Wildcard round, you say?
Kind of fitting to use a clip from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia when pretty much everything went wrong for the Philadelphia Eagles after week three. Look elsewhere in the NFC East, however, and you’ll see a Washington Redskins team that has won seven in a row. Unfortunately for them, they’ll be playing one of the scariest teams in the NFC.
Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Redskins, Sunday 4:30 p.m.
Passing Offense – This is a pretty tough category to judge. The Skins’ Robert Griffin III is third in the league in passer rating, while the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson is fourth. Wilson has 6 more TDs, but 5 more INTs and RG3 has just 82 more passing yards. Neither has the edge in experience since they’re both rookies. However, there is one big stat that gives RG3 the edge here.
Wilson has only nine of his 26 TDs coming on the road, but eight of his ten interceptions coming away from CenturyLink field. Conversely, RG3 has only one of his five of his INTs occurring at home, though the majority of his TDs come on the road.
If you look at the Seahawks’ receiving corps, you have to like what Golden Tate has done this year, and Sidney Rice is connecting with his new quarterback as well, showing the potential that a lot of coaches and fans knew he had. Pierre Garcon has been fantastic for the Redskins after battling for injury, and Santana Moss has made a lot of big time catches whether its for third down conversions, or late game TDs. You have to question the other young receivers on the team and whether they can make the plays they need to in the playoffs. Both teams also have some big questions at TE.
Advantage: Redskins @ HOME
Rushing Offense – Like the RG3 and Wilson in the passer rating category, Washington’s Alfred Morris and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch are neck-and-neck in rushing yards, with the advantage going to Morris by 23 yards. However, that stat is very impressive considering that he more or less splits carries with RG3, who has over 800 yards rushing. Lynch’s teammate Wilson also put up some solid yardage, running for just under 500 yards.
One could look at Marshawn Lynch, AKA Beast Mode’s performance against the Saints and cite that as an advantage in terms of experience, which is certainly a good point. But then again, in the biggest game of his career, last week against Dallas, Morris put up a staggering 200 yards and 3 TDs.
Man has that Washington O-Line looked fantastic on the rush, and the pistol formation really benefits everyone on that offense. It has the potential to open up the play action.
Advantage: Redskins, aka the best rushing team in the league.
Pass Defense – HAHAHAHAHAHA. If you have been following the NFL closely this year, you’d know how this is not even close. Wilson’s numbers may not matter when it comes to this atrocious Redskins pass defense, which is ranked 30th in the league. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are ranked 6th, and have the likes of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner killing it in the secondary this year. (Browner will be coming off a suspension, but there will be little-to-no rust to shake off.)
Unlike the past two categories that one could consider close, this is not much of a contest.
Advantage: Seahawks, and then some.
Run Defense – This is actually a pretty interesting category. Perhaps it’s because teams know to throw on them, but the Redskins are fifth in the league against the run. The Seahawks, meanwhile are 10th, which is still very respectable. What’s funny about both these teams is that they are the two lowest in terms of opponent rushing attempt total. For the Seahawks, one could attribute that to the blow out victories they had in week 15 and 16.
When you look at rush yards per attempt, it ends up totaling to 4.2 for the Redskins and 4.5 for Seattle. In terms of recovering fumbles, Seahawks have eight recoveries while the Redskins have seven. As you can tell from these stats, they’re pretty inseparable. If fact, if you look at their leading tacklers, Bobby Wagner for Seattle and the ageless London Fletcher for Washington, they have 140 and 139, respectively . So…
Advantage: PUSH, but Seattle will really be tested Sunday.
Prediction: I figure I’ll start the predictions off while picking an underdog. The Redskins will win this one with their impressive running attack. RG3 is only getting healthier and Alfred Morris, next to Adrian Peterson, is the most consistent running back in the playoffs. If they don’t turn the ball over, the Redskins can control this game. The biggest factor is definitely home field advantage here, the Seahawks will miss their 12th man. Speaking of Adrian Peterson…
Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers, Saturday 8 p.m.
