Previewing Sunday’s NFC wild card games

Sunday is all about the NFC with defense and strong running games in the early matchup and some surprising comparisons in the late showdown.

Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at Minnesota Vikings (11-5)

While the Seattle Seahawks are generally listed around five-point favorites and crushed the Minnesota Vikings 38-7 in their Dec. 6 meeting, the Vikings are at home and have a better record against common opponents (6-3 vs. 5-4) this season.

In their first meeting, Russell Wilson passed for 274 yards and three touchdowns and added another rushing touchdown while Thomas Rawls rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown. This time, there is no Rawls, but the man he replaced because of injury, Marshawn Lynch, was expected back in the mix after missing the last seven games following abdominal surgery. He was initially listed as questionable on Friday, then downgraded to out Friday night. But without Lynch for much of the season, Wilson enters the game as not only the Seahawks’ leading passer (4,024 yards, 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a league-leading 110 passer rating), he is also the top active rusher on the team with 553 yards, a 5.4-yard average per carry and one touchdown. He is the first quarterback in NFL history to have at least 4,000 yards passing, 30 passing touchdowns and 500 yards rushing.

But the chemistry between Wilson and Doug Baldwin has also been growing. Baldwin leads Seattle with 1,069 yards on 78 catches, including 14 touchdowns. Consider in the last eight games Baldwin has 63 targets, 47 catches, 724 yards and has caught 75 percent of the passes Wilson has chucked his way.

But, mostly, the Seahawks are built on an aggressive, highly successful defense that ranks second in the league overall, first against the run and second against the pass. In brutally cold temperatures that could render a top-10 coldest NFL game, that should help them immensely.

With that weather backdrop, the Vikings likely will rely on their tried and true running game, bolstered, per usual, by the three-time NFL rushing champ, Adrian Peterson. However, when facing the Seahawks in December, Peterson was stifled to eight carries for 18 yards.

If that happens again, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater may be asked to shoulder the load. When that’s happened in the past, it has been met with mixed results. In the first meeting against Seattle, Bridgewater threw for only 118 yards and a 55.4 passer rating. While he was better the rest of the month of December – setting career highs for passing yards (335) against Arizona and touchdowns against Chicago (four passing, one rushing) – he was off his game last week against Green Bay, when he threw for only 99 yards and a 45.7 rating.

Fortunately for the Vikings, they have the fifth-best scoring defense in the league. Unfortunately for them, that same defense relinquished 38 points to Seattle last month.

Green Bay Packers (10-6) at Washington Redskins (9-7)

Who would have guessed this entering the 2015 season: Kirk Cousins not only has a better passer rating (101.6) than Aaron Rodgers (92.7), but he has more yards (4,166 to 3,821)?

Without Jordy Nelson, getting the Green Bay Packers passing game going consistently has been a problem. Randall Cobb is the leading receiver with 79 catches but only has 829 yards and six touchdowns. Rodgers has been forced to spread the ball around, with tight end Richard Rodgers and receiver James Jones having eight touchdowns, and the running game hasn’t had a consistent starter either. James Starks has 601 yards rushing and 392 receiving and Eddie Lacy has been carrying the load lately, finishing the season with 758 yards. But the Packers have only eight rushing touchdowns compared to 31 in the air.

The once high-powered Packers offense is ranked 23rd in the league and 25th in passing offense. The Washington Redskins, meanwhile, have made vast improvements and have the 17th-ranked offense, 11th in passing.

Cousins has been good overall and even better at home, where he has completed 74.7 percent of his passes for 2,170 yards with 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions. His completion percentage is the best in NFL history in home games in a single season. He is the first quarterback in team history to pass for at least 4,000 yards (4,166) and throw at least 25 touchdowns (29) in a season. Like Green Bay, the Washington receiving corps has been a shared production. Tight end Jordan Reed (87 catches for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns) has been the most productive and led NFC tight ends in catches and touchdowns, but Pierre Garcon and Jamison Crowder each have more than 50 catches and 600 yards.

Like Green Bay, the Redskins running game hasn’t been as productive. Alfred Morris has 751 yards but is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry.

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