The fourth-seeded Washington Redskins play host to the fifth-seeded Green Bay Packers in a Wild Card playoff match-up that few would have expected just a month ago. Washington, the NFC East champion, has now won four straight games on their way to a 9-7 record. Green Bay, on the other hand, stumbles in having lost their last two contests, resulting in a 10-6 record.
These two teams have taken very different trajectories this season. Washington has been playing their best ball as of late. After starting out the season at 2-4, fans could see the same old mediocre Redskins team starting to materialize. However, Washington has now gone 7-3 in their final 10 games, with 2 of those losses coming to teams that currently have first-round byes in the playoffs. The Redskins ended up clinching the East in Week 16 and having the luxury of resting key starters last week’s win vs. Dallas.
Green Bay started off the season very Packers-like as well, winning each of their first six games and looking like the contender they always are. However, injuries and poor execution have led to a very unprecedented 4-6 record over their past 10 games, including a miracle “Hail Mary” win over the Detroit Lions that could have made it 3-7. Last week, Green Bay lost their chance at a home playoff game with a 20-13 loss to the now-NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings.
Doubts remain about Washington’s record against good teams, as they have not beaten a single team that finished with a record better than 8-8. Going against a 10-6 team with a surplus of playoff experience and a Hall of Fame quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, the NFC East champs must prove that they can compete with the big shots in a year in which they were not expected to sniff the postseason.
This will be Washington’s third trip to the postseason in 10 years, and they have not won a game their last two trips into January football. Redskin fans need no reminder about the 24-14 loss in 2012 to Seattle, their last time hosting a playoff game. Coach Jay Gruden hopes for a much better outcome this time around with a whole crop of new players.
Redskins’ Pass Rush vs. Green Bay Offensive Line
Green Bay has had major issues on their offensive line all year, especially in the passing game. Rodgers was sacked 46 times, his highest toal since 2012 and almost as much as he had the past two years combined. Much of the Packers’ struggles can be attributed to the pass protection, hampered by an injury to OT David Bakhtiari, who may not play Sunday again.
Washington must use their athletic outside pass rush to take advantage of Green Bay’s offensive line woes and make life miserable for Rodgers. Ryan Kerrigan, Chris Baker, and rookie Preston Smith must continue their disruptive ways and get to No. 12 just as they did against Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Dallas. The key to Green Bay’s slide has been the discomfort of their QB, and that must continue.
Redskins’ Run Game vs. Green Bay Front 7
The Packers are going to have their hands full with Washington’s offense this weekend if Washington figures out how to run the ball effectively. Alfred Morris had his first 100-yard performance since week 1 last week, and Washington returns C Kory Lichtensteiger from injury. RB Pierre Thomas has also been a welcome addition to the squad and has provided depth and experience in the absence of rookie Matt Jones.
Green Bay’s run defense has been pedestrian, allowing 119 yards per game on the ground this year, despite having one of the NFL’s best defensive players, LB Clay Matthews. With Green Bay keying on Kirk Cousins throwing to weapons like WR DeSean Jackson and TE Jordan Reed, there could be some opportunities for the Washington runners to grab big chunks of yardage and eat time of possession, two things Jay Gruden loves.
Redskins’ Secondary vs. QB Aaron Rodgers
QB Aaron Rodgers may have had a down year statistically by his standards, but he is still Aaron Rodgers. The Super Bowl Champion and two-time NFL MVP must command respect every time he walks onto a football field. However, this season, his yardage output has been depleted with the absence of his favorite receiver, Jordy Nelson. Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, and James Jones have all struggled to get open in Nelson’s absence, and the threat of the big play has been diminished.
Washington’s secondary has had a tumultuous season as well, but they must make sure that Rodgers does not pick them apart. Green Bay’s Coach Mike McCarthy likes to get creative and certainly knows his quarterback better than anyone. The Redskins must play physical and try to create turnovers against Rodgers, who has thrown an interception in three straight games.
Redskins’ “Stud” of the Game
RB Alfred Morris
Jay Gruden is going to try and establish the run on first down and control the pace of the game to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. Morris got back on track vs. Dallas and will hopefully be running harder and with more confidence. While Pierre Thomas and Chris Thompson will be catching balls out of the backfield, Morris will have to be the bell cow to make things ultra-easy on the offense.
Redskins 24, Packers 28
I really want to pick Washington in this game, but experience is a hard thing to overcome as a young team. Rodgers has been in the spotlight before and has shown an ability to shine. Washington will thrive on offense, but in the end, Rodgers will find a way to make magic against an inexperienced Washington defense late in the game.