentage, Kirk “You Like That?!” Cousins.
Washington (9-7) won a weak NFC East, but they weren’t handed it by default. Cousins is a large reason for Washington’s 4-game winning streak to end the regular season and claim the NFC East. Here is how bizzare this QB matchup is: Cousins, starting the whole season for the first time as a 4th round pick in 2012, has more yards passing this season than Rodgers, a former NFL MVP, first round pick and Super Bowl winner. Cousins has been a completely different quarterback at home, going 6-2 as the starter, averaging 271.25 yards per game and also threw for 16 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions at FedEx Field. No doubt that Washington needs Cousins to continue his torrid pace that he finished the season on, because Washington’s running game hasn’t been nearly as reliable, 20th in the NFL in rushing yards per game. However, Green Bay allows almost 120 yards per game on the ground, which is a notable weakness to attack. For the Redskins defense, facing Rodgers, even with a depleted and under-performing cast, isn’t an easy task, especially for the 28th-ranked defense of the NFL. Expect Rodgers to target perennial “burned and passed the blame” cornerback DeAngelo Hall, and for Lacy and Starks to try to run hard on a Washington defense that was the 7th-worst against the run (122.6 yards per game allowed). However, Washington did put up 38 sacks this season, a portion of the passing game that Green Bay has some major issues against. Look for defensive end Ryan Kerrigan to try to get to Rodgers and throw off his game.
What happens in this game: The Packers aren’t playing well, with an offensive line that allowed the 4th-most sacks in the league and receivers who can’t either get open or hold onto the ball consistently. Those issues will be helped by playing against Washington’s defense, who allowed Dallas’ Kellen Moore throw for 435 yards. But the Redskins are an entirely different offensive machine at home, which leads to the optimism for Washington.
THE PICK: The “You Like That?!” chant gets its last game at FedEx Field, as THE REDSKINS take down Green Bay in a high scoring affair, 34-27.
Derek’s Picks this Week:
AFC WILD CARD: Steelers, Chiefs
NFC WILD CARD: Seahawks, Redskins
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