NFL NFC Wild Card Playoffs Preview & Prediction
By Ha Kung Wong
Seattle Seahawks @ Minnesota Vikings
Sunday – 1:05 PM ET
Seahawks favored by 4.5 (with some sites up to 6.5)
Keys for the Vikings
Well, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but Adrian Peterson is incredibly important to the Vikings’ chances this weekend.
Peterson was sitting out practices on a weekly basis due to lingering ankle and shoulder injuries, but in Week 17, got a scare when he went to the locker room with a lower back injury. He did make it back in to the game in the 4th quarter, but didn’t do much. Clearly, the Vikings rely on the ground game to keep their offense relevant, as they’ve had the 4th most rushing yards of any team this season (138.2). He’s still AP and he’s still the RB with the most rushing yards of any RB this year (1,485), but he’ll likely be less than 100% for this weekend’s Wild Card matchup against a Seahawks defense that has allowed the least rushing yards per game of any team in the NFL this season (81.5).
So I think, ultimately, Teddy Bridgewater will be the key. He’s only totaled 3,231 passing yards and has 14:9 TD:INT ratio. But 4 of those TDs are from the Bears game in Week 15. He’s also rushed for 3 TDs, but also lost 3 fumbles this season. So he’s essentially 50/50 on TDs and TOs. In fact, he had more INTs than passing TDs in 7 of his 16 games this season. And he’s had the same number of TDs and TOs in 10 of his games this season. He’s got to be better than that if the Vikings want any hope of beating the Seahawks, particularly since they’ve allowed the 2nd least passing yards per game of any team this season (210.3).
Keys for the Seahawks
The big question is whether Marshawn Lynch gets back for this game. Head coach Pete Carroll has said that Lynch returned to team headquarters on Monday and that he’s “ready to rock”. But it’s still a question how many practices he can get through and how many snaps he’ll be able to handle during the game. But so far, he’s off to a good start.
Carroll says Marshawn Lynch will be full go at practice today.
— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) January 6, 2016
Seattle OC Darrell Bevell says there's no reason Marshawn Lynch can't have 20-25 carries Sunday. Says if he's playing, he's going.
— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) January 6, 2016
If Lynch gets in the game with that type of workload, it would be a huge boost for Seattle. If it’s Christine Michael and Bryce Brown handling the rock, I see this as more of a coin flip. Michael looked good in Week 17, but Seattle has the 3rd most rushing yards per game in the NFL this season (141.8) primarily based on Lynch and Thomas Rawls, not the recently signed Michael and Brown.[UPDATE – Jan. 9: Marshawn Lynch has been suddenly downgraded to OUT after a set back on Friday.
Marshawn launch downgraded to OUT. After Friday's workout, he felt like he couldn't play.
— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) January 9, 2016
So the Seahawks will again be relying on Michael and Brown on the ground. Although I still believe the Seahawks will win this game, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a bit closer, perhaps around 20-17].
Of course, Russell Wilson has been basically automatic in the second half of the season, and Doug Baldwin has really taken off since the season ending injury to Jimmy Graham. The Vikings did allow the 12th least passing yards per game of any team this season, though, so keeping things on the ground might be the better route.
At the end of the day, Seattle’s defense is the key. If the Legion of Boom live up to their moniker, as they have all year, Minnesota is going to have a hard time keeping up. And with AP less than 100%, Minnesota may find it challenging to move the chains. Seattle is 1st overall in DVOA while Minnesota is a respectable 11th. But I got to pick with the stats this time.
Seattle Seahawks 24 – Minnesota Vikings 17
Green Bay Packers @ Washington Redskins
Sunday – 4:40 PM ET
Packers favored by 1 (though some sites have Redskins favored by 1)
Keys for the Packers
Arguably, this could be the most interesting game of the weekend. Washington has completely turned its season around on the shoulders of Kirk Cousins, winning their last 4 games.
Unlike the Redskins, the Packers are significantly underperforming preseason expectations and are coming off a 2 game losing streak. Aaron Rodgers does not look like Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb has been a colossal disappointment this year with Jordy Nelson out. Who knew how important Jordy was to this offense? Shockingly, the Packers have the 7th least passing yards per game this season (218.9), but have been more effective on the ground with the 12th most rushing yards per game (115.6). So I’ll be looking to Eddie Lacy and James Starks to move the ball. Lacy was completely underwhelming for most of the season, but sporadically managed 100 yard games in Weeks 11, 12 and 14. Starks at times appeared to be the better back, but has lost 3 fumbles already on limited snaps, 2 of which in the last 3 games. But with Washington allowing the 7th most rushing yards per game this year (122.6), there’s good opportunity for production on the ground.
Keys for the Redskins
The Redskins are coming in with serious momentum and Kirk Cousins is arguably the hottest QB entering the post season. He went from RGIII backup to franchise QB in the space of essentially half a season. Who would have guessed that Cousins would be in a situtation where he would be “rested” for the playoffs after throwing for 3 TDs in less than half a game in Week 17? A lot rides on whether he can keep this up. Clearly, Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson were a big part of opening up his game, which has resulted in the 11th most passing yards per game in the NFL (255.9). But the Packers are allowing the 6th least passing yards per game (227.6), so the Redskins may have to turn to the weaker part of their offense.
Alfred Morris has been a disappointment, and Matt Jones, although being the most dynamic member of the backfield, has been perpetually injured (and is currently recovering from a hip injury). Pierre Thomas looked solid in Week 17, but was only signed a few weeks ago. The Packers allowed the 12th most rushing yards per game this season (119.1), so perhaps Morris will have the same success against the Packers as he had against the Cowboys in Week 17 when he put up 100 yards on 19 carries.
The Packers are 10th in DVOA compared to the Redskins at 15th. But I think the Redskins are just too hot to stop here and the Packers are lost. It will be close, but the Redskins should make it to next week.
Green Bay Packers 24 – Washington Redskins 28