The battle between the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins highlights Wild Card Weekend. The contest between rookie dual-threat quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III will dominate the headlines.
However, it is not the only key duel. The clash between two dominating running backs could turn out to be decisive.
On the defensive side of the ball, the competition between two motor mouth cornerbacks will be intense. The performances of two stellar inside linebackers will also be key, as both defenses attempt to stifle dominant running games.
Here is a prediction of the winners of these four key duels and the final score.
Russell Wilson vs. Robert Griffin III
Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III are the catalysts behind their respective teams march to the playoffs. Their dual-threat, playmaking skills have given defenses fits all season.
It's not easy predicting who will outperform the other. Griffin's home advantage could prove key, as the Seahawks usually struggle on the road.
However, they have improved in their travels recently. Wilson's athleticism and knack for the big play are big reasons why.
He could thrive against a Washington defense that often struggles to mount a credible pass rush. If Wilson gets the time he could also expose a pass defense that ranked 30th in the league in 2012.
Griffin might not have the same luxury against a physical and stingy Seahawks secondary. Aggressive cornerback pair Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman challenge a quarterback to be quick and accurate.
Of course, Griffin could get behind them both via the Redskins dangerous and prolific play-action passing game. That will rely on Griffin's receivers getting past Seattle's bump and run and press techniques.
If Wilson's receivers don't show their usual aversion to the idea of actually catching the ball, he could outperform his more illustrious counterpart.
Advantage: Russell Wilson
Richard Sherman vs. DeAngelo Hall
Two cornerbacks never lacking for something to say must play key roles for their respective defenses. Despite his critics, DeAngelo Hall is still Washington's best cover man.
His performances have improved as the season has progressed. The nine-year-veteran is still an opportunistic cover man, who could fool Wilson into some errant throws.
However, Hall won't be able to take too many chances against Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin. The same warning applies to Richard Sherman's performance.
The ex-Stanford ace is sure to be matched up on Washington's primary big-play threat, Pierre Garcon. Sherman won't be able to rough up Garcon at the line, but that won't stop him from at least trying.
If he can delay Garcon's release, Griffin will have to hesitate in the pocket, particularly off play action. Sherman has the advantage over Hall, thanks to superior safety help. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor can provide better support than the Redskins patchwork collection of safeties.
Advantage: Richard Sherman
Marshawn Lynch vs. Alfred Morris
Two powerful, zone-runners are the key to this game. Bruisers Marshawn Lynch and Alfred Morris are essential to how their respective offenses operates.
Wilson and Griffin certainly benefit from these two productive workhorses. Despite Lynch's greater experience, rookie Morris should have the advantage.
The Seahawks are no longer the stout force they were against the run. They were the 10th-ranked rush defense this season, surrendering 103.1 yards per game.
That's not an ideal matchup against the prolific Morris and the league's top-ranked rushing offense. Aside from the Houston Texans, the Redskins are the most accomplished zone-blocking team in the NFL.
The left side of their offensive line could dominate against the Seahawks. Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams can clear plenty of room for Morris on Washington's trademark stretch runs.
What makes Morris such an effective runner for the scheme is that he makes quick decisions. He possesses excellent vision and makes sudden cuts in the backfield.
Morris is also excellent after first contact. That quality will be invaluable against a physically punishing Seahawks defense.
Lynch might not find things as straightforward. The Redskins defense has enjoyed great success stopping the run. The unit ranked fifth combating the rush during the regular season.
Lynch is a brute force runner, but he may struggle to escape inside linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley in the open field.
Advantage: Alfred Morris
Bobby Wagner vs. London Fletcher
This battle of youth against age could be the most intriguing. Bobby Wagner is the focal point of the Seahawks' front seven. He is quick, active and aggressive.
Wagner combines size and speed to fill rushing lanes. He is protected by the Seahawks hulking defensive line and will be relied upon to slow Morris down.
That's not to say Wagner will outshine London Fletcher. The exceptional veteran remains a prolific tackling machine. He led the Redskins in tackles with 139 in 2012 and is the most important member of Washington's 3-4 front.
Playing what might be his final playoff game should inspire the 37-year-old. Fletcher will benefit from the stout play of nose tackle Barry Cofield and lead the charge to shut down Lynch.
Advantage: London Fletcher
This is the toughest game to call in the opening round of the 2013 NFL playoffs. Both teams share similarities and whoever best executes their normal game plan will win the game.
Wilson could prove to be the key. He and his receivers might make the gains through the air they need, even if the Redskins contain Lynch.
Griffin could struggle to do the same against a talented Seattle secondary. It will be one or two big plays that swing the game narrowly in the Seahawks favor.
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks, 27-24
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