NFL Wild Card Weekend will feature some of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, but don’t expect a barrage of aerial assaults to dictate the fate of every playoff team.
Four of the eight teams dueling for a second-round berth fielded top-10 rushing units this season. Washington, Minnesota and Seattle finished the regular season with the best rushing attacks in the league, and all three will rely on young, talented running backs to carry them into the divisional round.
Adrian Peterson finished the year nine yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, but his 199-yard performance propelled his Vikings into the playoffs for a rematch against the Packers—a team he victimized for 409 yards in two regular-season meetings.
Minnesota will once again need to rely on its All-Pro running back to pace its offense against the Packers.
Christian Ponder had a pedestrian season, and while he played well in the season finale against Green Bay, the Packers boast the No. 11 pass defense in the NFL. Ponder can’t be expected to throw three touchdowns against the Packers again this week.
Seattle finished the year No. 3 in the league in rushing, led by Marshawn Lynch and his bruising running attack. Lynch tallied 1,590 rushing yards on five yards per carry in the regular season and was a big reason for rookie Russell Wilson’s immediate success.
Washington came on strong in the second half of the season and finished the year limiting opponents to just 95.8 rushing yards per game.
Given Wilson’s inexperience and limited volume of pass attempts this season, Seattle will need to establish its running game early and keep pressure off Wilson in the passing game.
Of all the rookies garnering attention for Offensive Rookie of the Year candidacy, Alfred Morris may be the most underappreciated. Washington took a flier on Morris in the sixth round of last year’s draft and he earned the starting role in a system that has been known to feature a handful of backs from year to year.
Morris rumbled his way to 1,613 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns this season, contributing to the success of Robert Griffin III and the Redskins offense. Washington finished the season No. 1 in rushing offense, and if the Redskins can continue to pick up big chunks of yardage on the ground, they have a good shot at bouncing Seattle from the playoffs.
With the amount of inexperience at the quarterback position, Wild Card Weekend should produce some smashmouth matchups and big rushing totals. When the dust settles, it will be the teams that run the ball most effectively that will earn a matchup in the next round.