The wait for playoff football will end this weekend, and several of the NFL’s biggest stars will take full advantage of the spotlight and put on incredible performances in the wild-card matchups.
There is no shortage of electrifying talent set to suit up this weekend. With Pro Bowlers, possible MVPs, Rookie the Year candidates and Defensive Player of the Year hopefuls all playing in the upcoming slate of games, NFL fans are in for an exciting weekend.
While there will be several superstars competing, four players will rise above the competition and earn the most praise for their production.
Here are my predictions for the MVPs in each wild-card contest.
No. 6 Minnesota Vikings at No. 3 Green Bay Packers
Game MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Last week’s loss to the Vikings will serve as motivation for Rodgers and the Packers as the two teams gear up for a third meeting.
Minnesota was the only team playing for its season in Week 17, but that will not be the case this time around. In addition, Green Bay will be back in the friendly confines of Lambeau Field.
The last time these two teams met in Wisconsin, Rodgers was cold and calculated. He completed 77 percent of his passes for 286 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
While he did not post eye-popping statistics, he did take what the Vikings defense gave him and led his team to victory. This time around, he will continue to punish Minnesota for any mistakes it makes and will once again be the driving force behind a Green Bay victory.
No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 4 Washington Redskins
Game MVP: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Seattle’s Achilles heal this season has been playing on the road. All five of the team’s losses this season have come away from CenturyLink Field.
In order for the Seahawks to have success after traveling across the country, it will need to feed Marshawn Lynch early. If Seattle lines up and runs directly at the Washington defense, it will slow down the game, limit the crowd’s impact and allow Russell Wilson’s nerves to settle.
This will lessen the chances that the rookie quarterback makes a crucial error. If Wilson avoids mistakes, the Seahawks’ defense will be able to lead this team to victory.
But the team will still need Lynch to close to eat up the clock and close out the game in the fourth quarter. After finding success on the ground in both the first and fourth quarters, Lynch will be this game’s MVP.
No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals vs. No. 3 Houston Texans
Game MVP: Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals defense has been the driving force between the team’s late-season success. After suffering through a four-game skid to close out the first half of its schedule, Cincinnati did not allow any of its opponents to score more than 20 points in the final eight games en route to a 7-1 record.
While many players deserve credit, much of the defense’s success starts up front with Atkins. His ability to contribute at an extremely high level as both a run-stopper and a pass-rusher makes him one of the top defensive lineman in the NFL.
Houston has no momentum behind it heading into this game, while Cincinnati will be full of confidence due to its run to close out the regular season.
Despite three Texans offensive lineman earning Pro Bowl trips this year, Atkins will still cut right through the Houston blockers. This will have the commentators gushing over his performance, and no player in this game will be more impressive than the 24-year-old defensive tackle.
No. 5 Indianapolis Colts vs. No. 4 Baltimore Ravens
Game MVP: Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Like the Texans, Baltimore is not playing well heading into the Wild Card Round. Due to its poor recent performances, the Ravens will revert to what has always worked for them, and they will give the ball to Rice.
As ESPN’s Jamison Hensley writes, “Since drafting him in 2008, the Ravens are 23-3 (.885) when Rice gets 25 or more touches. They are 12-12 (.500) when he gets 15 or fewer.”
This is Baltimore’s fifth consecutive trip to the postseason, and this team has the experience to turn itself around despite its recent struggles. But to do so, it will have to avoid being too clever with its game plan, and simply put the ball in Rice’s hands.
John Harbaugh will ensure that Rice is the focal point of the Ravens offense, and the star running back will not disappoint his coach this weekend.