NFC Wild Card matchups

Looking at the key players, stats and matchups in the two NFC Wild Card games this weekend.

AFC WILD CARD MATCHUPS ]

SATURDAY

DETROIT LIONS (9-7) AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (10-5-1)

The Detroit Lions have been the Cardiac Cats this season, winning an NFL-record eight games after trailing in the fourth quarter or overtime, but you have to wonder how much harder that task gets with a domed Detroit team traveling to face the Seattle Seahawks and their 12th Man.

One thing is sure, the Lions are a different team than they have been in the past decade. Gone is WR Calvin Johnson, but QB Matthew Stafford has had an excellent season, throwing for 4,327 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interception. However, a finger injury on his throwing hand has severely hindered his production of late. Before the injury, he had only game in which he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. In the last four games, he has three such outings, throwing three touchdowns and five interceptions.

Even so, Stafford has a 1,000-yard receiver in Golden Tate (91-1,077-4) and has been adept at spreading the ball around with five players with more than 50 catches apiece. Tate, who played four seasons with Seattle and won a Super Bowl there before joining the Lions, has averaged 101 yards in his last four games.

But the Lions have also been missing an important element in their passing game without RB Theo Riddick. Zach Zenner does a solid job of getting the yardage given to him, but he is averaging only 3.8 yards per rush.

Part of that is due to an offensive line that has struggled at times, just like the Seahawks’ line. That means there could be opportunities for Detroit DEs Ezekiel Ansah and Kerry Hyder to be a force rushing the passer, just as the Seahawks’ defensive front will have opportunities to rush Stafford.

Like Tate moving from Seattle to Detroit, Seahawks DE Cliff Avril went from Detroit after five seasons to join Seattle. He leads the Seahawks in sacks with 11½ and is fourth in the NFC.

Detroit’s pass rush will have to be especially disciplined in rushing elusive Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, whose mobility has improved late in the season as he recovers from early-season ankle and knee injuries. His passing stats this year are similar to Stafford’s – 4,219 yards, 21 TDs, 11 INTs and a 92.6 rating – but his ability to scramble for yards or buy time likely will have the Detroit defense on its heels. After a four-game stretch early in the season when he had only 3 yards combined, he has rushed for 71 yards in the last four games.

Overall, the running game in Seattle has suffered this year, but Wilson is making up for it in the air, with WR Doug Baldwin and TE Jimmy Graham combining for more than 2,000 yards and having 13 touchdowns between them.

Stafford knows how to move in the pocket and Wilson knows how to move outside the pocket, and both of them are efficient in the passing game, making this an intriguing matchup with Seattle holding a decided defensive advantage.

The future: If the Lions win, they will travel to Dallas. If the Seahawks win, they will travel to Atlanta.

  LIONS SEAHAWKS
LEADER   8-5
STREAKS   4 of past 5
COACHES VS. OPP. Jim Caldwell: 1-1 Pete Carroll: 1-2
COACHES PLAYOFF RECORD Jim Caldwell: 2-3 Pete Carroll: 9-6
VS. COMMON OPP. Det: 3-2 (GB 0-2; LA 1-0, NO 1-0, Phi 1-0)
Sea: 2-3 (GB 0-1; LA 1-1; NO 0-1; Phi 1-0)
PLAYOFF RECORD 7-12 15-14
LAST WEEK L 31-24 vs. Green Bay W 25-23 at San Francisco
LAST GAME 10/5/15: Lions 10 at Seahawks 13. Seattle QB Russell Wilson passes for 287 yards & TD. Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin has TD catch.
LAST GAME AT SITE 12/15/15
LAST PLAYOFF ---
REFEREE Brad Allen
BROADCAST NBC (8:15 PM ET): Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya, Heather Cox (Field reporters). SIRIUS: 88 (WW1), 81 (Det), 82 (Sea). XM: 88 (WW1), 225 (Det), 82 (Sea).
STAT LEADERS
PASSING Matthew Stafford: 388-594-4327-24-10-93.3 Russell Wilson: 353-546-4219-21-11-92.6
RUSHING Zach Zenner: 88-334-3.8-4 Thomas Rawls: 109-349-3.2-3
RECEIVING Golden Tate: 91-1077-11.8-4 Doug Baldwin: 94-1128-12.0-7
OFFENSE 338.8 357.2
TAKE/GIVE -1 1
DEFENSE 354.8 318.7
SACKS Kerry Hyder: 8 Cliff Avril: 11.5
INTs 4 tied: 2 Richard Sherman: 4
PR Andre Roberts: 12.3 (3L) Richard Sherman: 6.0
KR Andre Roberts: 22.6 Paul Richardson: 21.0
PUNTING Sam Martin: 48.5 (3L) Jon Ryan: 44.0
KICKING Matt Prater: 124 (31/33 PAT; 31/36 FG) Steven Hauschka: 128 (29/35 PAT; 33/37 FG)


TEAMS MEET
 for 1st time in postseason. Sea. has won 4 of past 5 meetings & leads all-time series 8-5. 

