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NFC Wild Card Preview and Prediction: Seattle Seahawks vs. Washington Redskins


Record-setting rookie quarterbacks will be on full display when the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins square off in Sunday’s NFC Wild Card matchup at 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX. The Seahawks (11-5) enter this contest on a five-game winning streak, while the Redskins (10-6) won their final seven games to capture the NFC East division title and first postseason berth since 2007. This game also features just the second pairing of rookie starting quarterbacks in NFL postseason history with the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and Redskins’ Robert Griffin III leading their respective offenses.

When the Seattle Seahawks have the ball:
Seattle’s offense finished the regular season ranked 17th in the NFL in total offense with 350.6 yards per game and ninth in scoring at 25.8 points per game. The Seahawks ended the season strong, averaging 38.6 points per game during their season-ending, five-game winning streak, including two straight games with at least 50 points. The Seahawks had the No. 3-ranked rushing offense (161.2 ypg), led by running back Marshawn Lynch’s 1,590 yards (third in the NFL). Even though Seattle was just 27th in passing offense with 189.4 yards per game, rookie starting quarterback Russell Wilson was more than efficient and effective in leading the Seahawks’ aerial attack. Wilson, who became the Seahawks’ starter largely due to a preseason elbow injury suffered by Matt Flynn, finished his inaugural NFL season by throwing 18 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in his last nine games. Overall, Wilson completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 3,118 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a franchise-record 100.0 passer rating. Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s 1998 mark for the most touchdown passes by a rookie quarterback and would have set the rookie record for passer rating if not for Robert Griffin III, his counterpart in this game. No Seahawk had more than 50 receptions during the regular season, but wide receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate did record seven touchdown catches apiece. Besides the 10 picks thrown by Wilson, the Seahawks fumbled the ball away eight times for a total of 18 turnovers committed.

Washington’s defense has made the most of its ability to create turnovers, which has been key considering the unit’s overall statistics. The Redskins finished the season ranked 28th in total defense (377.7 ypg), with the majority of the damage due to poor pass defense. The ‘Skins were fifth against the run (95.8 ypg), but 30th versus the pass (281.9 ypg) and yielded 31 touchdown passes, which tied them for the second-most in the NFL. However, due to the 31 turnovers created, including 21 interceptions, the defense was able to limit opponents to 24.3 points per game (22nd), which is respectable considering all the yards the unit surrendered.

When the Washington Redskins have the ball:
Even with a rookie at quarterback and running back, Washington’s offense finished the regular season in the top five of the NFL in total, rushing and scoring offense. The Redskins led the league in rushing offense (169.3 ypg), as running back Alfred Morris broke Clinton Portis’ franchise single-season rushing record and finished second only to Adrian Peterson with 1,613 yards rushing. Morris got stronger as the season wore on, averaging 126.8 yards rushing per game over the last four contests, including his 200-yard, three-touchdown effort at home in last Sunday’s division-clinching win over Dallas. Overall, the ‘Skins ranked fifth in the league in total offense with 383.2 yards per game and fourth in scoring at 27.3 points per game. Besides Morris, quarterback Robert Griffin III made some history of his own in his first pro season. Griffin completed nearly 66 percent of his passes for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions, setting the NFL record for passer rating by a rookie (102.4) in the process. The Heisman Trophy winner also was second to Morris in rushing with 815 yards rushing and seven rushing touchdowns (Morris had 13). Even though he missed six games with a foot injury, wide receiver Pierre Garcon still led the team in receptions (44) and yards (633), while veteran wideout Santana Moss was tops with eight touchdown catches. Another reason why the Redskins’ offense was so productive was that the team committed a total of just 14 turnovers, the fewest of any NFC team.

Seattle’s defense finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in points allowed (15.3) and among the top 10 in the three other major categories. The Seahawks ended up fourth in total defense (306.2 ypg), sixth against the pass (203.1 ypg) and 10th versus the run (103.1 ypg). This unit allowed a total of 23 offensive touchdowns during the regular season, including just 15 touchdown passes (tied for the second-fewest in the NFL). The Seahawks picked up 36 sacks, led by defensive end Chris Clemons’ 11.5, and were very productive in the turnover department. The defense forced 31 turnovers, including 18 interceptions. Eight of these picks were courtesy of cornerback Richard Sherman, who also had a hand in two (INT return, blocked field goal) of the six defensive/special teams touchdowns the Seahawks scored. While it is easy to point out that the Seahawks play very well at home, going undefeated this season at CenturyLink Field, the defense more than did its part on the road. The Seahawks gave up an average of less than 19 points per game in its eight road contests.

Key Factor:
Redskins’ fans will no doubt be fired up for their first home playoff game since 1999, when the ‘Skins beat Detroit 27-13. In fact, this will be just the second playoff game ever at FedEx Field. The Redskins got to this point on the strength of the league’s best rushing attack, a dynamic rookie quarterback who showed poise beyond his years, and an opportunistic defense that seemed to get the key turnover when it needed it the most. The problem for the NFC East champions is that Seattle also has a productive running attack and its own record-setting rookie quarterback. The similarities end when it comes to the defenses, however, as the Seahawks have a considerable edge on that side of the ball. Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris will do all they can to give the home crowd something to cheer about, but in the end, the Seahawks’ defense will be the difference in this one.

Prediction:Seahawks 27, Redskins 23


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