NFC Wild Card Weekend Preview: Will Adrian Peterson Carry the Vikings Past the Seahawks?
We're now just hours away from the start of the NFL playoffs.
The teams that survived the grueling, arduous regular season are now preparing for the second season, and hopefully a chance at raising the Lombardi trophy as Super Bowl champions come February.
While the top two seeds in each conference enjoy a first-round bye, a chance to rest up and mentally prepare for their next possible opponent, the other four playoff contenders will continue the week-to-week grind into their 17th game this season.
Our Editor-In-Chief, JJ Zachariason, previewed Saturday's slate of games, while I'll be giving you a comprehensive breakdown of the Sunday games.
We’ve got crazy weather, a moderately-high favorite according to Vegas, and a quarterback who has failed to reach his normal lofty standards during the regular season looking for redemption in the most important game of his season.
Let’s dig in.
Seattle vs. Minnesota
Few teams closed out the regular season hotter than the Seattle Seahawks.
Following a 2-4 start, the Seahawks won 8 of their last 10 games, led largely by the play of fourth-year veteran Russell Wilson. A few weeks ago, I profiled why Wilson should be considered in the MVP conversation and, since then, not much has changed.
Wilson finished the regular season ranked third in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back among the 37 quarterbacks with 200 or more drop backs. This essentially means that, for every drop back, Wilson added 0.30 points to his team’s scoring total. Only Carson Palmer and Cam Newton registered a better mark.
Wilson’s go-to receiver, Doug Baldwin, was the main beneficiary of his late-season white-hot run. Baldwin finished with the second best Reception NEP per target mark among the 54 wide receivers with 75 or more targets.
Seattle’s passing game will be opposed by a Vikings’ secondary that ranks 10th in overall team pass defense according to our schedule-adjusted metrics here at numberFire. Another issue is the weather forecast predicting wind chills in the negative double-digits.
The impending return of Marshawn Lynch should be a major boost for Seattle’s offense that has been looking for a suitable replacement ever since Thomas Rawls, Lynch’s initial replacement, was lost to injury in Week 14.
Lynch was middling in terms of overall Rushing NEP per carry, ranking 33rd among 55 running backs with 75 or more carries, well below that of Thomas Rawls, but his return will inject some life into the current amalgamation of Bryce Brown, Christine Michael and Fred Jackson.
Lynch will be facing a Vikings’ run defense that ranked 17th in the regular season according to our metrics. The combination of inclement weather and a mediocre run defense possibly without one of its best interior run-stoppers in Linval Joseph could bode well for the Seahawks’ rushing attack.
For the Vikings’ offense, it starts and ends with their rushing attack, ranked second according to our metrics this season.
As the league’s leader in rushing yards (1,485) and tied for the lead in touchdowns (11), it’s clear that Minnesota will want to utilize Adrian Peterson early and often in this game.
The problem for the Vikings is that Seattle boasts our sixth best rush defense when adjusted for strength of schedule, which sets up an incredibly interesting battle; and one that could have a very large impact on the game’s outcome.
While the Vikings have run the ball very well this season, moving down the field via the pass has been a different story.
Teddy Bridgewater ranks 29th in Passing NEP among all quarterbacks this season, and will be facing an extremely stingy Seahawks’ pass defense. How well Bridgewater can navigate the tricky waters of Seattle’s secondary could be the ultimate deciding factor in this game.
Despite playing on the road, Seattle is peaking at just the right time. Although the Vikings should put up an inspired performance for their fans witnessing their first home playoff game since 2009, in the end, the Seahawks are just too talented to fail this early in the playoffs.
Entering the game, numberFire Live is giving the Seahawks a 64% chance to win.
Green Bay vs. Washington
Despite finishing the regular season with a 10-6 record, 2015 was a fairly disappointing outing for the Green Bay Packers.
Losing the division title to the rival Minnesota Vikings certainly stings, but so does the relative struggles of a once uber-potent Packers’ offense led by Aaron Rodgers.
2015 was Rodgers’s worst analytical season since taking over as the full-time starter in 2008. For perspective, Rodgers’s 0.06 Passing NEP per drop back mark was just slightly better than Ryan Tannehill's 0.05 average.
The good news for the Packers is that Washington has struggled against the pass this season, giving up the 25th most passing yards per game. It’s no guarantee that Rodgers will all of the sudden emerge from his near season-long slump, but the conditions could be ripe.
Eddie Lacy's play was another reason the Packers’ offense lacked potency this season. Scoring just three touchdowns and cracking the 100-yard mark just three times, Lacy simply did not provide a consistent threat on the ground.
James Starks will also play a role in this game, but against a Washington rush defense ranked 13th according to our metrics, it may be tough sledding for either back on Sunday.
Although both David Bakhtiari and Josh Sitton could suit up on Sunday, their absence from practice this week adds yet another question mark to an offense that has been without many answers this season.
The unquestioned story of the year in Washington (other than his amazing retro Starter jacket) was the play of Kirk Cousins.
Although he struggled early in the season, Cousins closed out the regular season with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last three games while completing 73 percent of his throws.
Cousins also sports some pretty eye-popping home/road splits:
The return of DeSean Jackson has really helped as well, as he ranks fifth in Reception NEP per target among the 28 wide receivers with between 40 and 60 targets.
While Green Bay ranks ninth in overall pass defense according to our metrics, they have also allowed the third-most pass plays of 40-plus yards (14), an area that Cousins and Jackson could very easily exploit.
Despite a monster Week 2 performance -- 19/123/2 -- rookie Matt Jones has failed to find consistency this season ranking dead-last in Rushing NEP per carry among the 44 running backs with 100 or more carries.
Teammate Alfred Morris didn’t fare much better, ranking 36th in the same cohort. The Washington running game has been pretty pathetic all season long, ranking 30th according to our numbers.
Green Bay’s rush defense has also been well below-average this season (26th according to our metrics), making it tough to predict how that matchup will go.
Washington has all the momentum in the world right now, while Green Bay has next to none. The Packers’ recent playoff successes, including masterful performances by Aaron Rodgers, make it tough to completely write them off in this game.
However, at home, playing in their first playoff game since 2012, it feels like Washington has everything in place to keep their run going, at least through the wild card round.
Per numberFire Live, Washington has a 62% chance of winning the contest.