NFL 2013 Wild Card Playoffs Preview: Best Matchups to Watch - NFC Edition featuring the Minnesota Vikings at the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks at the Washington Redskins.
James Dudko previews...
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
The NFC Wild Card playoffs begin Saturday with a rubber match between division foes the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. The NFC North rivals split their two games during the regular season.
The second of those battles was a 37-34 thriller that went in favour of the Vikings in Week 17. That narrow triumph put Minnesota in the playoffs, although a trip to the frosty confines of Lambeau Field is a dubious reward.
The Vikings will rely, as they've done all season, on dominating running back Adrian Peterson. The Packers meanwhile, will count on another prolific outing from exceptional quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The game will be determined by these two key matchups.
Adrian Peterson vs. B.J. Raji
Enough words have been dedicated to marvelling at Adrian Peterson's exploits during the season. The key stat for this game is that the 2,000-yard runner rushed for 409 yards against the Packers this season.
In Week 17, Peterson posted 199 of those yards. The dynamic runner still has the vision, power and acceleration to turn a game, once he escapes around the edges of a defense.
Peterson would be smart to continue attacking the outside against the Packers and stay away from mammoth nose tackle B.J. Raji. The hulking defensive lineman was the only Packers defender who posed a threat to Peterson last week.
Raji made a couple of thumping stops on the star runner. Although his celebrations were a little over the top, considering Peterson was on his way to a near 200-yard effort.
If Raji can dominate the line of scrimmage he could at least slow Peterson enough to put Green Bay in control.
Antoine Winfield vs. Greg Jennings
Antoine Winfield left last week's game with a hand injury. His absence allowed veteran pass-catcher Greg Jennings to dominate for the Packers. He caught eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
The Vikings will need Winfield ready for action on Wild Card weekend. The experienced cover ace is the team's best cornerback. Slowing down Jennings will be his priority.
That's no easy task, despite Jennings struggling during the first half of the season. The Packers have tended to favour youngsters Jordy Nelson and James Jones, more than Jennings in recent years.
But the 29-year-old is still Green Bay's best wide receiver. He is a super-smart route runner, durable over the middle and still quick enough to expose a secondary deep.
The Packers are loaded with weapons in the passing game. But if the Vikings choose to shut one down, it should be Jennings they go after.
Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins
Rookies Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III will take centre stage when the Seattle Seahawks meet the Washington Redskins on Sunday. They are two dual-threat quarterbacks who dominated the NFL in 2012 and are altering the athletic expectations for their position.
Yet it is two other less heralded matchups that will determine the outcome of this bruising encounter.
Bobby Wagner vs. Alfred Morris
The Seahawks defensive priority has to be slowing down the Redskins' top-ranked rushing attack. That will pit talented and tenacious middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, against prolific Washington runner Alfred Morris.
Morris is the latest late-round draft choice to become an instant star in head coach Mike Shanahan's vaunted zone-running scheme. He rushed for 1,613 yards and 13 scores as a rookie.
Fellow first-year stalwart Wagner led a fearsome Seattle defense in tackles with 140. The punishing hitter also recorded two sacks and snatched three interceptions.
He is speedy, stout and ferocious and the Seahawks scheme ways to give him free lanes to the ball. Wagner will be busy against the Redskins and will have to stop Morris before he makes his cut in the backfield.
Chris Clemons vs. Trent Williams
Hybrid rush end Chris Clemons is the Seahawks top pass-rush threat. He will try and get the best of young Washington left tackle Trent Williams.
The 2010 fourth overall pick earned his first Pro Bowl entry this season and showed signs of dominance throughout the campaign. Williams excels at run-blocking and has become more proficient in pass protection.
He must keep Clemons away from Griffin and give the Redskins time to execute their option-read, play-action offense.
The Packers may have too much firepower for the Vikings in Green Bay. The second NFC Wild Card contest will be an intriguing matchup between two teams who are mirror images.
What are your predictions for the matchups?
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