Passing Offense – Sometimes there needs to be a thorough analysis of each section. This is not one of those times. Aaron Rodgers and his receiving corps (see, a healthy Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb) is much better than Christian Ponder and his Percy Harvin-less group of receivers. If anything, the Vikings might have an advantage at TE, but only slightly.
Advantage: Packers, by a mile.
Rushing Offense – It’s a tale of two cities with these teams and their offenses. Quick: who is the main running back for the Packers? It’s ok, no one really knows. Alex Green, who leads all Packer running backs with 464 yards, is coming off a concussion, but will be playing against the Vikings. Who’s second on the team in rushing yards? Well that would be Aaron Rodgers.
But the real thing to talk about here is Adrian Peterson AKA All Day AKA Purple Jesus. The man is not even man, he’s a machine, a football immortal. Peterson was the story of the year coming off surgery and falling short of the single season record for yards in a season by eight measly yards. What’s more impressive, is that he had 409 yards in two games against the Packers this year. The Packers leading rusher has 464 total.
Every team knew Adrian Peterson will be running the ball a ton, but on his way to 2,097, there was no one could stop him.
Advantage: Vikings, by one bionic knee
Pass Defense – Neither team sets the world on fire with their Pass Defense, but with the return of Charles Woodson, the Packers secondary could be getting a little tougher. But when it comes to the Packers, what’s scarier is who’s rushing the QB. Clay Matthews may just be a big name to some fans, but the man has certainly earned it. Matthews is fifth in the league with 13 sacks, and the Packers rank fourth overall with 47.
Not to be outdone, the Vikings have 44 sacks, with Jared Allen coming in just one sack behind Matthews. Minnesota also has the always reliable Chad Greenway, who is third in the league in tackles with 148, compared to Green Bay’s leading tackler, Morgan Burnett (a safety), who has 123.
The real separation between the two pass defenses comes via the takeaways for Green Bay. Boasting a solid 18 interceptions, the Packers almost double the Vikings, who a near the bottom of the league with 10.
Advantage: Packers, by one hot pic.
Run Defense – Do you know what? This category doesn’t even really matter. I mean, we’re talking about Adrian Peterson here. He rushed for more yards on the road against the packers than he did at home. Even in that final game, where the Packers probably committed a lot of game planning to stopping Peterson, he put up almost 200 yards.
But, if you must know, Minnesota ranks 11th in rush yards allowed, while Green Bay ranks 17th. Over a fifth of the yards the Packers have allowed this season came against Peterson. The Packers run defense has also only forced a league-worst three fumbles, compared to Minnesota’s eight fumble recoveries.
Advantage: Vikings, because they don’t have to plan against Peterson.
Prediction – Despite everything I said about Peterson, I’m picking the Packers to pick a peck of pickled peppers in this one. Or to win…whatever. The key in this game is how close the Vikings can keep it. If Minnesota holds Rodgers in check, then they don’t have to rely on Ponder to close a big gap, otherwise…uh-oh.
Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens, Sunday 1 p.m.
Passing Offense – Ugh. That’s how it feels to analyze this quarterback match up. Andrew Luck is 26th in the league in passer rating, thanks to his 23:18 TD:INT ratio and 54.1 completion percentage. Joe Flacco is just outside the top 10, however, ranking 12th overall with a 22:10 ratio and a 59.7 completion percentage. Neither will blow you away, but Luck’s comeback victories have him receiving a ton of attention.
Looking at the receivers is a little more fun. The Colts’ Reggie Wayne is without a doubt the best receiver in this game, I mean, the guy is a future hall-of-famer. Add a speedy T.Y. Hilton to the mix, who is coming into his own, and there’s a solid one-two punch right there. Throw in Dwayne Allen and Donald Avery, and you’ve got a deep rotation of receivers for Luck to spread the ball around to.
On the Baltimore side of things, you have the frequently-overthrown Torrey Smith, who always has the potential for a huge game, and Anquan Boldin, who has become Flacco’s favorite target. The depth of the Ravens’ receivers isn’t as impressive, with Dennis Pitta ranking third on the team in yards with 669. No one on the Ravens cracked 1,000 receiving yards.
