2016 NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Weekend NFC Preview

January 10, 2016

If luck be a lady, then the Cincinnati Bengals and I have more in common than I would have guessed.

Bad luck, perhaps some bad calls but more importantly bad team control by Marvin Lewis has the Bengals on the outside looking at the AFC Divisional Round once again. This one really can’t be blamed on the absence of Andy Dalton. A.J. McCarron played well enough for the Bengals to win – they just shot themselves in the foot and kept digging a deeper hole after the initial damage had been done.

In the other AFC game, there wasn’t much to comment on other than to point out how totally dominating the Chiefs were against the Texans on Saturday afternoon. New England may be the favorite to reach the Super Bowl from the AFC side, but watch out for Kansas City.

Now we shift our attention to the NFC, where two interesting matchups will take place on Sunday afternoon.

Let’s take a look at the NFC Wild Card games.

NFC Wild Card Round

#6 Seattle at #3 Minnesota (Sunday, 1:05 PM ET – NBC)

With temperatures expected to dip below zero degrees Fahrenheit throughout this game, it will be a test of mental fortitude as much as physical aptitude on the football field. Neither Seattle nor Minnesota has expressed much concern about the weather leading up to this one, but it can be assumed that both teams are wishing that Minnesota’s new home for next season was already finished.

An interesting scenario takes place in this game that you won’t see very often. Russell Wilson and Teddy Bridgewater have just six years of NFL experience between them, but have three divisional crowns, three Pro Bowl Selections and a Super Bowl victory. If you’re looking for the new guard of elite NFL quarterbacks, this may be your ticket. Bridgewater has done a nice job transforming a team that was simply Adrian Peterson & Co. before him and keeping defenses honest against the pass. Minnesota will likely still use Peterson to open up the passing game, but Bridgewater will have a significant impact in this game. If he can’t make plays in the bitter cold, Seattle’s defense will be able to focus its attention almost solely on Peterson.

The Vikings may have a slight advantage due to the weather, but the bigger advantage lies in the personnel. Russell Wilson has been here before; Teddy Bridgewater has not. This game will not be dominated by either team, so when the tough situations appear, who would you rather have your money on to come up big? Wilson has proven himself already, so before I’d go with Minnesota in a playoff game I’d need to see Bridgewater win a game first.

My Pick: 27-20 Seattle

#5 Green Bay at #4 Washington (Sunday, 4:40 PM ET – FOX)

The Redskins are hot and full of confidence, but do not have a single victory over a team with a winning record this season. The Packers dropped their last two games of the regular season and have clearly struggled without Jordy Nelson, but always seem to have a chance to win at the end of a game. If the Chiefs-Texans game was considered a toss up, it’d be hard to find an appropriate label for this one.

Of quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts during the regular season, Kirk Cousins is No. 5 in the NFL with a 101.6 QBR. The success of Cousins may be due to a number of factors – experience as a starter, better decision making in the pocket, a diverse receiving corps in which tight end Jordan Reed leads the team in yards gained – but does not appear to be temporary. Cousins has developed into the kind of quarterback RG3 seemingly never could, which is a player that trusts in his teammates’ ability to make plays when he puts the ball in the right place. This total team effort on both sides of the ball is why Washington will be a tough out in these playoffs. Green Bay has put a lot of pressure on Aaron Rodgers to perform but hasn’t given him the best opportunities to do so. Sacks have been an issue for the Packers, and getting to the quarterback is something that Washington does better than most in the NFL. Keeping Rodgers upright will be paramount to the success of Green Bay in this game.

In somewhat of a role reversal, Kirk Cousins has been the one playing like an All-Pro while Rodgers has been just serviceable. Unless the script flips back to normal, Green Bay won’t win this game. The Redskins are fired up to just be in the playoffs, while it feels like the Packers are just looking to hold on until they can re-calibrate. Frankly, it’s a little too late for that, which is why I believe Washington will be moving on. YOU LIKE THAT?!

My Pick: 34-30 Washington

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