LIONS

Earned playoff berth for 2nd time in past 3 seasons. Had NFL-record 8 wins after trailing in 4th quarter or OT. Head coach JIM CALDWELL has made playoffs in 3 of 6 seasons as NFL HC…QB MATTHEW STAFFORD has passed for 703 yards (351.5 per game) & 4 TDs in 2 career playoff games. Passed for 4,327 yards, franchise-record 6th consecutive 4,000-yard season. Led 8 GW drives in 4th quarter or OT in 2016, most such drives by QB in single season since 1970. …RB ZACH ZENNER has 3 rush TDs in past 2. Had 110 scrimmage yards (69 rush, 41 rec.) in Week 17, 1st career game with 100+ scrimmage yards…WR GOLDEN TATE spent 4 seasons (2010-13) & won Super Bowl XLVIII with Sea. Led team with 1,077 rec. yards, 2nd career 1,000-yard season. In past 4 on road, has 33 receptions for 404 yards (101 per game) & 2 TDs. WR ANQUAN BOLDIN has 68 receptions for 1,033 yards & 8 TDs in 14 career postseason games. Has 500+ rec. yards in all 14 NFL seasons. Since entering league in 2003, ranks 3rd in receptions (1,076) & rec. yards (13,779)…DE EZEKIEL ANSAH had sack in only playoff game (1/4/15 vs. Dal.). Aims for 3rd in row on road with sack. Had 2 sacks & FF in last meeting. DE KERRY HYDER led team with 8 sacks. Has 6 sacks in past 8 on road. LB TAHIR WHITEHEAD led team with career-high 132 tackles. CB DARIUS SLAY & S RAFAEL BUSH, GLOVER QUIN & TAVON WILSON tied for team lead with 2 INTs each. Slayhad 13 PD, 3rd consecutive season with 13+ PD. Quin has 16 INTs since 2013, most among NFC safeties…K MATT PRATER made 7 50+-yard FGs, tied for 2nd most in NFL.   

SEAHAWKS

Advanced to playoffs for 5th consecutive season. Have won 10+ games in each of past 5 seasons. Aim for 3rd Super Bowl appearance in past 4 seasons. Have won 6 of past 8 postseason games & have playoff win in each of past 4 postseasons. Head coach PETE CARROLL is 8-4 (.667) in playoffs with Sea…Seahawks had 4 players selected to 2017 Pro Bowl: DE CLIFF AVRIL (1st), DE MICHAEL BENNETT (2nd), CB RICHARD SHERMAN (4th) & LB BOBBY WAGNER (3rd)…QB RUSSELL WILSON is 7-3 (.700) in 10 career postseason starts with 16 pass TDs vs. 9 INTs for 93.4 rating. Has 28 games with multiple TD passes & 0 INTs, most by player in 1st 5 seasons. In 2 career meetings, has 523 pass yards (261.5 per game), 3 TDs & 1 INT for 108.8 rating…RB THOMAS RAWLS has 2 TDs in past 3 at home…WR DOUG BALDWIN has 4 rec. TDs in past 6 playoff games. Since 2015, incl. playoffs, ties for 2nd in NFL with 22 TD catches. Had TD catch in only career meeting. WR JERMAINE KEARSE has 6 rec. TDs in past 7 postseason games. Aims for 4th playoff game in row at home with TD catch. TE JIMMY GRAHAM had 7 receptions for 55 yards & TD in only career postseason meeting (1/7/12 with NO). Since 2011, leads NFL TEs with 5,924 rec. yards & ranks 2nd with 54 TD catches…DE Avril spent 5 seasons with Det. (2008-12). Ranked 4th in NFC with 11.5 sacks. Has 6 sacks in past 6 at home. Has 5 sacks & 2 FFs in past 8 postseason games. DE Bennett aims for 3rd playoff game in row with sack. LB Wagner led NFL & set franchise single-season record with 167 tackles. Has 100+ tackles in all 5 seasons. Has 102 tackles (10.2 per game) & 2 INTs in 10 career playoff games. LB K.J. WRIGHT had career-high 126 tackles. Since 2011, CB Sherman leads NFL with 30 INTs. Aims for 3rd playoff game in row at home with INT. Has 10 PD in past 9 postseason games. S KAM CHANCELLOR has 3 career postseason INTs, incl. 90-yard INT-TD on 1/10/15 (vs. Car.).          

