NFL Wild Card: Sunday Games

Here are our previews for the Sunday Games. Enjoy!

Seattle Seahawks vs Minnesota Vikings

This is a game that on paper seems very lopsided. Despite being the winners of the NFC North, the Vikings arguably got the short end of the stick. Instead of playing the Washington Redskins, they have to play against the Seattle Seahawks, one of the hottest teams in the league. In the last seven games of the regular season, Wilson has thrown for an astonishing 24TDs and 1 INT. Eleven of those touchdowns went to Doug Baldwin, who has arguably been one of the most improved players over the course of the year. Even without Marshawn Lynch and backup string running back Thomas Rawls, the Seahawks offense is playing better than ever. The Vikings, on the other hand, move the ball primarily through Adrian Peterson, and don’t rely on QB Teddy Bridgewater to win games on his own. The Seahawks seem like the better team on paper, but the Vikings’ homefield advantage might be big enough to balance out the attack.

We can’t mention this matchup without talking about weather. Minnesota will be hosting the matchup in TCF Bank stadium, an outdoor stadium in ice cold Minneapolis. With the game projected to be one of the coldest on record, there is no doubt that the climate will impact the game. The question is, who will benefit from the ice cold temperature.

Russell Wilson has primarily operated through the air in the last couple weeks of the season, but with weather this cold, its going to be hard to throw a rock hard football around. The football will be tougher to catch and grip, so its not safe to expect a dominant performance from wide receiver Doug Baldwin. They would have to rely more on their running game to take pressure off of Wilson and to keep him from having to make long throws. Unfortunately, the Seahawks will have to rely on their third string running backs to carry the load. They have project player Christine Michael and veteran Fred Jackson, but they have not been able to replace the performances of Lynch and Rawls.

The Vikings are the team that is best equipped to be playing in such intrepid conditions. They have Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s leading rusher, carrying the rock, and have a good backup in Jerick McKinnon who could relieve with some carries and catch some checkdown passes. However, Teddy Bridgewater has not played well enough to take over a game, and is clearly still just a game manager. Despite a flashy weapon in Stefon Diggs, the Vikings receiving core isn’t one that scares the average team, let along the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom. To get the win, Minnesota must control the tempo of the game and hold possession.

These teams have played each other earlier in the year, and the Seahawks blew them out as part of their hot streak for a playoff spot. Even with the disadvantages of the chilly weather, Seattle is the better team. They have more experience and more talent on both sides of the ball. Both teams are coming off impressive wins, one a blowout against the runaway division leader, and the other to win the division. At the end, I believe this game will be much closer than the last one. I see Seattle winning 17-12.

Green Bay Packers vs Washington Redskins

In a Wildcard game no one expected, the Packers play the Redskins.  The Packers, after starting 6-0 looked as if they were finally ready to get to the Super Bowl before going 4-6 with a scoring average of 20.4 points per game. Instead of a first round bye, the Packers will have to start from the Wild Card. Originally scoring 27.3 points per game during that 6-0 stretch, the Packers then faced the Denver Broncos where Aaron Rodgers passed for 77 yards (no that is not a typo) and the offense has looked lost ever since.  The Redskins, who were projected by many to be a bottom feeder and in contention for drafting Jared Goff or Joey Bosa, finish the season 7-3 while scoring 26.1 points in that span, compared to their ugly start to the season, which included a 2-4 start and a 16.2 points per game average.  The Redskins also started the season with an ugly quarterback controversy, but Kirk “YOU LIKE THAT” Cousins arose, who finished the season with 4166 yards, nearly a 70% completion percentage and 29 TDs.  After the famous “YOU LIKE THAT,” his passer Rating was an astounding 118.1.

According to DVOA, a metric used by football outsiders to determine how good a team is, has Green Bay with a total DVOA of 10.2%, yet have a weighted DVOA of -3.9%, indicating how truly ugly the back half of the season was for Green Bay.  Meanwhile, the Redskins finished with a DVOA of -0.3%, but a weighted DVOA of 7.7%, indicating how hot they finished the season.  Green Bay finished 15th in points per game with 23 ppg, and finished 12th in points allowed per game, with 20.19 points allowed per game, finishing the season with a positive differential of 2.8 points per game.  The Redskins finished 10th in points per game with 24.3 ppg, and finished 17th in points allowed allowing 23.69 points per game, thus finishing the season with a differential of 0.61 points a game (they outscored their opponents by a total of 9 points throughout the whole 16 teams).  Statistically and looking at a neutral field, Green Bay has the advantage.  However, this is on the Redskins turf and the overall statistics don’t include the whole story.

At home, the Redskins scored 30 points per game and allowed 18.6 points per game.  Meanwhile, the Packers scored 22.8 points per game and allowed 23.25 points per game on the road.  However, we must go deeper into the stats.

Both teams have good quarterbacks.  While Aaron Rodgers has not had pretty stats this season and certainly has not looked as good as last year, he is still one of the best QBs in the league and boasts a 101.0 Passer Rating in the playoffs.  Meanwhile in the other corner you have Kirk Cousins who has a 118.1 passer rating since he asked the world if they like that.  However, an important note:  Green Bay boasts an elite secondary featuring HaHa Clinton-Dix and Sam Shields, finished 9th in interceptions, 6th in passing touchdowns allowed and 6th in passing yards allowed. Meanwhile, the Redskins have a subpar pass defense, allowing 30 passing TDs and more than 4000 passing yards.  In addition, the Redskins feature a running game that is ranked #20, so they have an offense that relies on the passing offense.  In addition, they have a poor run defense as well ranking #26th in terms of rushing yardage.  While Eddy Lacy has disappointed, Green Bay still has a solid run game ranking #12 in terms of rushing yardage.  However, they do feature a poor run defense (coming in at #21 in terms of rushing yardage).  While the raw stats indicate an advantage to the Redskins, the matchups do indicate a slight advantage to Green Bay.

While Rodgers has had a down year, bottoming at the last 3 games with a TD:INT ratio of 3:3 and a passer rating of 72.9, it’s difficult to count him out in the playoffs.  He has a 101.0 career passer rating in the playoffs, is going up against a pretty mediocre pass defense (even though the 10 game stretch he had for the season was bad, he went up against elite competition including the secondaries of Denver, Carolina, Arizona and Minnesota (twice)).  Kirk Cousins is going up against a quality pass defense and may have a bad game due to playoff inexperience.  However, with all the miscommunications and drops Green Bay has had this season, I believe it ends up being a close game, with Green Bay winning slimily and prevailing due to the secondary coming through, and Rodgers unleashing himself in the playoffs.

Final Score: Green Bay 24 – Redskins 21 (OT)

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