The Sunday playoff matchups in the NFL this season offer all types of intrigue as rookies Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson battle it out in Washington. It's a day full of rookies, as Andrew Luck leads his Colts team against a slumping Baltimore Ravens squad that was one catch away from the Super Bowl last season. While the AFC offers a great game, it's the NFC matchup that has the potential to be explosive.
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NFC Wild Card, Sunday 4:30 p.m.
Seattle Seahawks (11-5), Washington Redskins (10-6)
The battle of the rookie quarterbacks is also a battle of two teams that did not make the playoffs in 2011.
Both the Redskins and the Seahawks turned things around behind first-year quarterbacks, especially Washington, who won seven straight games to finish the season after falling to 3-6 earlier in the year.
Griffin has been a dynamic player for the Redskins, but enters the game at less than 100 percent after injuring his knee a few weeks ago against the Ravens. He has worn a brace since then and was noticeably uncomfortable during the regular-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys.
Griffin says he will be fully healthy for the game on Sunday, but it is likely that he will still be a bit rusty. He threw for only 100 yards against the Cowboys, but had zero turnovers while rushing for 63 yards and touchdown. Over his last five games, Griffin has scored nine touchdowns and has thrown just two interceptions.
The Redskins will rely on running back Alfred Morris, a fellow rookie who set the teams single-season rushing record with 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns. If Morris wasn't playing with someone like Griffin, he would be the toast of the town and the likely winner of the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Morris was essential in the finale against the Cowboys, rushing for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Over his final five games, Morris scored nine times and rushed for over 124 yards three times.
The Washington offense will have a tough test against a Seattle defense that has been stellar this season. The unit is ranked in the top 10 in both rushing and passing defense and has allowed an average of 200 yards through the air per game. The team is allowing an average of 15.3 points per game, which is the lowest total in the NFL, and has been excellent over the seond half of the season.
Cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have been the best duo in the league, while Sherman is ranked second in interceptions with eight, tied with Giants safety Stevie Brown. Browner was suspended four games for PED use earlier in the season, but he will me making his return for the playoffs and will provide depth for the Seahawks after making the Pro Bowl last season.
Washington has been a hot team, but Seattle is right behind them in that regard after winning five straight to end the year, including a dominant two weeks that saw the team score 108 points in victories over the Arizona Cardinals and the Buffalo Bills.
West coast teams who have to fly cross country for games are usually at a disadvantage, but this season, the Seahawks have won two of the three games it has played on the East coast, losing only to Miami 24-21 in Week 12. Seattle went 8-0 at home this season and just 3-5 on the road, but each of those losses were to conference opponents during the early stages of the season when Seattle looked like a different team.
During the second half of the season, no team has been better in the NFL than the Seahawks, who allowed 17 points or less in each of its last five games, including in a 42-13 win over the NFC West division champion 49ers.
Russell Wilson has transformed this team since being named the starter in training camp, making plays with both his arm and his legs. He has thrown for 3,118 yards and tied the rookie record with 26 touchdown passes and also ranks second on the team in rushing with 489 yards and four touchdowns.
Wilson was stellar against the 49ers in Week 16, throwing for 171 yards and four interceptions in the blowout win and hasn't has thrown for 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions over the final eight games of the year. He has been excellent on the road this season, ranking third in the NFL with a 107.2 passer rating, behind players like Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
Wilson has been helped along all season by running back Marshawn Lynch, who ranked third in the NFL in rushing (one spot behind Morris) with 1,590 yards and 11 touchdowns. Lynch has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of the last four games and has scored six touchdowns during that span.
The Washington defense has been excellent against the run this season, allowing just 95 yards per game, but the biggest issues will be in the secondary. Seattle should be able to take advantage of the Redskins in the passing game, as they are ranked just 30th in the league, allowing nearly 300 yards per game. The Redskins could be thin in the secondary in the game after free safety Madieu Williams suffered a shoulder injury on Sunday against the Cowboys and is also dealing with problems on the offensive line after guard Kory Lichtensteiger suffered an ankle injury.
Wilson will try to stretch the field with Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, who had a breakout season while making 45 receptions for 688 yards and seven touchdowns. Tate has been skilled at making big plays down the field this season and helped set up the winning touchdown on Sunday against the Rams with a 44-yard catch late in the fourth quarter. The team has made 11 receptions of at least 40 yards, tied for fifth-most in the NFL according to ESPN.com.
The Seahawks have come a long way since winning that controversial game against the Packers in Week 3 that saw the end of the replacement referees. Back then, the Seahawks were seen as a team that stole a win from a more talented Green Bay team. Looking back on that game now and pushing it ahead to the future, it remains to be seen whether the Packers would even win another matchup against this Seahawks team.
Prediction: Seattle 28, Washington 24. The Seahawks will need to have some type of pass rush to help keep Griffin and Morris off-balance, but they have enough in the secondary to make up for it. The Redskins can easily win this game, but there is something about the Seahawks this season that just spells road win in this matchup. Wilson and Griffin have similar skill sets, but Griffin is more likely to run and has fewer options at wide receiver. The game may tip on how many yards Morris and Lynch gain for their respective teams. This is the type of game that will likely swing on a turnover or a stellar defensive play.