Advantage: Colts, thanks to Reggie Wayne
Rushing Offense – Sometimes it seemed like the Ravens’ former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron forgot who their best offensive player was – Ray Rice. The former Scarlet Raider finished the season with 1,143 yards, making it four season in a row with 1,000+ rushing yards. What’s more impressive is that he did not lose a single fumble all season long.
In fact, none of the main Indy backs lost a fumble this season either. Though, none of them came within 300 yards of Ray Rice’s yardage. Ballard has taken over the feature running back role for Indy, but only cracked 90 yards twice this season. Rice has done it seven times. It’s not all about Rice though, as Bernard Pierce has stepped up in a back up role, averaging an impressive 4.9 yards per carry. To be fair, those numbers are padded by a 78-yard scamper against the Giants in week 16.
Regardless, no one in Indy holds a candle to Ray Rice.
Advantage: Ravens, hey diddle-diddle Ray Rice up the middle.
Pass Defense – The Baltimore defense has lost a step this year, though part of that comes from injuries to key players. Ed Reed hasn’t been his usual self this year – think getting leapt over by Knowshon Moreno – but this team still has great veterans who know how to win and have played on a big stage before. Experience aside, the Ravens pass defense is good for 17th in the league.
The Colts, on the other hand, are 21st in the league in pass defense. One strong indication of a poor pass defense is who leads the team in tackles. For Indy, it’s linebacker Jerrell Freeman, which is normal, but following him is safety Antoine Bethea. Translation? Not good.
An interesting stat here is the TD:INT for the two pass defenses. The Ravens give up the second least passing touchdowns in the league, with only 15 TDs to 13 INTs. While that INT total just beats out the Colts’ 12 INTs, the Indy secondary has given up 23 TDs, almost a 2:1 ratio. (The best, for example, is Atlanta’s 7:10 ratio, with 14 TDs allowed to 20 INTs.)
Advantage: Ravens, veterans and ratio, bruh.
Run Defense – It’s sort of a shame to see how much the Ravens’ D has fallen off. Obviously a big factor here is the injury to Ray Lewis, who is not only one of the best linebackers of all time on the field, but an amazing leader off the field. It may be a cliche at this point, but Ray Ray really inspires something in his teammates. Anyways, the Ravens run defense is somehow ranked lower than their pass defense, putting them at 20th in the league.
But they don’t look as bad as Indy, who is 29th in the league in run defense. Both teams are pretty susceptible against opponents’ ground games, but a pretty significant difference comes via the rushing yards per attempt (against) category. Baltimore is ranked 8th in YDS/A with 4.0, while Indianapolis is 31st with a whopping 5.1 YDS/A. Also, Baltimore is tied for third in fumble recoveries with 11, compared to Indy’s four.
Advantage: Ravens, because Indy’s defense is horrible.
Prediction: This the end of the road for the 2012-2013 Indianapolis Colts. Luck’s hype has been based solely on his comeback ability and the team’s nine-game improvement over last season. Despite this improvement, the Colts are in the bottom half of the league in both defensive categories, as well as rushing offense. Furthermore, they have a negative score differential, the only team in the playoffs who can say that. I mean, look at the Patriots and Broncos, who have a differential of +226 and +192. That’s scary.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans, Saturday 4:30 p.m.
Passing Offense – This is actually a pretty tough one to call. The Texans’ Matt Schaub is not really close to that elite level, despite having an amazing receiver in Andre Johnson and a tight end who is having one of the best years of his career in Owen Daniels. Not to mention Arian Foster, who can open up play action as good as anyone. That being said, Schuab doesn’t make too many mistakes, which makes him good for 9th in passer rating. Meanwhile, the Bengals’ Andy Dalton throws a lot of interception, but also a lot of touchdowns as well. He has 5 more TDs than Schaub and 4 more INTs.
But what’s a great stat here is how many times each quarterback got sacked this season. Defenses got to Schaub 27 times, which is a pretty solid number for the Texans’ O-Line. Dalton, however, got sacked for 46 times, which is the third-highest total in the league. The big question for the Bengals and their passing game is whether or not Dalton stays standing against the likes of J.J. Watt.
