The Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks, two of the hottest teams in football, will square off in a Wild Card matchup this Sunday, with a spot in the NFC Divisional Playoffs on the line.
The Redskins (10-6) will host the game by virtue of their NFC East division crown. Behind the impressive resolve of Robert Griffin III, and with the plucky improvement of their defense, Washington has rattled out seven consecutive victories.
They'll face a similarly streaking opponent this weekend, though, in Seattle (11-5). They've won five straight games of their own, and seven of their last eight. Unlike the Redskins, they've also proven themselves able to win big; over a three-game stretch in December, they averaged 50 points scored and just 10 points allowed.
With two rookies under center, and the fate of two respective cities on the line, there will be plenty to watch for on Sunday. Let's indulge ourselves with a closer look.
When: Sunday, Jan. 6th – 4:30 p.m. ET
Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
Spread: Seattle -3 (via VegasInsider.com – LVH)
The Redskins have covered the spread in each of their seven straight wins, despite giving points four times during that stretch. They're used to being the underdog, and they're used to winning from that spot.
But Seattle is a massive step up in competition, like preparing to play an SEC team after an ACC schedule. The five teams Washington has beaten on their streak finished 28, 17, 7, 8, and 24 in Football Outsiders' final DVOA rankings—good for an average of 16.8.
Seattle finished first.
Against the only top-10 teams on their streak, the Ravens and Giants, Washington needed fourth-quarter rallies to pull out close wins. Something tells me Seattle won't be that forgiving.
Lay the points.
Over/Under: 46.0 (via VegasInsider.com – LVH)
This is a weird one. According to Football Outsiders, these are two of the six best offenses in the league. But this game hardly feels like a shootout, right?
A couple reasons for that. For one thing, Robert Griffin's knee is far from being healthy. "Hobbled" was an understatement in describing how he looked against Dallas; crippled probably would have been closer to the truth.
Washington's offense relies heavily on Griffin's ability to run (or at least on the pretense of his mobility), and against Seattle's relentless pass rush, that should be even more true.
Seattle's offense has been a machine the past month, but they haven't looked the same away from home. They haven't played a true road game since back-to-backs at Miami and Chicago, where they averaged just 19 points in regulation.
FedEx Field will be rocking with the edginess of a long-awaited postseason relapse. Don't expect Russell Wilson to look as precise as he did against, say, the 49ers.
Take the under with confidence.
Seattle Seahawks Injury Report (via USA Today – as of 1/4/13)
|RB Marshawn Lynch||Back||Probable|
|LB LeRoy Hill||Hamstring||Probable|
|CB Brandon Browner||Suspension||Probable|
|CB Jeremy Lane||Knee||Questionable|
|CB Winston Guy Jr.||Suspension||Questionable|
Washington Redskins Injury Report (via USA Today – as of 1/4/13)
|LB Lorenzo Alexander||Shoulder||Probable|
|DE Stephen Bowen||Bicep||Probable|
|QB Kirk Cousins||Illness||Probable|
|WR Pierre Garcon||Foot||Probable|
|QB Robert Griffin III||Knee||Probable|
|CB DeAngelo Hall||Elbow||Probable|
|LB Ryan Kerrigan||Ankle||Probable|
|C Will Montgomery||Knee||Probable|
|WR Josh Morgan||Hand||Probable|
|DB Jordan Pugh||Ankle||Probable|
|P Sav Rocca||Knee||Probable|
|S Madieu Williams||Elbow||Probable|
|LB London Fletcher||Ankle||Probable|
|CB Cedric Griffin||Suspension||Probable|
|DB Domonique Johnson||Knee||Questionable|
|G Kory Lichtensteiger||Ankle||Questionable|
|S DeJon Gomes||Knee||Questionable|
Keys to Victory
Seattle Seahawks: Convert Against the Blitz
The Seahawks' offense has been a juggernaut at times this year, but they do have one palpable glitch. As relayed by Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz on the B.S. Report Podcast:
"Seattle was the worst offense in the league when the opposing defense blitzed a defensive back.And Washington does that a lot.
Wilson, for all of his mobility...was much better against a standard pass rush than he was against the blitz, and he really struggled when teams blitzed defensive backs."
The operative clause in here being "Washington does that a lot." The Redskins showed a lot of gumption with the way they blitzed Tony Romo last week, and for the most part, it was very effective.
So yeah, Russell Wilson's going have his work cut out for him; he's being asked to perform on the road, in his first playoff start, against a scheme he's struggled against all year.
The rookie has shown poise beyond his years, but this is one of his stiffest tests to date.
Washington Redskins: Stop Marshawn Lynch
I could probably spit out 1,000 words as to why Robert Griffin's knee will decide the game. But let's look at something less conjectural.
Marshawn Lynch has taken his patented "beast mode" to exciting new heights this season. The bruising veteran has topped 100 yards on 10 different occasions, despite being the focal point of every opposing defense he faces.
His brute force could cause problems for the Redskins, whom Football Outsiders ranks 22nd in the league defending the run.
The emotion of the crowd and the leadership of London Fletcher can only get Washington so far in this one. At some point they'll need to meet the likes of Unger, Okung, and Lynch in the hole—and they'll need to win those battles.
Which is, of course, much easier said than done.
I guess I teased these earlier in the "Spread" section, but I think Seattle wins this game.
Which doesn't mean I know Seattle wins this game. Washington has the crowd on their side, and though Pete Carroll's been good this year, I still like him to get out-coached by the brothers Shanahan.
But I think Seattle's defense will overwhelm a gimpy Robert Griffin and the rest of Washington's offense. Brandon Browner will be back in the lineup opposite Richard Sherman, which means Griffin will be hard-pressed to find open receivers on reads one and two.
He'll need to improvise to make things happen, and on one knee, I just don't think he's capable of that. Especially with Seattle's pass rush bearing down from every nook and cranny.
Neither offense will look good, but Russell Wilson will make just enough plays to come out the victor.
Predicted Score: Seattle 21, Washington 10