Following Saturday's unsettling NFL playoff initiation, four NFC contestants will duke it out to complete Wild Card Weekend.
NFL RedZone fanatics must readjust to watching one game at a time like a simpleton. While Sunday's schedule is no longer littered with options, the do-or-die contests will hopefully outdo the typical regular-season fare.
The Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals, two prominent Super Bowl contenders, await their upcoming opponents. If Odds Shark's spreads got these games right, the Panthers are in store for a grueling showdown with the Seattle Seahawks, while the Cardinals face a team they clobbered two weeks ago.
|1:05 p.m.||NBC||Seattle Seahawks||Minnesota Vikings||SEA -4.5||20-13 SEA|
|4:40 p.m.||FOX||Green Bay Packers||Washington Redskins||GB -1||27-24 GB|
Odds courtesy of Odds Shark
Seattle Seahawks vs. Minnesota Vikings
Usually reserved for uncomfortable small talk, weather has dominated the big picture for Sunday's clash between the Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings. With Weather.com projecting single-digit temperatures, conventional thinking dictates both teams will look to run.
They would have anyway. Seattle and Minnesota rank No. 3 and 4, respectively, in both rushing attempts and yards. Seattle's ground game, however, took a hit. Initially anticipated to return, Marshawn Lynch will instead miss his eighth straight game, as first reported by ESPN's Sheil Kapadia:
Marshawn launch downgraded to OUT. After Friday's workout, he felt like he couldn't play.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) January 9, 2016
Seattle missing Lynch and short-lived rookie sensation Thomas Rawls gives Minnesota a glimmer of hope—especially since it played most of Week 13's 38-7 loss without top defenders Linval Joseph, Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr. Don't expect another blowout on Sunday.
Also beware picking an upset. The Vikings had their offense at full strength against the Seahawks, but they mustered a dismal 125 total yards. Adrian Peterson tallied a season-low 18 rushing yards against the NFL's premier rushing defense, and Teddy Bridgewater's tame passing attack proved no match for the Legion of Boom.
Vikings fans will latch onto the trope of hard-nose running and defense shoving teams to a title. But, as showcased by the the Washington Post's Chase Stuart, such a formula doesn't work without a viable passing threat:
The Vikings are the 25th team since 1970 to make the playoffs after ranking in the top-five in rushing yards and bottom-five in passing yards. None of the first 24 teams made the Super Bowl. Perhaps more importantly, Minnesota ranks just 25th in net yards per pass attempt — that means Minnesota’s low number of passing yards isn’t just a function of quantity, but of quality, too.
Although the Seahawks ranked No. 20 in passing offense, Russell Wilson posted an NFL-best 109.8 quarterback rating during his first 4,000-yard season. NFL Network's Gil Brandt highlighted the vast discrepancy between the starting quarterbacks:
Russell Wilson has as many TD passes in his last 11 games (28) as Teddy Bridgewater has in his entire career.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) January 7, 2016
Minnesota needs a huge Peterson game to counteract this glaring weakness. It has a plausible blueprint to victory, as the St. Louis Rams handed the Seahawks their last loss behind 103 passing yards from Case Keenum.
If they pressure Wilson, stuff a patchwork running game completely and get a huge Peterson effort with a few solid passes, the Vikings can stun the world.
The margin of error, however, is slim. St. Louis needed to take a recovered fumble to the house to reach 23 points, and the Vikings will also need a fluky play to exceed 20 points. Hitting 10 won't be easy.
Seattle, meanwhile, is averaging 26.4 points per game and 32 points over the latter half of the season. Combine another efficient game from Wilson with a dominant defensive display, and the Seahawks advance.
Green Bay Packers vs. Washington Redskins
The weekend's lone home favorite is somehow Washington, who went 4-12 last year, benched its supposed franchise quarterback and will face Aaron Rodgers. Four weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers would have viewed 5-7 Washington as a bye. Now it's a toss-up game.
Washington stormed down the stretch, scoring 131 points over the final four games, all victories. Kirk Cousins amassed 14 touchdowns (12 passing) during those bouts and boosted his NFL-best completion percentage to 69.8.
Green Bay, on the other hand, is 4-6 with 20.4 points per game since starting 6-0. A perennial top-10 offense placed No. 23, by far its worst mark with Rodgers at the helm. NFL Network compared both quarterbacks' unlikely turns:
Aaron Rodgers. Kirk Cousins. Kirk Cousins had the best TD-INT ratio in NFL in that span. pic.twitter.com/IaWz8Uve6U— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) January 7, 2016
Per ESPN.com's John Keim, Rodgers tipped his cap to Cousins:
He has done a good job of continuing to improve throughout the year. You've got to give Coach [Jay] Gruden some credit as well for sticking with him and giving him an opportunity to develop and get better as the season has gone on. You've obviously seen his improvement has led to wins and winning the division, so those guys deserve a lot of credit. It's tough I think today to have patience, and it obviously paid off.
Due to Cousins' scorching finish, the Washington hype is getting out of hand. This is still a team with a plus-nine point differential that exploited an otherwise atrocious NFC East. The team is 6-2 at home, where Cousins compiled 8.44 yards per pass attempt. Yet none of those eight opponents finished with a winning record.
Washington played three road games against teams above .500. All three were double-digit losses. This is a playoff club that boasts a best victory against the 8-8 Buffalo Bills, who hibernated before ruining the New York Jets' playoff hopes.
Green Bay's offense has faltered for far too long to consider it a fluke, but there's hope for a reasonable turnaround. Washington yields a ghastly 4.8 yards per carry, which ranks No. 31 ahead of everyone other than the New Orleans Saints. Eddie Lacy has mixed uplifting highs with appalling lows, but a strong outing would end Washington's unlikely run.