Saturday's wild-card matchups couldn't have been more divergent. One game was a 30-0 blowout that never really was in question. The other was a wild, unpredictable, at times remarkably violent clash between divisional rivals.
It was a reminder that Wild Card Weekend is always full of surprises. Sunday should be no exception. Below, we'll break down both NFC matchups.
|Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings||Seattle (-4.5)|
|Green Bay Packers at Washington||Washington (-1)|
Heading into Sunday's matchups, we know two things for certain:
- If the Seahawks beats Minnesota, they'll play the Carolina Panthers in the next round.
- If the Vikings beats Seattle, they'll play the Arizona Cardinals in the next round.
That result will likely be determined by how well Russell Wilson and his wide receivers adjust to the frigid temperatures expected in Minnesota—below zero degrees Fahrenheit at kickoff, according to AccuWeather.
With Marshawn Lynch unable to play yet again for Seattle, per Sheil Kapadia of ESPN, the team will have to rely on Wilson to make plays. He's been on an absolute tear since late November, throwing for 24 touchdown passes and just one interception in his last seven contests.
Seattle is 6-1 during that stretch.
But as Kapadia noted, it could be Wilson's legs that are the difference in this one:
During the season, Wilson ran for 553 yards, third among quarterbacks behind Carolina's Cam Newton and Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor.
The read-option is still an element of the Seahawks' offense, even though they have called on it less than they did in 2014. And if the Vikings play a lot of man coverage with defenders turning their backs to the line of scrimmage, Wilson could have ample opportunity to scramble and pick up big chunks of yardage.
If the passing game suffers due to the cold conditions, don't be surprised if Wilson makes an impact as a runner and not a passer. Wilson has more than proven he is an elite quarterback this season, but it's his versatility that truly sets him apart. He can beat teams both in and out of the pocket, and his understanding of when he needs to do one or the other is what makes him virtually impossible to defend.
The Seahawks have already shown they can shut down the Vikings in Minnesota, beating them 38-7 in Week 13 and holding Adrian Peterson to 18 yards on eight carries. The defense will show up. If Wilson finds a way to keep the offense moving, the Seahawks should handle the Vikings.
The matchup between Washington and Green Bay is tougher to call. Conventional wisdom would suggest backing Aaron Rodgers in this contest, given his ability and playoff experience. But the Green Bay offense has stalled down the stretch and the team blew its chance to win the NFC North, losing its last two games.
Rodgers isn't focused on the past, however, as he told Rob Demovsky of ESPN:
You can’t take momentum into the next game. It’s about establishing your identity in that game. We’ve obviously been up and down throughout the year on offense, the defense has been playing really well lately, we’ve got a great kicker and punter and we’ve been covering kicks really well, we’ve got a kick returner who can take it the distance now. We’ve just got to take care of our part. We’re a balanced football team this year. We have the opportunity to start the run now. We’ve got to put it all together.
There is something to be said about peaking at the right time, of course; something Washington has done by winning four straight and posting 34 or more points in their last three contests. The play of Kirk Cousins has led Washington into the postseason, while the emergence of tight end Jordan Reed has pushed the team's offense over the top.
Having a deep threat like DeSean Jackson and complementary receivers like Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder certainly helps. Washington has the weapons to win in a shootout and the team is 6-2 at home this year, further reason to think they can defy conventional wisdom and knock off the Packers.
It's tough to bet against Rodgers. And given Cousins's current form, it's not easy betting against him either. In a game that could go either way, look for the team that wins the turnover battle to come away with the victory.