2016 NFL Playoff Primer: Previewing the NFC wild-card round matchups
The good news for the NFC North champion Vikings? They get to host their wild-card round playoff game. The bad news? That game is going to be against the Seahawks, who absolutely destroyed Minnesota in Week 13. Meanwhile, the Redskins will host the Packers, and the team that looks more dangerous offensively right now isn't the one with Aaron Rodgers on it. Below is our primer for the 2016 NFC wild-card round, (and you can find our AFC wild-card primer here).
No. 6 Seattle (10–6) at No. 3 Minnesota (11–5)
Sunday, Jan. 10, 1:05 p.m. ET (NBC): The Vikings' reward for beating the Packers in the last regular-season game of the 2015 season is... they get to host a matchup with a Seahawks team they hosted in Week 13. That Seahawks team, just a bit hotter than this Seahawks team, absolutely smoked Minnesota, 38–7. Yes, Minnesota was without defensive tackle Linval Joseph, pass-rusher Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith, but that game was reflective of Seattle's status as a team you generally did not want to face in the second half of the season. Given Seattle's 36–6 thrashing of the Cardinals in their regular-season finale—an appropriate recovery from its embarrassing loss to the Rams the week before—it's hard to imagine a different result. Yes, the Vikings are tougher with most of their main defensive stalwarts in the game, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been better of late, but Seattle's defense, which has now led the NFL in scoring defense four straight seasons, a record in the Super Bowl era, absolutely obliterated Minnesota's balanced offense on Dec. 6.
Bridgewater completed 17 of 28 passes for just 118 yards and an interception against Seattle, and Adrian Peterson (who briefly left the Vikes' Week 17 win over the Packers with a lower back injury and then returned) gained just 18 yards on eight carries. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson continued his torrid pace, with 21 completions in 27 attempts for 274 yards and three touchdowns. Back then, Seattle had undrafted rookie running back undrafted rookie running back Thomas Rawls, who is now out for the rest of the season with a broken ankle. Christine Michael and Bryce Brown have done decently in Rawls's stead, but head coach Pete Carroll has said that he expects Marshawn Lynch to return to the team on Monday, and that his recovery from an abdominal issue is going well. If the Seahawks have Lynch at full-go in this rematch, and Peterson is less than 100%, it could be another laugher. Joseph missed the Packers game with a foot injury, which would further complicate Minnesota's run-stopping efforts.
No. 5 Green Bay (10–6) at No. 4 Washington (9–7)
Sunday, Jan. 10, 4:40 p.m. ET (FOX): The Redskins and Packers have not faced off this season, which may be a good thing for the Pack. Based on Green Bay's offensive performance through most of the season, a rematch may give the Skins a false sense of security. And while there are problems with a seeding system in which a team with an inferior record gets to host a team with a better mark, there's little doubt that Washington is the better team right now, especially on offense. Head coach Jay Gruden's oft-criticized decision to circle the wagons around fourth-year quarterback Kick Cousins looks like a work of genius right now. Cousins threw 10 touchdowns to one interception in December, and he added three more touchdown passes in Washington's Sunday win over the Cowboys. Cousins is one of the main reasons the Redskins have won four straight and five of their last six, but it's Gruden's multiple offense that really has the ball rolling. Cousins can easily find dynamic open targets like DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed, and Alfred Morris has the capability to add juice to the ground game. The Packers will find themselves tested severely on that side of the ball.
Washington's defense isn't at the same level of accomplishment, but given Green Bay's offensive and schematic struggles this season, that might not matter. Washington has scored at least 34 points in each of its last three games, and uncharacteristically, the Packers aren't built for a shootout right now. Aaron Rodgers has struggled to find consistency within structure, the offensive line could be in big trouble against the Redskins' aggressive pass-rush, and the secondary is just good enough to counter whatever the Packers throw at it. Washington has been much better at home than on the road this season, which may spell bad news for Green Bay.