You Like That! An NFC Wild Card Weekend Preview

Jim Bearor

Seahawks @ Vikings Sunday 1:00pm

Wilson and Baldwin enter the playoffs on a tear. (Getty Images)

Wilson and Baldwin enter the playoffs on a tear. (Getty Images)

It’s going to be very cold in Minnesota on Sunday.  It’s safe to assume that the wintery weather will have some effect on the game, but there’s no predicting what that effect will be.  The most common prediction is that the frigid weather will slow everyone down and it will be a low scoring affair.  Vegas must agree with this line of thinking, since the over/under is hovering around 39.5, the lowest of all the games on Wild Card weekend.  The spread is also modest, with the general consensus having Seattle swallowing 5 points.  It isn’t difficult to imagine a scenario where this is all true, and mother nature levels the playing field a little. It also shouldn’t be hard to envision Seattle going into Minnesota and slaughtering them in a way that makes you feel bad for watching.

Minnesota has the capability to play any team tough, regardless of the weather (they were the best team against the spread this season).  Adrian Peterson casually brought home another rushing title, and this is a defense that deserves respect.  Playing teams tough and beating the Seahawks in the playoffs are two very different things though.  The bitter cold can’t be ignored – I get it – but unless the Legion of Boom literally freezes over, Teddy Bridgewater has a snowball’s chance in hell against this defense.  And I’m not sure how much validity there is to the stigma that quarterbacks with smaller hands struggle more in inclement weather, but for what it’s worth, Russell Wilson’s hands are a full inch bigger than Bridgewater’s. That might mean something.

As you probably remember, these two teams matched up against each other on December 6th, with Seattle dominating the game 38-7.  In that game, Peterson was unable to get anything going on the ground thanks to an early 14 point deficit.  He finished with 8 carries for 18 yards.  

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For the Vikings to have any change they have to establish Adrian Peterson and the running game. (Getty Images)

Obviously Peterson wasn’t the problem, rather he was a victim of circumstance and a truly offensive line.  The likes of Irvin, Bennett, Wright, Wagner, and Chancellor were simply too much to handle for one of the worst offensive lines in the league.  Not that they’re invulnerable otherwise, but this is their Achilles’ heel.  Even if everything else goes well, they’ll probably still lose this game because of their line play. Seattle is going to focus on Peterson first and foremost, even if they need to load the box to do so.  At this point, either AP will answer with one of the greatest individual performances we have ever seen, or (more likely) Teddy Bridgewater will be forced to be the hero on several third-and-longs – against Seattle’s secondary.

According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks are better on offense, and much better on defense than Minnesota.  Russell Wilson has been the best quarterback in football since the halfway point of the season. Marshawn Lynch is back in the fold (I agree, not that big of a deal, but still). Oh, and the Seahawks are about to play their first playoff game since their last-second heartbreak in last year’s Super Bowl.  They’re not only better in nearly every aspect of the game, they have a chip on their shoulder.  

You can even toss aside their hot streak and their “momentum heading into the playoffs” because these things have been proven to have no effect on what happens in the playoffs. All you need to know is that they’ve been among the best teams in football this season, and they have a history of success with the same core group of players.   If this game was played in 32 degree weather, the outcome would probably be similar to the beatdown we saw a month ago. The cold can’t be ignored though, and if anything, I think it will tip the scale even more in Seattle’s favor.  

Seahawks win 35-10


Green Bay @Washington 4:30pm Sunday

Aaron Rodgers an underdog against Kirk Cousins? What is this madness? (Getty Images)

Aaron Rodgers an underdog against Kirk Cousins? What is this madness? (Getty Images)

Aaron Rodgers against Kirk Cousins.  The Green Bay Packers versus the football team from Washington.  If you hadn’t watched any football this year, or if you just watched for the first few weeks of the season, this would seem like the easiest playoff game to predict the winner.  But things aren’t that simple anymore. On paper, neither of these teams are exceptional.  Green Bay’s defense has come on as of late, but they’re still beatable.  Aaron Rodgers is constantly under fire behind a patchwork offensive line, and he isn’t surrounded by much.  Washington has a good defensive front, but their secondary is a clear weakness. Kirk Cousins seems to be lighting the world on fire, but take it with a grain of salt because he hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record yet.

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Kirk Cousins is having a career year. (Getty Images)

This is the toughest part of this matchup for me to wrap my head around.  How does one attempt to judge Cousins at this point? He’s a force of nature.  This is the next Linsanity or Tebowmania, and who really knows when it’s going to be over? I have no idea if or when this team will turn back into the perverbial pumpkin, Cotton.  All I know is that right now, it looks and feels like Kirk Cousins is a good quarterback, and this offense is for real.  But if he isn’t, this is just about where the roller coaster would drop.  If Cousins falls on his face this Sunday and throws a handful of picks, it won’t surprise many people.  It also isn’t impossible to imagine him connecting with Jordan Reed or Desean Jackson for a couple of long touchdowns en route to his first playoff victory.

I’m throwing out all the X’s and O’s here, because I don’t have time to nitpick between these middle-of-the-pack teams, and the differences aren’t very significant (trust me, I looked).  In theory, Green Bay should be able to move the ball down the field thanks to Washington’s weak secondary and their tendency to disappoint on passing downs.  Eddie Lacy will struggle against their defensive front, and Rodgers should end up throwing the ball close to 40 times (unless they find themselves with a big lead early).  The most logical approach for McCarthy’s Packers will be to stop the run, and pressure Cousins early and often.  Then it’s up to Shields, Hayward, Burnett and Clinton-Dix to win the battle downfield.

This is all achievable, and my brain is telling me to take the quarterback who I know is great instead of the overhyped one who really hasn’t proven anything.  It seems like a safer pick to me.  I think my mind is playing tricks on me though, because Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers, but I can’t muster the same confidence for his surrounding cast – a group that limped into the playoffs, winning only 4 of their last 10 games. These Packers do not deserve to be feared, and that’s a hard thing to accept because the name “The Green Bay Packers” is usually synonymous with success.  It feels blasphemous to think that the prestigious Packers could be tripped up by the lowly Redskins (wow, sounded offensive, huh?)

But really, what’s not to love about a team who was written off in the preseason, who banded together and made an inspired playoff run behind an unlikely star quarterback with plenty of spunk? You like that, and you know it. It’s hard not to get a little excited for Washington.  I find myself aboard the hype train, and I don’t even remember hopping on. Cousins isn’t going to keep this hot streak going forever, but who said it has to end this week? Tebow won a playoff game against Big Ben and the Steelers. Anything is possible.

Give me Washington 28-24, because I’m drinking the Kirk Cousins Kool-Aid until it kills me.

JimBearor–  Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)

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