Two of the NFL’s oldest franchises square off in the second NFC wild card game on Sunday as the Green Bay Packers travel to FedEx Field to face the Washington Redskins. Green Bay saw their hopes of a home playoff game slip away by losing at home to Minnesota last week, handing the Vikings the NFC North crown. Aaron Rodgers and the offense has struggled for much of the season, while the defense has been inconsistent. Even so, the Packers could still be dangerous in the playoffs. Washington return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, but haven’t won a playoff game since 2004. Kirk Cousins and the offense plans to change that after leading the Redskins to a division title. But Washington have not beaten a team with a winning record all season, which could limit their playoff hopes.
Three Keys to the Game
Washington won the NFC East this year because Kirk Cousins has played well, especially at home. At FedEx Field, Cousins has averaged 271.3 yards per game with 16 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Since the infamous “You Like That?!” comeback win over Tampa Bay in Week 9, Cousins has averaged 281.6 yards per game with 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Cousins now faces a Green Bay defense that has been inconsistent all season, and has plenty of good weapons to exploit any weaknesses. Jordan Reed has emerged as one of the league’s best tight ends, while DeSean Jackson provides a legitimate deep threat. Cousins has also been efficient this year, leading all starters in completion percentage.
Washington’s running game
After struggling for much of the season Washington’s running game has been decent over the past few weeks, providing a nice complimentary piece to Cousins’ passing. Alfred Morris reached 100 yards for only the second time this year in the season finale against Dallas, while rookie Matt Jones provides a nice change of pace in the backfield rotation. If the Redskins can run the ball fairly well, that should take some pressure off Cousins. Green Bay have struggled against the run this season, ranking 21st in the league and allowing an average of 119.1 yards per game.
Green Bay’s flaws
The Packers have struggled on offense for much of the season, not something we expected after last year. Even Aaron Rodgers has had problems, suffering from a lack of chemistry with his receivers and being unable to count on them to make plays. Eddie Lacy and the running game have also been inconsistent, and will likely struggle against a Redskins defense that has played the run well this season. That puts pressure back on Rodgers and his receivers, which hasn’t yielded many results recently.
Match-up to watch
Julius Peppers vs Trent Williams
Protecting Cousins will be key for the Redskins. Green Bay has struggled to generate much of a pass rush for most of the second half of the season. Peppers just scraped double-digit sacks with 10.5. Cousins has only been sacked 26 times this year, the 4th least in the league. Williams, a four time Pro Bowler, protects Cousins’ blindside well enough to be able to handle whoever Green Bay lines up against him.
After a tumultuous offseason, the Redskins made the playoffs thanks to trusting Kirk Cousins with their offense. As I argued in our NFC playoff roundtable, the Redskins could be the most dangerous team in the NFC playoff race. Against Green Bay’s defense and with home field advantage, expect Washington to prove it and win their first playoff game since 2004