SUNDAY

NEW YORK GIANTS (11-5) AT GREEN BAY PACKERS (10-6)

Here’s the pickle for the New York Giants defense: They are ranked 10th overall and tied for third against the run, but the Green Bay Packers’ offensive strength is by far their passing game with Aaron Rodgers playing at a very high level in the second half of the season.

There are the catchy little buzz phrases, like R-E-L-A-X in 2015 and “run the table” in 2016. Those are great fodder, but the proof is in the production and Rodgers has delivered his viral statements with the same precision as he has been delivering the football. He has a passer rating above 100 in six of the last seven games while running a six-game table and hasn’t thrown a single interception in any of those games. Three of those games have featured top-10 pass defenses and Rodgers combined to throw nine touchdowns and no interceptions in those three games.

Not coincidentally, WR Jordy Nelson is back in elite form, too, with three 100-yard games in the last five games and has 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season. Davante Adams came up three yards short of 1,000 and was one of three players with 60 or more receptions for the Packers.

The running game appeared to have found a replacement in Ty Montgomery when he rushed for 162 against the Chicago Bears in mid-December, but he has been limited to 23 and 44 yards in his last two games, yet the Packers have still been on a six-game winning streak.

The Giants have an elite receiver in Odell Beckham Jr., who was third in the league with 101 catches and 1,367 yards along with 10 touchdowns. He has been as consistent as any top-shelf receiver in the last three years, producing 90-plus receptions, 1,300 yards or more and 10-plus touchdown in all three of his NFL seasons. He also will be going against the 31st-ranked pass defense in the league and a Packers secondary ravaged by injury.

But for all the other commentary on this matchup, it could be as simple as this: Which Eli Manning shows up? Overall, he has had a decent season, throwing for 4,027 yards, 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. But on a game-by-game basis, Manning has run hot and cold. He has five games with a rating above 100 but three games below 70 and another three games with ratings in the 70s. A hot 100 rating in frigid Lambeau Field may be required to keep up with Rodgers.

The future: If the Giants win, they will travel to Dallas if Detroit loses and to Atlanta if Detroit wins. If the Packers win, they will travel to Dallas if the Seahawks win and travel to Atlanta if the Seahawks lose.

  GIANTS PACKERS
LEADER   32-26-2
STREAKS   3 of past 4
COACHES VS. OPP. Ben McAdoo: 0-1 Mike McCarthy: 4-2
COACHES PLAYOFF RECORD Ben McAdoo: 0-0 Mike McCarthy: 8-7
VS. COMMON OPP. NYG: 6-3 (Chi 1-0; Det 1-0, Dal 2-0; Min 0-1; Phi 1-1, Was 1-1)
GB: 6-3 (Chi 2-0; Det 2-0; Dal 0-1; Min 1-1; Phi 1-0; Was 0-1)
PLAYOFF RECORD 24-24 32-21
LAST WEEK W 19-10 at Washington W 31-24 at Detroit
LAST GAME 10/9/16: Giants 16 at Packers 23. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers passes for 259 yards & 2 TDs. Packers WR Randall Cobb has 9 receptions for 108 yards.
LAST GAME AT SITE 10/9/16
LAST PLAYOFF 1/15/12: Giants 37 at Packers 20. New York Giants QB Eli Manning passes for 330 yards & 3 TDs. Giants WR Hakeem Nicks has 7 receptions for 165 yards & 2 TDs.
REFEREE Ed Hochuli
BROADCAST FOX (4:40 PM ET): TBD. SIRIUS: 88 (WW1), 81 (NYG), 82 (GB). XM: 88 (WW1), 225 (XM), 82 (GB).
STAT LEADERS
PASSING Eli Manning: 377-598-4027-26-16-86.0 Aaron Rodgers: 401-610-4428-40 (1L)-7-104.2
RUSHING Rashad Jennings: 181-593-3.3-3 Ty Montgomery: 77-457-5.9-3
RECEIVING Odell Beckham Jr.: 101 (3L)-1367 (3L)-13.5-10 Jordy Nelson: 97-1257-13.0-14 (1L)
OFFENSE 330.7 368.8
TAKE/GIVE -2 8
DEFENSE 339.7 363.9
SACKS Olivier Vernon: 8.5 Nick Perry: 11
INTs Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: 6 (T2L) Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: 5
PR Dwayne Harris: 5.9 Micah Hyde: 5.8
KR Dwayne Harris: 24.2 Ty Montgomery: 20.3
PUNTING Brad Wing: 46.2 Jacob Schum: 43.2
KICKING Robbie Gould: 50 (20/23 PAT; 10/10 FG) Mason Crosby: 122 (44/47 PAT; 26/30 FG)

TEAMS MEET for 8th time in postseason & 1st since 1/15/12 (Div.). NYG have won past 2 playoff meetings. GB leads all-time playoff series 4-3. GB leads all-time series, including postseason, 32-26-2. Teams have split past 6 meetings.   