In terms of receivers, the teams are pretty evenly matched, with Houston’s Johnson and Cincy’s AJ Green both serving as fantastic primary options. While Johnson has the edge in yardage, Green has a significant edge in TD receptions, almost tripling Johnson’s total. Both teams have TEs as their secondary options with incredibly similar statistics. Daniels has 1 more TD than the Bengals’ Jermaine Gresham, but Gresham has 21 more yards.
Advantage: PUSH, aside from sacks, these passing attacks are too similar.
Rushing Offense – Not ONCE did Cincy’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis aka the Law Firm lose a fumble while playing for the Patriots. Not. Once. But of course, the Bengals ruined that and he now has two on the season. Way to go Cincy. But in all seriousness, the Law Firm is an incredibly reliable running back, but the problem going into this game is that he’s dinged up a bit. He’s officially listed as questionable, but the dude’s a competitor, so he’ll do whatever it takes to get on the field.
Regardless, the real story here is Arian Foster, who many believed to be the top running back in the NFL going into the season. Foster did have a solid year, coming in sixth in rushing yards (compared to Green-Eliss’ place in 13th) and first overall in rushing TDs. A concern for Foster comes from his totals during the Texans’ slump, as well as a heart problem he faced against Minnesota. First of all, let’s all hope that Foster is ok and remains healthy, because that’s more important than analyzing football. Secondly, the production that Foster to put out during this recent stretch came in two games against the Colts, who, as aforementioned, are pretty terrible against the run. Still, he’s a dynamic running back and knows how to get the yards his team needs.
Advantage: Texans, expert Twitterer Foster prevails.
Pass Defense – *Awesome guitar riff* J.J. WAAAAAAATTTTTT. *Kick-ass drum fill* GENOOOOOO ATKINS. That’s the big story here. Atkins has been slept on by most fans because of Watt’s position-altering performance this year. What I mean by position-altering is that the dude is tied for 10th in pass deflections. The closest DE after that is tied for 61st with nine. Watt also lead the NFL in sacks with 20.5. While Geno Atkins’ numbers don’t seem as impressive, he’s put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks and offensive lines, creating openings for his teammates. Atkins and Watt both have four forced fumbles.
But, when you look at team totals, Cincinnati actually has the advantage in sacks, edging out Houston 51 to 44. That makes the Bengals good for third in the league in the sacks, and their 364 yards lost on sacks is good for second. Here’s another big edge for Cincy – they have given up only 16 passing TDs, compared to Houston’s 29. It’s kind of shocking to see that big of a number for a respected defense, but that’s what happens when you get carved up by the Patriots and…Jaguars…?
Advantage: Bengals, my apologies to J.J. Watt.
Run Defense – Houston is the stingiest team in terms of rushing TDs, only giving up five on the year. Conversely, Cincy has given up a middle-of-the-pack 13 TDs. The ranks for yards allowed are a bit closer, with the Texans ranking seventh and the Bengals ranking 12th. Forced fumbles are pretty close two, with Houston beating out Cincy ten to eight.
For Cincinnati, the big question will be whether or not they can stop Arian Foster, but that’s not a huge dilemma, especially when it would be a stretch to consider the team’s run defense as a liability. Not to completely discredit the Texans run defense, but when you play Indianapolis and a Maurice Jones-Drew-less Jaguars for a combined total of four times, your stats are going to look pretty good. Throw in a ramshackle O-Line for the Titans to face twice a year as well, and the stats will look even better.
Advantage: Houston, because sometimes numbers don’t lie.
Prediction – What I didn’t get to talk about in the above categories is how these two teams are going in opposite directions entering the playoffs. The Bengals have won seven of their last eight games, storming into the postseason with a young, talented team. Conversely, the Texans lost their number one seed for the first time this season…in week 17. They have won five of their last eight, but lost three of their last four. Two of those five wins during this eight game stretch came against the Jaguars and Lions, but in overtime. The only playoff team Houston beat during this period were the Colts, who then beat them in the final week. Granted, the Bengals also only beat one playoff team, the Ravens, and had one of the easiest schedules in the league. Still, I like the Bengals to upset the reeling Texans here.
TL;DR – Redskins over Seahawks, Packers over Vikings, Ravens over Colts, Bengals over Texans.