No surprise to see the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers playing in Sunday’s NFC playoff games. Unexpected, though, is that each would come in as the road team, as wild-card entrants.
Seattle, after all, went to the last two Super Bowls. Green Bay had won the last four championships of its division and was an overtime loser in NFC championship game last season.
The surprise teams in Sunday’s games are the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings. Washington seemed the least likely winner of what figured to be a wide-open NFC East Division race. Minnesota had finished last in the NFC North in three of the previous four seasons and had not won a division title since 2009. Besides, Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers, who many say is the best quarterback in the NFC.
Despite all that, Green Bay is a slight underdog at Washington Sunday. The Packers began the season with six straight wins but have gone 4-6 since, including a 20-13 loss at Minnesota last Sunday in a showdown for the division title.
Something seems off with the Packers. Some blame the loss to injury of receiver Jordy Nelson or an offensive line that has given up 47 sacks. The Packers converted only 33.7 of their third-down situations after a 47.2 rate in 2014. Things got so worrisome that coach Mike McCarthy took back the offensive playcalling from assistant head coach Tom Clements. Not a good sign.
Seattle, considered the most dangerous team among the lower seeds in the NFC postseason, is favored at Minnesota. That’s understandable given the relative postseason experience of coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seahawks compared to Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
The Seahawks are a solid 5-point favorite in what is expected to be sub-zero conditions outdoors in Minneapolis.
A capsule look at Sunday’s NFC wild-card games:
Seahawks (10-6) at Vikings (11-5)
TV: NBC, 1 p.m.
The line: Seahawks (-5).
The scoop: Seattle is looking to make its third straight Super Bowl appearance, the most since Buffalo went to four straight (1990-1993). Carroll has an 8-5 postseason record and is 4-1 versus Minnesota. … There are a lot of hot quarterbacks in the NFL but none hotter than Wilson of the Seahawks. He led the league with a 110.1 passer rating. In his last seven games he has passed for 24 touchdowns with only one interception. Wilson is the first QB in league history with 4,000 passing yards, 30 or more TD passes and 500 rushing yards in a season. Overall he passed for 4,024 yards, 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Fourteen of his TD passes went to WR Doug Baldwin. … Rookie Tyler Lockett became a late-season deep threat and joined Hall of Famer Gale Sayers as the only rookie with five or more TD catches and kickoff and punt returns for scores. … The Seahawks will have to get by again without RB Marshawn Lynch, and the arctic conditions the teams will face seemed ideal for his beast-mode running style. Also, he has been a standout postseason performer. The former Bills No. 1 draft pick had scored touchdowns in eight and rushed for 100 or more yards in six of his 10 career postseason games. … Second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater of the Vikings has won 11 of his last 15 starts at home. … The Vikings have receiving weapons in Mike Wallace, rookie Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph, but NFL rushing champion Adrian Peterson figures to be the key Sunday. Peterson led the league with 1,485 rushing yards. He will be going against a Seattle defense that led the NFL in points allowed (17.3) and rushing defense (81.5). Bridgewater threw only nine interceptions in the regular season. Seattle picked off 14 opponent passes.
Outlook: It’s back to Frozen Tundra football in Minneapolis. Conditions will resemble the famous Green Bay Ice Bowl in 1967 or the 1981 AFC Championship game at Cincinnati. Frigid conditions will probably negate the talents of the rival quarterbacks. The tougher running team and run defense will carry the day. Seattle, 17-14.
Packers (10-6) at Redskins (9-7)
TV: FOX, 4:40 p.m.
The line: Redskins (-1).
The scoop: Green Bay has won 13 NFL championships, most all-time. … Washington’s last league title was in 1991 over the Bills. The Redskins come into the postseason on a four-game winning streak, including a 35-25 rout of the Bills on Dec. 20. The Redskins have 24 points or more in each of those wins. None of the nine Washington victories came over a team with a winning record. Closest were the 8-8 Bills. … Green Bay, on the other hand, lost its last two. Of the Packers’ six losses, four came against playoff teams - Broncos, Panthers, Cardinals and Vikings. … Rodgers passed for 3,821 yards and 31 touchdowns with eight interceptions with a 92.7 rating. ... Kirk Cousins of the Redskins finished the regular season on a strong note. His 4,168 passing yards and 29 TD passes were records for a franchise that has Sammy Baugh, Sonny Jurgensen, Joe Theismann and even Mark Rypien in its history. In home games, Cousins passed for 16 TDs with just two INTs. In his last seven home games, he had 15 TDs and no INTs. Cousins completed 74.7 of his passes in home games. … Talented Washington receiving corps inludes DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed, who had 87 catches and 11 TDs. … Redskins have a tough inside running game with Alfred Morris and rookie Matt Jones. It’s first postseason game for Redskins coach Jay Gruden while McCarthy of the Packers is 7-6 with a Super Bowl win on his resume.
Outlook: Oddsmakers obviously impressed with Redskins’ 7-1 home record and Cousins’ performance at home. Packers have Rodgers and plenty of postseason experience. Green Bay, 31-28.