GIANTS

Earned playoff berth for 1st time since 2011 & 1st under head coach BEN MC ADOO. McAdoo spent 8 seasons with GB (2006-13) & was team’s QB coach in 2012 & 2013. Team’s 32nd playoff appearance, tied for most in NFL history…Giants had 4 players selected to 2017 Pro Bowl: WR ODELL BECKHAM JR. (3rd), S LANDON COLLINS (1st), ST DWAYNE HARRIS (1st) & CB JANORIS JENKINS (1st)…QB ELI MANNING passed for 4,027 yards, franchise-record 6th season with 4,000+ pass yards. Has 320 career TD passes, 7th most all-time. Became 7th player in NFL history with 4,000+ career completions (4,072). In past 4 playoff games, has 1,219 pass yards (304.8 per game), 9 TDs & 1 INT for 103.3 rating. Is 2-0 at GB in postseason…RB RASHAD JENNINGS had 794 scrimmage yards, 4th consecutive season with 750+ scrimmage yards. Rookie RB PAUL PERKINS had 102 rush yards in Week 17, 1st career 100-yard game…WR Beckham ranked 3rd in NFL with 101 receptions & 1,367 rec. yards. Has 90+ receptions, 1,300+ yards & 10+ TDs in all 3 NFL seasons. Has 288 career receptions, tied for most in player’s 1st 3 seasons in NFL history (JARVIS LANDRY). WR STERLING SHEPARD ranked 2nd among NFL rookies in receptions (65) & rec. yards (683). Had 8 TD catches, tied for 3rd most by rookie in NYG history. In past 2 playoff games, WR VICTOR CRUZ has 14 receptions for 167 yards & TD…DE OLIVIER VERNON led team with 8.5 sacks. Has 6+ sacks in past 4 seasons. In 2 career meetings, has 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks & FF. S Collins led team with 125 tackles, most by safety in franchise history. Is only NFL player with 5+ INTs (5) & 4+ sacks (4). CB DOMINIQUE RODGERS-CROMARTIE led team with 6 INTs, 2nd career season with 6+ INTs. Ranked 2nd in NFL with 21 PD. Since 2015, CB Jenkins tied for 2nd in NFC with 34 PD.         

PACKERS

Have won 13 NFL championships, most all-time. Team’s .604 postseason winning pct. (32-21) is best in NFL history among teams with 50+ games played. This is team’s 32nd playoff appearance, tied for most in NFL history…MIKE MC CARTHY has led team to playoffs in 9 of his 11 seasons as head coach…Packers had 3 players selected to 2017 Pro Bowl: S HA HA CLINTON-DIX (1st), G T.J. LANG (1st) & QB AARON RODGERS (6th)…QB Rodgers has 98.2 postseason passer rating, 5th best in NFL history. In 5 career meetings, incl. playoffs, has 1,515 pass yards (303 per game) with 13 TDs & 5 INTs for 93.7 rating. Led NFL with 40 pass TDs, 1st time leading league in TD passes…RB TY MONTGOMERY has 3 rush TDs in past 4. In past 6, is 6-0 with 15 pass TDs, 0 INTs & 121.0 rating…WR JORDY NELSON led NFL with 14 TD catches & ranked 6th with 1,257 rec. yards. Has 3 seasons with 13+ rec. TDs, tied for 4th most in NFL history. In past 3 meetings, has 226 rec. yards & 2 TDs. WR DAVANTE ADAMS ranked 2nd on team in receptions (75), rec. yards (997) & TD catches (12). Has 5 rec. TDs in past 5 at home. WR RANDALL COBB has rec. TD in 2 of past 3 playoff games. Had 9 receptions for 108 yards in last meeting…LB JULIUS PEPPERS has 143.5 career sacks, 5th most since 1982. In past 4 postseason games, has 3.5 sacks & 2 FFs. Is only player in NFL history with 100+ sacks & 10+ INTs (11). LB CLAY MATTHEWS has 10 career postseason sacks, most in franchise history. Has 5+ sacks in all 8 NFL seasons. LB NICK PERRY led team with career-high 11 sacks. LB MIKE NEAL had 2 sacks & FF in last postseason game. S Clinton-Dix has 3 INTs in 4 career playoff games. Led team with 5 INTs. CB MICAH HYDE has 3 INTs in past 4. S MORGAN BURNETT led team with 91 tackles. 


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